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Frank Farina: We must find a way to increase investment in youth development

They say you can’t keep a good man down and in the life of Frank Farina, former Socceroo striker and head coach, football is like oxygen - he can’t live without it.

Frank Farina’s Comeback – For the Love of the Game.

They say you can’t keep a good man down and in the life of Frank Farina, former Socceroo striker and head coach, football is like oxygen – he can’t live without it.



Farina first emerged as star quality when he scored the equalising goal for the Young Socceroos against Mexico in their 1-1 all draw at Azteca Stadium in 1983. This all in front of 110,000 fanatical home supporters.

Farina’s career up to 1998 is well chronicled  in his biography, “ My World is Round”, but it was only in 2016 that he completed his last coaching assignment in Fiji.

The scorer of 145 goals in 336 senior matches in Australia and abroad, speaks volumes for his lethal striking.

Recently, Farina joined the First X1 which was assembled by the FFA  as an advisory panel to recommend measures to improve the game .

Also, he is hoping to take up the position of technical director for the Charles Perkins Academy when Macarthur Bulls start in the next A-League season.

Frank Farina is committed to leaving a legacy for Australian football and in this interview with Roger Sleeman, he reveals his enduring passion for our game.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were part of the class of 1983 which competed so well  in the Mexico World Youth Cup, playing alongside such legends as Rod Brown, Rene Licata, David Lowe, Jim Patikas, Tom McCulloch, Danny Wright and Tony Franken to mention a few.

Apart from Tony Franken and Jim Patikas, most of the squad aren’t involved in the game to any extent.

Why?

FRANK FARINA

It certainly was a great squad and our win against the European champions, Scotland, who boasted some amazing talent in future stars, Paul McStay, Brian McClair, Dave McPherson, Pat Nevin and Eric Black,  was one which will live forever in my mind.

Les Scheinflug and Raoul Blanco seemed like tough coaches at the time as they instilled their discipline on the team. Yet, in hindsight, we learned to see the game in a professional way.

After the players finished their football careers, the professionalism of the game was not so advanced so they had to seek opportunities outside of football.

The passion remained but the chances to remain in the game were limited so many of them pursued business interests with great success.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were selected in the First X1 by the FFA and apart from discussion about a transfer system, what else has been achieved?

FRANK FARINA

We recently had a long discussion about the women’s game and how it can be used as a catalyst to promote the game in all areas.

However, it’s early days and the main concentration is to identify strengths and weaknesses  and collect facts so we can make informed recommendations to the Board.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Do you communicate with Brisbane Roar, or have they approached you to provide advice and be involved with the club?

FRANK FARINA

Unfortunately, I haven’t and naturally a lot of people have moved on since I was coaching at the club.

Nevertheless, I still watch their progress closely.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Did you have any contact with Robbie Fowler while he was at the Roar?

FRANK FARINA

No, because he had his own people there.

As a coach, you live and die by your decisions and often the staff you select will have a major impact on the final outcome.

It’s a shame he didn’t remain at the club because the team definitely improved under his management.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What is your opinion of Dylan Wentzel-Halls?

FRANK FARINA

He improved out of sight this season as he increased his speed over 10-15 metres .

Also, rather than coming back on his right foot from the left, he is now running at players with pace and taking them on both ways.

If he can keep this improvement up, he will have a great future.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What is the current status of your proposed appointment as  the technical director of the Charles Perkins Academy at the Macarthur Bulls?

FRANK FARINA

With the departure of Football Director, Ken Stead, and when the major backer, Lang Walker left the club, my position became unclear.

With the rise of COVID-19 and the uncertainty surrounding the next A-League season commencement, I’m in limbo.

However, I’m in regular contact with Sam Krslovic and Gino Marra so hopefully something positive will transpire.

ROGER SLEEMAN

In the A-League, there are specialist goalkeeper coaches, but no striker coaches.

Why can’t people like you and Marshall Soper be employed in such roles?

FRANK FARINA

I’ve never seen striker coaches as such but I believe they’re  used in Germany, according to Marshall Soper who was at Kaiserslauten in January.

I certainly agree with the concept because finishing is a speciality but today the game has evolved into a total team structure.

If you’re playing a pressing game, dropping off or playing counter attacking football, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a striker, midfielder or defender, you are asked to occupy multiple roles.

ROGER SLEEMAN

At the moment we have coaches, particularly in technical positions, who have never played the game at a high level.

How can somebody coach at a high level when they haven’t played at a high level?

FRANK FARINA

Regarding this issue, I’ve had a problem with the coaching curriculum over the past ten years because people are obtaining Pro Diplomas who haven’t excelled at a playing level. What’s more they’re actually getting the jobs.

It’s a bit like a surgeon who gains his qualifications without ever operating.

I find the whole thing bizarre and I believe the curriculum in a nutshell is the basis of the problem.

There are different opinions on coaching but if you don’t agree with the curriculum, opportunities are limited.

The game in this country is producing robots and the fact is, they’re aren’t enough successful, former players engaged in key coaching roles.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were a totally two sided player and during last season, I analysed that only 10% of A-League players were competent on both feet.

How can we change this situation?

FRANK FARINA

I only started using my left side at the age of thirteen because I had a problem with my right ankle and wanted to reduce the weight on my right side.

The coaching of young players at grass roots is critical and often they don’t receive adequate skills training by the time they’re fourteen which is the time tactical awareness needs to be introduced.

Also, you have to ask how much time is spent with the ball by young players, away from training and games.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Many of the games we see in senior football are dominated by the ball being played backwards and across the backline, whereas in your playing days, you looked to play it forward.

How can this be corrected?

FRANK FARINA

Once again it comes back to the curriculum which emphasises possession football.

A team can have 70% of possession while making 20-30 passes back and across the park but they’re not doing anything to hurt their opponents.

In rugby league, 70-80% of possession means a team will win easily, while in our game, 90% of possession doesn’t guarantee a team winning if they don’t get enough into forward areas to maximise scoring chances.

The curriculum drums into coaches’ heads to play the ball out from the back but there’s a right and a wrong time to do it.

For example, if you’re 1-0 down, are you still going to play out from the back?

ROGER SLEEMAN

The FFA Board has members with no football background.

Why aren’t we involving people like Jack Reilly, Danny Moulis, Glen Sterrey, Gary Marocchi and Peter Katholos who have achieved major success in business and football?

FRANK FARINA

The answer is simple.

If they’ve put their hands up, these people are all worthy to sit on the Board.

ROGER SLEEMAN

In a recent interview, you stated lack of money was a major problem in our game, particularly with youth development.

Before the recent 70% culling of staff  at the FFA, there were as many as 105 people engaged as employees and contractors.

Also, there were significant bonuses and a large wages bill paid for the Asian Cup.

Your comment.

FRANK FARINA

If money is going to the wrong areas, you have to correct that.

You only have to see the resources invested in Asian football to see how successful the game can be. Therefore, in Australia we must find a way to increase the investment in youth development and the game will boom.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were part of a magnificent era which produced so many players who achieved at a high level overseas.

When will these legends of the game be recognised?

FRANK FARINA

I’ve always said ,to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been and that includes experiencing the highs and lows.

Before James Johnson was appointed CEO, the people in charge were the wrong fit for the game.

Also, the Dutch coaches predicted we would see the fruits of their efforts realised in 10-12 years but it hasn’t happened.

The success of the 2006 World Cup squad was the result of the investment in local players from the late 1980’s but at the moment our national team resembles nothing.

Therefore, the game has to provide more involvement and opportunity for former players to return and contribute, so some semblance of the glory days can be restored.

A-League supporter numbers grow – but 2 million football fans still unattached

Despite attendances dropping in A-League matches over the past few years, supporter numbers across the board have grown in the past 12 months, according to a recent Roy Morgan report.

“A-League clubs have enjoyed a substantial increase in support over the last year in line with the increases seen for other football codes such as the AFL and NRL,” Roy Morgan Industry Communications Director, Julian McCrann, stated.

“Over 3.6 million Australians now profess support for an A-League club, an increase of over 1 million (+38.3%) on a year ago.”

“As we have seen across other football codes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to be played in front of empty stadiums but live on TV to supporters stuck at home in the many lockdowns we have seen over the last 18 months around Australia.”

Sydney FC have the biggest supporter base with 640,000 fans according to the report, a 32% increase on last year’s numbers.

Melbourne Victory were also well placed on the supporter ladder, slightly behind Sydney with 632,000 fans, an increase of 46% on a year ago.

A-League Men’s champions Melbourne City and expansion side Macarthur FC also saw impressive numbers of increased support.

“Another big winner over the last year has been Melbourne City which won its first A-League Men Championship earlier this year after defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final (between Melbourne’s fourth and fifth lockdowns) in late June,” McCrann said.

“Melbourne City’s support has increased by an impressive 50.9% on a year ago to 249,000 to have the highest support of any A-League Men expansion team.

“The newest club in the A-League Men, Macarthur FC, has had a successful first season in the league with a finals appearance, a victory in an Elimination Final, and a loss to eventual Champions Melbourne City in the semi-final.

“Not only has Macarthur FC performed strongly on the pitch but they have already attracted 84,000 supporters to rank in tenth place overall.”

Whilst all A-League sides saw an increase in supporters in 2021, Central Coast Mariners experienced the largest percentage rise from 2020 – with fan numbers growing by 90%.

In regards to television numbers, over 1.5 million Australians watch the A-League Men’s competition.

However, the report states that 3.5 million Australians watch any football match on television, including leagues such as the English Premier League or international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup.

This represents a huge untapped audience of around 2 million Australians, something which should be capitalised on.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for the A-League will be to continue to grow the league in an increasingly competitive sporting market and find a way to connect with the millions of Australians who love their football but don’t presently engage with the A-League,” McCrann said.

“There are over 2 million Australians out there who watch high quality football competitions, such as the English Premier League, who are yet to become fans of the A-League. This at-hand market of 2 million Australians is a significant market for the A-League to target during the recovery from Covid-19.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the new body running the professional game in this country, have continually emphasised in their messaging that they want to target football fans of all types to engage with the local elite competition.

The organisation’s investment in a $30 million digital hub is set to play a big part in converting these fans into A-League supporters.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football,” Danny Townsend, Managing Director at the APL, recently told FNR.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need.

“Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that – they’ll keep coming back.

“You put great content in there, you serve it, and you will continue to understand that fan and all of their preferences.”

Catherine Cannuli: “It wasn’t easy to pursue coaching as I felt like I was back at square one again”

Catherine Cannuli

June 1 this year saw long-time stalwart of the Western Sydney Wanderers – Catherine Cannuli – appointed to the role of Head Coach of the Women’s side for the upcoming 2021/22 A-League Women’s season.

In addition to having built up an impressive resume through her role as Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Football Association, Cannuli has been announced as the latest addition to the Executive Committee at Football Coaches Australia (FCA).

Her landmark year of achievements thus far reflects her immense efforts in working to reach what she acknowledges as a personal high point in her coaching career. Cannuli’s success is undoubtedly a testament to her determination, but her transition from player to coach was self-admittedly challenging one.

The lack of clear routes towards securing coaching roles at all levels of the game has led FCA and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) to announce – within their Memorandum of Understanding strategies –all members of PFA’s Alumni will have their joining fee to FCA waived in an effort to provide additional support to aspiring coaches.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, Cannuli spoke on her efforts to reach the point she is at now in her career and highlighted the significance of this recently announced FCA and PFA Alumni partnership.

Coaching

It was announced in June that you were to become the new Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers. What has that been like for you so far?

Catherine Cannuli: It’s been exciting and challenging. Obviously, with the current COVID-19 situation that we’ve been in, I probably had four or five weeks in charge as the head coach and then we went into lockdown. So a lot of it has been done from behind a computer. But it’s been a great time to be able to plan and make sure that everything was ready to go come first day of pre-season.

In terms of opportunities for females in football following the end of their playing career, can you give us some insight into what was going through your head as you were coming to the end of your playing time?

Catherine Cannuli: I really didn’t think about coaching straight away to be honest. I retired and I thought I was going to get my weekends back and be a normal person. My friends were always having a go at me for missing so many significant birthdays or weddings.

It was after being off for about six or seven months, and not having football, where I realised more than anything what it left in me as a person. Football’s been such a big part of my life. It took me some time to realise that I couldn’t be a player anymore, because the commitment at the time was really hard – juggling full-time work and doing everything that I wanted to do. I was at a crossroads in my career at that point. It was thinking ‘do I sacrifice another four years or do I just focus on work and preparing for life after football?’.

It was at that point that I got into contact with the Southern Districts Association and explained that I wanted to give back to our community and asked what I could do to get involved with the girls. I went down and did some sessions with the team at the time, and within six months I’d landed myself my first coaching gig. I took over the First Grade Women’s team there and that was it. I fell into coaching.

What was it like mentally traversing that transition period between playing and coaching?

Catherine Cannuli: It was clear, because everything that I’d spoken to the club about they were on board with what I wanted to do and the vision that I had for young girls in the South-West region. For kids in the Liverpool and Fairfield areas, young girls like myself didn’t have the opportunity to be mentored or be coached. They didn’t have an environment where they felt they’d be able to really excel.

For me it was pretty clear from day one that I wanted to make a change. It was hard to transition, because after my first couple of years in coaching I remember going back to some of my coaches that had coached me for a long time and apologising. Because I didn’t realise what it actually took to be a coach. As a player, you turn up; you train; and you go home. As a coach there’s so much planning going on in the background that players just wouldn’t have an idea about.

The transition was definitely difficult, but after my first 12 months of coaching, I chose to dedicate myself to it. I had a business at the time and I stepped away from it to be able to then go into coaching. At the time I was working at Westfields Sports High School and Southern Districts and learning my trade, and it wasn’t easy when I decided to pursue coaching as I felt like I was back at square one again.

But it was really important for me to experience it that way. Even now that I’m at the top of my game as the Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers, I feel that as a coach it is really important that you learn your trade, go through different environments and see different things before you actually get there. It shapes you as a person and as a coach.

Cannuli

What have been your key learnings in your role as Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Football Association?

Catherine Cannuli: I think that the main one has been learning to build an environment for not just your players, but your staff and everyone to excel in. I think it’s important that everyone knows what your vision is and what direction you’re wanting to go in within your program and your football. It’s important that everyone understands that if they’re on this journey with you, they have a clear understanding of what the message is and what you want to do.

Whether I’m at Southern Districts or at the Wanderers, having that clear message with your players and your staff of ‘this is what it’s going to take to be successful’, and that we can do it as a collective.

Sometimes you see people saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’, whereas with me it’s about bringing people on the journey with you and making them understand what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.

Do you feel the partnership between FCA and PFA Alumni will aid aspiring female football coaches?

Catherine Cannuli: I think back to when I did my first C License and how far coach education and support has come. FCA have been a massive game changer in the coaching space, not only for females, but for males.

For any coach that aspires to be better and wants to be helped, even for those A-Leagues players wanting to transition out of playing into coaching, I think it’s important that there’s a mentorship and a process in what we want to do and how we want to do it.

Sometimes when we jump straight into the deep end it becomes difficult to have an understanding of what the role of a coach is. If you are a player, the role of a coach is a very different role to when you’re a player.

The partnership between FCA and PFA is huge. I’ve always said that football needs to come together and we need to work together as one. This is showing that together we can be stronger. And these partnerships are only going to allow our players and people to grow and further develop their skills in that space.

You’ve recently been announced as an addition to the Executive Committee at FCA. What initiatives will you be looking to drive as a part of your work there?

Catherine Cannuli: I think the main one is to give as much coach education as we can for all coaches. Giving all people from all different levels the number of resources that they can get onto. You can already see that with a lot of the workshops that we’ve been running. The numbers that we’ve been getting for these have been fantastic.

For me, the key thing with FCA is to drive its existence for people to understand that FCA is there and what it can do for coaches. Because I’ve already seen how it supported me over the last two years as a member. And I think, down the track, FCA is going to have such a significant impact on the coaching life. It’s going to be amazing to see where it’s going to be having known where it started.

FCA

What changes and opportunities for the women’s game are you hoping to see come to the fore leading into and after the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Catherine Cannuli: The greatest achievement for me with receiving the opportunity to be the Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers is that other females can look to this and say: ‘Hey, I can be a Head Coach at the A-League Women’s as well’. That’s the most important, that young female coaches can actually aspire to be a coach in the A-League Women’s.

The more that we see it on the TV and the papers that there are female coaches leading the way, there’s going to be even more opportunity for young females to come through NPL clubs and do coaching.

At the moment, the number of coaches in the female space in a professional environment is probably quite low. And that’s something that we need to keep driving change for; changing the dynamics around females not thinking that there are those opportunities for coaching when there are.

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