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Fixing Australia’s youth development starts with revamping the Y-League

A lack of consistent talent-production has cast the spotlight over Australia’s youth pathways in recent years, a topic that has generated robust discussion in football circles.

With many in the industry calling for change, it was a welcome sight when in July, Football Federation Australia (FFA) released its ‘XI Principles’ discussion paper. The document was generally well-received and among the key issues James Johnson and his team addressed was the requirement for a systematic revamp of Australia’s youth system.

According to principle five, FFA will seek to ‘Create a world class environment for youth development / production by increasing match minutes for youth players and streamlining the player pathway.’

Reinvigorating Australia’s youth football pathways will require a long-term, systematic approach to be successful but one thing is certain – young players simply need more competitive minutes.

And that starts by revamping the Y-League. As it stands, 10 clubs make up Australia’s national developmental and under-23 reserve league, forming two conferences.

In principle, the league fits a purpose, but in practice the system is not providing anywhere near enough high-level football for youngsters, certainly not since structural changes were made that hamstring the progress of Australia’s youth prospects..

Gary van Egmond was appointed Young Socceroos manager after the team failed to qualify for three consecutive Under-20 World Cups.

The 2015-16 season saw a new format introduced whereby the Y-League’s regular season was reduced from 18 games per team to a meagre eight (with potential for nine including a grand final).

Part of this reduction in games was due to budget cuts, another part due to FFA’s desire for players to use the NPL system as a developmental tool. On paper this seemed reasonable, but it has proved counterproductive, as talented youngsters are often torn between multiple commitments, causing a severe lack of continuity.

Although A-League clubs can enter their academy teams into their respective state’s NPL competition, elite players are playing a mixture of Y-League, NPL and the A-League games, the latter usually in a substitute or benchwarmer capacity.

This lack of consistency is creating a massive void in player development during what are some of their most critical years.

Earlier this year, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) published an extensive report reviewing the national youth competition through historical analysis and player surveys. In an interview with pfa.com.au regarding the report, Guinean born Australian youth-level star John Roberts had the following to say.

“The Y-League is only eight games, and sometimes you don’t play eight, maybe it’s just four or five because you’re trialling with the first team or you’re the 17th or 18th man and you don’t get to play. In my opinion, for young players I think the youth league needs to go to a full season because I just think it will benefit us young players, it will give us more opportunity when we’re not playing.”

“But after the youth league finishes, you have to wait a while and then play NPL1 or NPL2 or just wait for your opportunity in the A-League.”

“You have to play regularly in higher competitions. If you’re playing NPL1 or NPL2 and you get called up into the A-League, the intensity of the game is too different because you’re not used to that and you don’t play in a high enough competition.”

The full interview with Roberts can be found here.

Striker John Roberts spoke about the limitations of the Y-League.

Among the notable results published in the report were that 90% of players believe the Y-League season should be extended and that only 20% of players who have graduated from the Y-League over the past five years went on to make an A-League appearance.

The findings led PFA Chief Executive John Didulica to state “In its current format the Y-League does not meet the needs of the players, A-League clubs or Australian football.”

The lack of youth production has predictably influenced the national setup, with Australia’s Under-20 team failing to qualify for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup for a record third consecutive time.

With the Y-League’s structural changes in 2016 clearly not having their intended impacts and FFA’s 2017 closure of the AIS, changes need to be made.

The solution may simply involve favouring the decentralized, academy-first approach which FFA has created but designing an environment which complements it. Something akin to the National Youth League of 1981-2004.

Extending the Y-League to run parallel to the A-League as a genuine reserve grade competition would allow players to fully commit to their academy side. This would mean ample minutes, plus a guarantee of continuity that does not currently exist for players who are forced to rebound between Y-League, NPL and occasionally A-League clubs.

While in theory this could harm NPL teams if their talented youngsters are poached by academies, it could create a perfect opportunity for FFA to implement new rules and regulations surrounding player transfers and compensation that would form part of an improved transfer system.

This is something the federation has stated it wishes to achieve through principle number three, in which FFA states in intention ‘To establish an integrated and thriving football ecosystem driven by a modern domestic transfer system’.

Designing a formal compensation system to parallel a legitimate under-23’s full season competition would kill two birds with one stone, rewarding grassroots clubs for producing talent while giving young players the consistent exposure to competitive football

There are undoubtedly factors, mainly commercial, which would dictate the validity of these ideas, but the game’s top administrators do need to act, or Australia will face the risk of losing its next generation and fading from international football relevance.

A new year brings optimism for Australian football

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

As always in Australian football, 2021 is set to be a big year.

After a year which was continually disrupted by a global pandemic, the game’s future seems to be much brighter in 2021. Here are some of the reasons why:

An Independent A-League and W-League

After years of infighting, the A-League and W-League were finally unbundled from Football Australia on the last day of 2020.

A new organisation of A-League club owners, under the moniker of Australian Professional Leagues (APL), will now take over the operational, commercial and marketing control of both leagues.

Essentially, the league’s power brokers will now have more incentive to invest and market the leagues as they now have the impetus to attract and organise their own business dealings.

Chair of APL and co-owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, Paul Lederer, spoke of the importance of the deal: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves. The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

Domestic Transfer System

One of Football Australia’s ‘XI Principles’ outlined the need to stimulate and grow the Australian football economy, with the establishment of a new and modern domestic transfer system mooted as a proposed measure.

Last week Football Australia released a Domestic Transfer System White Paper, which will set the wheels in motion to revamp the current model into one which falls in-line with the rest of the global game.

It’s an area where Australian football is falling behind, with FIFA reporting in 2019 that Australian clubs only received US$1.9 million in international transfer fees, compared to other Asian nations like Japan who garnered US$29.4 million.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has placed significant importance on the issue and the implementation of a proper domestic transfer system will finally reward a broad range of clubs across the Australian football pyramid.

“The establishment of a modern Domestic Transfer System in 2021 by Football Australia will seek to remedy the ‘gap’ that has been created in the Australian football ecosystem by providing opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves,” he said.

“We believe that the implementation of a fit-for-purpose system will have transformational benefits for football in Australia and particularly our professional and grassroots clubs by reconnecting the game and stimulating growth,” Johnson concluded.

National Second Division

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) is set to release a report on the progress of their plans for a national second division in the coming days, in a move which should enthuse the Australian football public.

A national second division (eventually with promotion and relegation) will bring a range of benefits to the football system here and will be a unique identifier which separates the game from a range of other sports played on our shores.

There does seem to be some hesitance from A-League clubs however, to immediately green-light a national second division.

Chair of the APL, Paul Lederer, recently stated that a national second division wouldn’t eventuate within the next two years, claiming that expanding the A-League to 16 teams was a more urgent priority.

Speaking with Box2Box, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas responded to Lederer’s comments. “It doesn’t really bother us much because I don’t think the issue will come down to Paul in the end. It’s not really about him”, he said.

“I was surprised to hear the comments, I’ve got to say, but equally had he said the opposite, it wouldn’t have mattered much either.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to Football Australia as the APL does not have the appropriate regulatory functions.

The current FA administration is much more willing than previous administrations to introduce a second tier, previously listing the need to continue the development of a framework for a national second division, in their ‘XI Principles’ document last year.

New Broadcast Deal

Fox Sports re-negotiated their TV deal with the A-League and other Australian football properties when the competition went into shutdown during the COVID pandemic.

The deal was reduced in both dollars and length, with Fox Sports paying just over $30 million for a one-year agreement which runs out in July of this year.

There is a possibility that Fox may pass on extending that deal, but that does present the game with opportunities to seek out a new broadcast partner or to take things into their own hands and build up their own streaming service.

The game’s TV deal with the ABC is also set to expire this year, with the need to find the right balance between free-to-air exposure and broadcast revenue becoming increasingly important.

New potential broadcasters that may be interested in striking an agreement include:

Optus Sport: Currently have the rights to competitions such as the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, J-League and K-League,

Stan Sport: Recently entered the market by signing a deal with Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition and are reportedly interested in securing the NBL rights in the future.

DAZN: Have started to dip their toes into the Australian landscape through other sports, after broadcasting football in multiple countries across the world.

Whatever the case, Australian football does seem to have options outside of Fox Sports, who have broadcasted the A-League for the past 16 seasons.

With many exciting possibilities to look forward to, the game should be in a stronger place by the end of 2021.

George Stamboulidis: Young Socceroos’ journey from Melbourne to Madrid

In just a few short years, George Stamboulidis has transitioned from playing in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs to one of football’s global meccas.

In a recent interview with Football Victoria, Stamboulidis shed light on his journey to Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano, his professional development, and ambitions for the future.

The following was published as Young Socceroos’ Spanish Incentive | Football Victoria.

Stamboulidis signed with the Spanish club shortly after his call up to the Young Socceroos under 20 identification camp in Holland back in February. The young, gifted midfielder however was quickly forced to return home to Melbourne shortly however, as Covid-19 swept through Spain.

Upon his return, no time was wasted when a program was swiftly produced for him by mentor and former South Melbourne FC and Brighton Albion legend David Clarkson with the help of Football Victoria Technical Director Boris Seroshtan, strength and conditioning coach Piero Sarchetta, and his personal UEFA Pro Licence football coach Greek Super League veteran Goulis Karaisaridis.

Adhering to strict government restrictions to combat the pandemic, Stamboulidis was lucky to train with his brother Haris (a graduate of Columbia University and current professional footballer with Segunda División B side Unión Popular de Langreo), who also returned from Spain. Both brothers fondly recalling their younger years and how their backyard was converted to a gym where they would spend a lot of time working out or “jamming” together on the guitar or piano.

Stamboulidis played for a number of clubs in Melbourne, including Heidelberg United under-20s.

Standing at approximately six foot, Stamboulidis considers himself very fortunate to be able to draw on the advice he received from Young Socceroos Coach Gary Van Egmond regarding his strength and conditioning while upkeeping his silky football skills on a daily basis even with the absence of matches being played. Football was also complimented by Stamboulidis enrolling online at the University of Melbourne after graduating from the prestigious Carey Baptist Grammar School on scholarship, with an ATAR score of 92.4

Stamboulidis credits Football Victoria Technical Director Boris Seroshtan and Melbourne City’s Rado Vidosic for assisting him to breakthrough. The pair chose him to take part in the inaugural Elite Late Development Program, which provided him the platform to launch his career.

Fast forwarding 10 months and Stamboulidis has now settled back at Rayo Vallecano and is pushing for an opportunity in the Rayo Vallecano B team, his aim, whilst at the same time playing valuable minutes in the under 23 side in a men’s competition. Stamboulidis’ proficiency in French, Greek and Spanish has seen him named vice-captain in a diverse team, which helps him communicate effectively on and off the field.

Despite the excitement of playing in one of Europe’s top leagues, the midfielder is taking a patient approach, adopting a personal motto of “work hard and then harder, then only I may get an opportunity I could take”.

“The difference I see between Australia and Europe is the time spent training and the myriad of opportunities that exist for players to play many more matches than what is provided for elite young footballers back home in Australia,” Stamboulidis said.

“I spent a bit of time in Greece playing and the football culture was another level to what we footballers are used to in Australia. However people in Spain and in particular Madrid, has football so entrenched in people’s lives and the culture that there isn’t a moment when you do not hear, watch or play football in all its forms. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to develop, learn, play and enjoy the game I have loved since I was four years old,” he said.

FCA’s Belinda Wilson scores new role with FIFA

Football Coaches Australia (FCA) is pleased to congratulate Executive Member Belinda Wilson on her appointment as Senior Technical Development Manager at FIFA.

Wilson will be working with the Women’s Football Division based in Zurich and will commence her role on 28 December 2020.

“The FIFA was not a role that I was expecting and to be asked to join the team in Zurich is a great honour and privilege, one that I do not take for granted,” Wilson said.

“I have worked both on the technical and on the administration side of our game and it’s not always been easy. I am now in a position where I have an opportunity to create more access and opportunities to better pathways for players and coaches in the women’s game and this is something I truly care about as I have seen many players and coaches who have had the pathway develop into amazing people and amazing players and/or coaches. We need to always look at developing better pathways for people in our game.”

Wilson will be responsible for developing and executing football development programs linked to the objectives of the FIFA Women’s Football Strategy. Additionally, she will monitor the implementation and impact of the FIFA funded Women’s Football projects at Member Associations.

Raised in Byron Bay, Wilson became a coach at a very young age, earning her first coaching badge at sixteen. She has gone on to coach professionally in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Guam.

Wilson has also worked for the Asian Football Confederation and attended the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 in China. She has been an Executive Member of FCA since August 2019 and has since Chaired FCA’s Women’s Football Committee/

“The work that the FCA has done so far for coaches in Australia is amazing, and I am privileged to have been a member of their team. They share similar principals on developing better access to, and increasing the opportunities, to develop and coach. FCA is a small team but one which works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure we as coaches are gaining the right support and pathways to develop our potential in the game,” Wilson said.

“I am proud of the work the Women’s Sub-Committee has done so far. The support around coaches working in the women’s game and for female coaches is growing as we continue to develop relationships and partnerships with different stakeholders around Australia and internationally.”

FCA Vice President Heather Garriock was keen to congratulate Wilson on behalf of the organisation, stating that she was an enormous asset to FCA during her time tenure.

“it is a testament to Belinda’s professionalism, work ethic and desire to want to take Women’s Football to the next level. We have been lucky at FCA to have Belinda contribute to many projects, in particular our Women’s Football PD webinars in 2020 and our female mentor program that will be established in 2021 in partnership with Football Australia. We wish Belinda the best of luck at FIFA joining one of our founder’s, James Kitching, in Zurich- we are so proud of her achievements so far, with plenty more to come. ”

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