Joe Spiteri is a name well known around Australian football circles and for good reason.
The former Australian international gritted his teeth for clubs in the National Soccer League, including being an influential part of a Melbourne Knights side in the mid 90’s – which is widely regarded as one of the best teams Australia has ever seen.
His exploits in the domestic competition eventually got him a move overseas, where he played for Sturm Graz in Austria, Lierse in Belgium and IFK Norrkoping in Sweden.
In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, the 48-year-old reflected on his playing career, explaining the differences at the time between plying his trade overseas and in Australia.
“The NSL level overall, don’t get me wrong, was pretty high,” he said.
“Back in the Melbourne Knights days we had one of the best teams at that time and is comparable to nowadays with the ability that was in that team. The number of national players who were playing for us were fantastic and they would be a hard team to beat (nowadays).
“But overseas the fitness level was completely above the Australian level at the time, it was considerably better.”
“I think the overseas setup took training to a whole new level; we were training all day every day.
“They had doctors, pediatrists, dietitians, everything over there and that was 25 years ago now.
“The science involved – we had heart rate monitors back then, our levels of training were monitored, our supplements program were monitored, our blood oxygen levels were monitored, we had to maintain a certain weight for our playing style and position, it was all next level and basically nothing was left to chance.
“Whereas in Australia at that time, there was nothing of that scientific level that there is now here.”
After coming back to Australia in the final years of his playing career, Spiteri would eventually begin his own academy, Soccer Pro Academy, to help further develop the next generation of footballers.
“I eventually moved to Werribee City when I was finishing up my playing career and there, they offered me the position of junior coaching director,” he said.
“From there, I eventually progressed into starting my own academy at the club and then after starting that, the level of interest increased and I further developed the idea.
“I started branching out to different areas, with different clubs and schools – before Covid we had over 450 kids across 8 venues in the west of Melbourne.
“Coaching kids is something that I’ve always done, even as a professional player I was sent out to schools and so forth. The enjoyment you get from seeing an under 5’s kid come to your academy bawling his out because he doesn’t know or want to play the game and then go on to play at a higher level and push up through the ranks is something very rewarding.”
Spiteri believes that at a junior development level, promising young players are being priced out of the game which is a significant issue.
“The NPL program and the restriction of being able to play at the highest level due to financial standings is concerning to myself,” he said.
“Back in the day you were either good or bad, the fees were pretty much standard across every club and every league.
“If you were good enough, you’d play in the higher leagues and get into the super league teams, if you weren’t you’d play at the lower clubs.
“Nowadays if you want to play at the highest level, there’s huge a gap in the fees you have to pay.
“Anytime you’re restricted on financial standings, you’re always missing out on some really good players.
“Back in the day, there wasn’t the academy system there is now, the professionalism, there’s a lot of different opportunities and competition. Players don’t always have to join a club per say, they can join an academy and play in an academy team and they can still have the same, if not better, development as a footballer.”
Overall, the former NSL striker has some concerns around the national program and the way coaches are told to implement a certain style of play.
“In regards to the national curriculum and how coaches are asked to develop their players, I think we focus too much on maintaining possession and not enough on going around players, dribbling and creating goal scoring opportunities.
“I think we are falling behind in that factor and it’s highlighted in our national teams.
“Our national teams seem to maintain possession a lot, but not score or have the attacking flair that you see from European or South American nations.
“If you have players dribbling a lot in our curriculum, it seems they are being coached out of it, which I think is an issue.”