fbpx

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.

Is the time finally right for Australia to host the FIFA World Cup?

In a story that caught the eyes of the Australian football community last week, sport and government officials are said to be planning a bid to host the 2030 or 2034 FIFA World Cup down under.

The idea to host the world’s biggest sporting event in Australia is a key part of a strategy that looks to bring a selection of major events to the country, on the back of Brisbane securing the 2032 Olympic Games.

FA CEO James Johnson explained that the governing body has not yet decided to bid for the World Cup, but suggested it is a part of the vision they have for the game.

“It’s an aspiration (hosting the World Cup), that’s part of our vision,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The next time I think we could realistically host it is 2034 because 2026 is in North America, 2022 is in Asia, 2030 – I think – will go to Europe or South America. There’s an opportunity to bring the World Cup back to Asia, the Asia-Pacific area, in 2034.”

A factor which should strengthen Australia’s case to be the home of a future World Cup is the hosting of the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2023.

In a pattern which Australia is hoping to follow, Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and used it as a stepping stone to eventually win the right to host part of the 2026 World Cup, alongside Mexico and USA.

Australia, alongside co-hosts New Zealand, are set to sell a record number of tickets for the 2023 tournament.

FIFA have opened an office in Australia to assist with the dealings in the build-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which gives FA access and the opportunity to open dialogue with FIFA administrators and pursue their future ambitions.

The FA CEO knows however, it is imperative that Australia delivers a world class tournament to stand any chance of winning the right to host a future World Cup.

“What I can say is we’ve got an opportunity with the 2023 Women’s World Cup – I think we will deliver an outstanding tournament. If we can deliver the best ever Women’s World Cup tournament, it does put you in a good position to take on more FIFA competitions,” Johnson said.

Australia was awarded the 2023 Women’s World Cup under a new FIFA voting process, which is also set to give the country more of a chance to win a further vote this time around in 2030 or more likely 2034.

Under Australia’s previous World Cup bid in 2010, they secured a singular vote from FIFA’s council.

However, the new voting method gives all 211 national member associations a chance to vote, rather than the previous secretive process which was conducted by FIFA council members.

Australia may have further success with this system due to the transparent nature of it and minimization of influence from FIFA’s top dogs.

One of those head honchos is Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, who has steered the ship in the organisation after replacing Sepp Blatter in 2016.

Johnson believes Infantino’s approach to competitions would mean Australia is going to have to find a partnering country for any future bid for a World Cup.

“If you look at the way Gianni is wanting to run his competition strategies, he wants cross-nation competitions. I don’t see any future World Cups being run by one country,” said Johnson.

“It is something that would need to be done with other countries in the region, both in the Asia and probably Oceania region.”

FA have previously held discussions with Indonesia about hosting a World Cup and they, alongside New Zealand, are the most likely candidates to partner with Australia if they bid.

Sharing the bid with another country like Indonesia will have its benefits, such as improving relations between both countries and also halving the costs of an expensive exercise.

There will be difficulties that need to be worked out, but this may be Australia’s best chance to host a World Cup in the foreseeable future.

Channel 10 and Paramount+ have hit the ground running

Channel 10 and Paramount have hit the ground running by promoting the A-League to both casual fans and bolted-on supporters, and Australian football will only continue to benefit from their commitment towards promoting the beautiful game.

Fans are already relishing the increased accessibility created by a new broadcast deal. To watch all the A-League games previously, it would cost $25 a month for a Kayo Sports basic subscription, compared to the $9 a month a fan will pay next season for a Paramount+ subscription.

Paramount+ has created an ingenious way to win over A-League members through collaboration with their clubs. The offer – with assistance from Australian Professional Leagues (APL) – subsidises and reduces the cost of a subscription to Paramount+ for A-League members and is a winner with nothing but positive feedback from supporters. Currently, the best was an early bird offer from Melbourne Victory for $60 a year (which has now expired), however most clubs are offering a yearly subscription for around $75.

This has helped alleviate fears that there are too many platforms to watch football, and that costs could become too high. This move by ViacomCBS will certainly garner goodwill and positivity from the people who make up the backbone of A-League support.

While Foxtel was a great partner to the A-League for many years, which allowed an Australian top-flight league to stay relatively stable during its tenure as a broadcaster, in recent years football in Australia has stagnated. The ability to introduce the A-League to not just sports fans, but also casual fans is the biggest strength of the partnership between the league and Channel 10.

Studio 10 featured an interview with Adelaide players Stefan Mauk and Kusini Yengi, and we are surely going to see more of these exclusives featured as we approach the beginning of the A-League regular season. We are already seeing cross-promotion of the A-League through their other shows and news programs. Melbourne Victory’s former talismanic striker Archie Thompson is appearing on Celebrity Masterchef, in a crossover attempt to win over casual viewers. When the A-League season begins, you can only imagine how this coverage will expand and feature in the channel’s line-up.

The coverage of football in Channel 10’s news bulletins and programs has changed recently. The A-League has never seen transfers and news being prioritised in the way they are now on a free-to-air commercial station, and this can only be good for the game. Each night the network makes up around 17% of all TV viewership Australia-wide, and the possibilities for cross-promotional activity have only just scratched the surface. 10 News First regularly draws over 500,000 people for their nightly show, and introducing A-League stars with the league itself to these viewers can produce growth and exposure like Australian football has never seen before.

The new broadcast deal for next season is an opportunity for the A-League to refresh itself, and ViacomCBS are certainly giving it their all to ensure this happens. Channel 10 appears to be going all-in on ensuring the opportunity to market Australian football to a new audience is not being wasted. A challenge for the A-League and Channel 10 will be finding a way to reach the large number of lapsed fans who have stopped following the A-League for various reasons.

The next step for Paramount+ and 10 is ensuring they have the right broadcast team in place for games.  Fox Sport’s A-League commentators have been maligned in recent years, however there are passionate and skilled play-by-play announcers who are waiting to be picked up. Simon Hill is currently freelancing for Optus Sport and would be a shrewd pickup as lead announcer for A-League games. Rumours of his acquisition by 10 circulated earlier this year, and he is proven quality who is dedicated and knowledgeable about Australian football.

Australian football could see a change in fortune if ViacomCBS can continue to expand upon this level of promotion for the A-League. By engaging new fans, ensuring lapsed fans are reached, and continuing to offer value to the committed and faithful, Channel 10 and Paramount+ can build upon the strong foundations that they have already laid before the season has even kicked off.

© 2021 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks