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Nick Galatas: “XI Principles a step in the right direction to unify the game”

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) has released a response to Football Federation Australia’s (FFA) XI Principles, supporting the call for a more inclusive governance strategy moving forward.

Speaking exclusively to Soccerscene, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas believes the FFA’s new ‘living document’ is a step in the right direction to building a “vertical, democratic model” which will ultimately help to unify the game.

The XI Principles were publicly revealed on 2 July 2020 in release titled ‘XI Principles for the future of Australian football’. The discussion paper is intended to outline 11 key strategies to drive the growth of Australian football.

“The AAFC welcomes the FFA’s XI Principles. From our perspective it demonstrates a recognition that there are currently issues within football that need to be addressed, so we believe it is fantastic that they are inviting discussion and comment,” Galatas says.

“To the FFA’s credit, they have stated that it is a ‘living document’. This means they have opened the bidding to everyone involved in the game by encouraging them to participate and contribute.”

The AAFC represents National Premier League clubs from across Australia’s state federations and the ACT. The association advocates for the clubs and their more than 40,000 players around the country.

In its official response to the XI Principles discussion paper, the AAFC called on the need for a linked football hierarchy that will act as a fluid pyramid. This, according to Galatas would help to create a competitive system where ambition is rewarded, and clubs can earn progression based on merit.

“Unifying the game sends the message that people, and clubs are not categorised into positions. They should not be labelled and should not be given a function. Clubs should aspire to be the best that they can be and what the club’s members want them to be,” Galatas says.

The FFA’s new message under CEO James Johnson appears to be one of collaboration, an approach which differs to the previous strategy which inadvertently created a divide between the A-League and state-level clubs.

“We all want to see our top tier thrive. Unleashing the potential of our clubs, providing a linked structure, offers the best chance for our struggling A-League to be re-energised and become the top-tier we all want it to be, at the top of a linked, inclusive, fluid football pyramid,” Galatas said.

The idea of a linked system would likely lead to a stronger collective outcome from Australia’s football clubs, which would lay the foundations for a stronger national team.

One of the goals of the AAFC’s desire for a linked system would be the implementation of a national second division. He believes the creation of a competitive second division would reinvigorate the A-League and strengthen all levels of the game.

“Ultimately creating a linked system could lead to promotion and relegation. I say ultimately because we need to create that over time, but we want to see a real second tier that the strongest and most aspirational clubs can form,” he says.

“The remainder of NPL clubs can then form a tier below that. This would alleviate them from the burden currently imposed on them and make football more accessible for kids to participate at a junior level.”

In terms of governance, the seventh principle proposed by the FFA is to ‘Transition towards a modern, fit-for-purpose governance framework for football in Australia in line with global standards and best-practice sports governance in Australia.’

Although this model has not been clearly defined yet, Galatas says the ideal solution would be to implement a “vertical integrated democratic model” which clubs have direct representations in their federations.

“Clubs are members-based. They are run by the people who elect a committee to represent them. Since 2006 clubs are not members of the federation so we are aiming to achieve the implementation of a vertically integrated democratic model where there is linkage and representation from top to bottom,” Galatas says

This fits one of the AAFC’s key visions, to secure voting rights on FFA Congress. The body is already a congress member and considers it important to create a system that is not exclusive and involves those at the grassroots rather than isolates them.

The release of the XI Principles comes a little over a year since the FFA scrapped the controversial National Club Identity Policy (NCIP), a policy which Galatas believes alienated people, clubs and the link strong link between tradition, multiculturalism, and football.

“The NCIP was a slap in the face to the history of the game. Australia stands for inclusiveness and welcoming migrant culture and legacy. It smacked of a totalitarian approach. Abolishing the NCIP was the first step towards demonstrating inclusiveness,” Galatas says.

View a full list of the FFA’s XI Principles here.

Football Queensland awards four teams with FQ Club Shields

Football Queensland have issued their first FQ Club Shields to four teams across the sunshine state.

The clubs to receive the accolade are Brisbane City, Brisbane Strikers, Lions FC and Gold Coast United.

The FQ Club Shield initiative was announced in June, serving as a visual representation of how clubs are performing based on a number of factors including extensive technical assessments.

“The FQ Club Shield initiative has been developed to improve accountability, transparency and visibility across a club’s technical performance and achievements while giving them a platform to celebrate success and growth in a meaningful way,” FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci said.

“We congratulate Brisbane City, Brisbane Strikers, Lions FC and Gold Coast United on completing their assessments in partnership with our FQ Club Development Unit and becoming the first clubs to receive their FQ Club Shields, with the remainder of National Premier Leagues Queensland Men’s, Women’s and Football Queensland Premier League clubs to receive theirs in the coming weeks,” he continued.

“FQ will continue to roll this initiative out across clubs as we support them in building capacity and improving technical development standards.

“Assessments are undertaken continually with star ratings provided annually. Up-to-date FQ Club Shields will be displayed on the Football Queensland website where players and parents can view them.”

The Club Development Unit critiques clubs on their planning, delivery and development outcome measures.

It also takes into account factors such as training and game observations, as well as an assessment of coaching standards.

“It is important to note that achieving any of the Gold, Silver or Bronze rating categories demonstrates considerable effort and consistent work and quality delivery by clubs’ administrators and technical staff,” FQ State Technical Director Gabor Ganczer said.

“The FQ Club Development Unit is continuing to ensure that both the players involved in these programs and the clubs themselves are well supported in their development.

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.

FFA maintains commitment for Indigenous football

FFA has expressed its commitment towards a new era of Indigenous football in light of NAIDOC Week and Indigenous Football Week 2020.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has expressed its commitment towards a new era of Indigenous football in light of NAIDOC Week and Indigenous Football Week 2020.

The recently concluded NAIDOC Week and Indigenous Football Week celebrated the history, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Australian society.

“In the XI Principles for the future of Australian football we recognise that our Indigenous heritage must be a critical component of Australian football’s identity and story, the need for clearer pathways, and to create more opportunities for Indigenous players, coaches and administrators to play and be involved in football,” FFA Chief Executive Officer, James Johnson said.

“It’s key that FFA becomes a leader in the Indigenous space. As part of the consultation process for the XI Principles, we have spoken with the Indigenous community over the past four months.

“One of the concrete outcomes of that process will be appointment of a National Indigenous Manager in the first quarter of 2021.”

FFA’s commitment to Indigenous football is strengthened with news that Football Queensland (FQ) has shown its support to a new showcase of Indigenous football and culture that be part of an exciting triple-header in Redcliffe on 27 February 2021.

Men’s and women’s teams made up of Indigenous players from across the nation will be the feature, taking on event hosts Peninsula Power FC in two exhibition matches at AJ Kelly Park.

FQ have officially endorsed the sanctioned event and will supply match officials for both games, as well as a curtain raiser involving Peninsula’s masters team and the South Coast Jummalungs – an Over 35s side from New South Wales.

The event has also been endorsed by Football West (FW) and Football Northern Territory (FNT).

“Events such as these add to the fabric of our football community,” Johnson said.

“FFA joins our Member Federations in endorsing this event, which has been sanctioned by Football Queensland, and congratulates everyone involved with its establishment. I understand that some high-profile former Socceroos and Australian youth internationals of Indigenous heritage will be involved with the event, which will also include football clinics and a showcase of First Nations culture through football.”

FFA Head of Game Development Sarah Walsh welcomed FFA’s Indigenous football developments.  

“We are fully focused on embedding Indigenous football into everything that we do with the goal of increasing Indigenous participation in our game at both the elite and community levels,” Walsh said.

“From Harry Williams, John Moriarty and Karen Menzies, to Jade North, Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon, our game has been blessed with the talents of incredible Indigenous and First Nations footballers.

“To provide the opportunity for the next generation to continue this tradition and to strengthen Indigenous participation at all levels of the game, we need to create stronger pathways and ensure they are integrated seamlessly into our current development system.

“We want to continue to partner with great organisations like John Moriarty Football and events such as the one being held in Queensland in February as we build a pathway that takes into account the varied experiences of Indigenous peoples,” she said.

Johnson, Walsh and National Technical Director Trevor Morgan all recently attended John Moriarty Football’s Indigenous Football Week Gala Day at their Dubbo hub. The event wrapped up a week of celebrations for JMF and the FFA.

Photo credit: Football Federation Australia.

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