Gary Cole: Still striking the target

There are very few people in Australian football who have left their mark on so many facets of the game like Gary Cole.

From his early days in the Victorian Premier League as a professional footballer which led to a prolific goalscoring record in the National Soccer League (NSL) and significant success with the Socceroos, Cole has experienced it all.

Cole wasn’t the type who could hang up his boots and not play any further part in the game, so he pursued coaching positions in the Victorian State League, Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and the NSL.

He was also the first Director of Football at Melbourne Victory from 2005 to 2011 and occupied a similar role at Sydney FC in 2012.

Recently, Cole has completed an eight-month stint with Football Australia (F.A.) in trying to establish a National Academy.

Significantly, he has occupied an active role on the Board of Football Coaches Australia (FCA) for the last three years and was recently elected as President.

Although there have been periods he has been absent from the game, Gary Cole identifies strongly with the desire to see football in this country prosper.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Gary Cole discusses his recent work at the F.A., shares his opinion on the standard of playing and coaching, and the means by which football can be improved on and off of the park.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You were recently with the F.A. but your position was made redundant.

What did you achieve while you were there?

GARY COLE

My specific role was to initiate the setup of a National Academy, similar to the previous AIS.

I reconnected with people involved in coaching education at the FA and also met up with representatives of the member federations.

However, ultimately the FA decided not to invest in the Academy.

Whether it was a question of affordability or their lack of desire, I wasn’t privy to the reasons behind the decision.

Nevertheless, the FA Board should be asked to read a document compiled in 2021/2022 called; “The One Football Strategy”, which revealed a hunger for the Academy to be established with the FA and the member Federations working in unison.

Furthermore, with the appointment by FIFA of Arsene Wenger as Chief Football Officer who has stated every nation should have a National Academy or Centre of Excellence by 2026, it flies in the face of the decision to close the AIS in 2017 and the reluctance to invest in a National Academy now.

R.S.

What do you observe as other problems in the system?

G.C.

Player development and talent identification are key factors in producing a better quality of player.

Graham Arnold said before the last World Cup in his Gap Report that players from u/17- u/23 don’t get enough game time.

in his role as Chief Football Officer at the FA, Ernie Merrick has a big job to review and change the system because people involved in coaching at the moment are frustrated by the current pathways and lack of investment in the game.

R.S.

When you were at the FA, how did you rate the expertise of your colleagues and other employees  in the organisation?

G.C.

I had already worked with Will Hastie at Football Victoria and rubbed shoulders with seasoned campaigners Ian Crook and Gary Phillips – who I’ve both known for a long time.

However, they’re all busy people who are fully occupied in their coaching development and administrative roles.

Regarding other employees at the FA, it isn’t always the case that obtaining a university degree in sports management guarantees a contribution can be made to the game.

If football isn’t your first love and you don’t have a background in the game, it makes it much harder.

While I was there, I witnessed a high turnover of staff which indicated that maybe the wrong people were being employed.

R.S.

How can we get more former professional players involved in media, coaching, marketing and operations?

G.C.

Professional Footballers Australia are trying to encourage current players to think about remaining in the game and they are paying for their courses.

Some players want to get away from the game and follow a new career but for others, it’s a matter of examining their skill set which doesn’t happen enough.

One of the biggest problems is the current regime feels threatened by the presence of former players which is a big mistake.

Surely, the retention of more former players in life after football can only benefit the sport due to their total understanding of the product.

R.S.

We are producing very few tactically accomplished players in the game.

What is the solution?

G.C.

I was invited to the National Youth Championships in Coffs Harbour last year by the FA and spent some time with former Socceroo striker, Josh Kennedy.

There were players on view with reasonable technical ability but there was a dearth of quality strikers.

Control and passing technique were excellent but they didn’t know where the ball should be going before and after the pass was made.

It shouldn’t be just about maintaining possession which the current coach education emphasises.

What about penetration behind defences to create goal scoring opportunities?

In relation to the quality of players in general, every coach I speak to decries the quality of players coming through the system.

When we replaced the AIS and State institute of Sports because the Dutch said not enough players were getting a chance, we set up academies in the A-League and NPL clubs.

The intention of the model was theoretically sound,  but as Wenger says the reason to establish national academies is so the best play with the best which provides the ultimate learning environment.

R.S.

You spent six years with Melbourne Victory from the start of the A-League and it was the boom club of the competition for many years.

What has happened?

G.C.

The club had lost its way to some extent when Geoff Lord was replaced as chairman and Ernie Merrick and I moved on.

However, when Ange Postecoglou became coach and was succeeded by Kevin Muscat, the performances on the park improved and AAMI Park was always full.

After they vacated their positions, recruiting wasn’t up to scratch and then Covid struck.

When Tony Popovic took over two seasons ago, the mood became positive leading to a Australia Cup win and just missing out on the Championship.

Unfortunately, the club finished last in the league last season and I believe the reluctance to start U/23’S from the Academy was a major reason for the poor performance.

In contrast, the Mariners – with the smallest budget in the league – gave their youngsters a chance and achieved wonders while Adelaide United provided opportunity for their youth players and also performed very well.

Notably, there has been a clearing out of the Football Department at Victory and Poppa has a new squad so hopefully the club will benefit on and off the field.

Unquestionably, the A-League needs a strong Melbourne Victory.

German football ends 70 years with Adidas for Nike deal

The German Football Association (DFB) has inked a mega eight-year deal with American sportswear giant Nike and move on from incredible 70-year partnership with Adidas.

The deal commences in 2027 after the next World Cup and runs to the end of 2034 with the company securing kit rights for at least two World Cup campaigns.

Nike were able to blow away Adidas’ offer and the deal was one they simply couldn’t refuse. It is reportedly worth AU$169.3 million a year, exactly double the amount Adidas currently gives the DFB which is $84.6 million.

Adidas has been a DFB partner since the 1950s and has been synonymous with the success of Germany’s men’s and women’s national teams, who have supported the company’s logo during 14 World Cup and European Championship triumphs.

This deal has caused huge public backlash from German fans and politicians who believe it goes against the traditions and history of the sport.

However, the DFB has defended its decision to drop Adidas as Nike made the better financial offer which would help the federation fund the future of German football as it would be invested into the grassroots game.

DFB President Bernd Neuendorf explained the controversial decision and gives his well wishes to Adidas.

“We understand every emotion. It’s also a drastic event for us as an association when it becomes clear that a partnership that was and is characterised by many special moments is coming to an end after more than 70 years. That doesn’t leave us cold,” Neuendorf said in a statement.

“The DFB has to make economic decisions against this background. Nike made by far the best financial offer in the transparent and non-discriminatory tender process.

“The federation will do everything we can to achieve shared success with our long-standing and current partner Adidas, to whom German soccer has owed a lot for more than seven decades.”

It is a huge loss for Adidas’ legacy, losing a long term relationship with the country’s biggest sporting team to its main rival and ultimately showcasing the bargaining power Nike has over the company.

However, the company still has a huge standing in football despite this issue and won’t be too affected by it. At the international level, Adidas has deals with higher-ranked Argentina and Italy and will still supply Germany’s kits at the 2026 World Cup – a tournament which it will also sponsor.

This new deal allows more money to tackle issues in the grassroots game in Germany and help stabilise the system as it looks towards returning to long-term international success.

Nick Galatas on addressing the link between National Second Tier with promotion and relegation

The National Second Tier (NST) competition is building towards its expected start date of March/April 2025, but its final structure has not been settled.

While eight teams were initially announced with representation from Victoria and New South Wales, we are still yet to find out who will make up the rest of the ‘national’ component.

We will at least have an update on this around June 2024, as the Request for Proposal (RFP), Assessment & Review and Completion Phases are all completed.

Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) Chairman Nick Galatas has been a vocal advocate and involved in establishing the NST from its inception, but despite the previously announced foundation clubs, there is still work to do to ensure the NST starts in the best possible shape.

At this stage, eight foundation clubs have been confirmed, but there is a push to increase the number to at least 12.

Despite 26 clubs advancing to the RFP phase, only 8 foundation clubs proved to be a major drop off from what appeared a healthy pool of teams to choose from.

“There were 26 clubs that looked to be in a great position to be selected to start in the new NST,” Galatas told Soccerscene.

“From those, it would be expected to get 12 for a kick-off in 2024 but didn’t pan out that way.”

A lack of structure around how promotion and relegation will work with the NPL does leave some uncertainty for the clubs left out of the NST. Many clubs remain eager to be part of the expected four additional teams to be added for the competition’s commencement early in 2025.

For Football Australia, consistency will need to be applied across the board about how clubs go up and down between the NST and NPL when promotion and relegation commences. Football Queensland has made rules that a Queensland coming into the NST will revert to the competition it was in before it joined the NST. That is inconsistent with the approach of other member federations.

For example, with Preston Lions FC competing in Victoria Premier League 1 in 2024 prior to the commencement of NST, if they get relegated is it one step below to NPL Victoria or the original league they are in now?

Galatas outlined how everyone must be on the same page to form a unified system.

“As a scenario, we can think ahead to, say, 2027 and it’s the third year of competition, which is may also have expanded by then and include Queensland teams,” he said.

“For example, if, say, Preston Lions from Victoria and Sunshine Coast Fire FC from Queensland are relegation candidates in that season, it’s untenable that those teams would face different predicaments if relegated with Preston to the NPL and Sunshine Coast to oblivion.

“Hypothetically if we talk about relegation, everyone agrees that a Victorian-based club would be relegated to NPL Victoria even if originally from a lower league.

“However, when you compare it to a Queensland club, getting relegated means that they go into oblivion, which doesn’t add up. It’s fundamental and accepted practice that a relegated team goes down one rung and it has the chance to come up again.

“Football Australia needs to discuss a relegation scenario with all of the member federations and ensure there is a consistent approach. It will run the competition and must ensure the member federations work together with it and the clubs to achieve this outcome.”

Galatas outlined what he hopes to see out of the upcoming application process, moving one step closer to an Australia-wide competition.

“Instead of the eight confirmed teams we see now, it should be 12 teams from hopefully at least four states or territories to achieve the best competition,” he said.

“I would have liked to have seen a 2024 start date with 12 teams and have all the big players ready to go, but instead we’ve had a delay. But so long as we use the additional time to start strongly, the extra year to wait is not important in the overall picture.

“Having Queensland plus at least one of South Australia, Tasmania and Canberra to include four states from the get-go is the ideal platform to build on.

“Then we can look at Western Australia and the remaining areas as we build – we are just starting. We can grow the competition without rushing into it too much from a logistical point of view.”

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