Nick Maikousis: National Second Division a “golden opportunity to unify football”

Long before the ‘Golden Generation’ went on to achieve stardom and represent the Australia at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, many modern household names earned their stripes during the 1990s in Australia’s National Soccer League (NSL). The division was unrelenting and highly competitive – factors many successful Socceroos credit with shaping them into the players they became.

South Melbourne FC president Nick Maikousis believes the introduction of a National Second Division will promote home-grown talent in a similar vein and play a significant role in resurrecting Australia’s youth development pathways.

“The reality is with the number of Visa players in the A-League there isn’t as much opportunity for young Australians compared to what used to exist. The view of South Melbourne and the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) working group is that the second division will predominately be made up of Australian talent,” Maikousis said.

“Introducing a second tier will mean exposing young Australian talent to regular competitive football. The quality of the game will improve as young boys and girls are given exposure and experience – the results can only be positive.”

Australia has still enjoyed recent periods of success, most notably winning the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, but during the past decade there has been a tangible decline in the number of Socceroos playing in the world’s top leagues.

Experts argue a multitude of reasons for this downturn, but a trend has emerged of young talented players moving overseas early in their careers only to become lost in the cutthroat European system, ultimately stagnating in their development.

SMFC sold a young Kevin Muscat to Crystal Palace for £35,000 in 1996. One example of many homegrown NSL players who went on to succeed in Europe.

“There were obviously inherent issues with the competition in those days, but if you look at our success during the 2006 World Cup campaign, most of the squad was produced locally before they went on to the highest levels of European football,” Maikousis added.

“Ange Postecoglou’s South Melbourne teams that won back-to-back titles in 1998/99 and then went to Rio de Janeiro for the FIFA Club World Championship in 2000 were full of Aussie players. The model that we are to create will also promote home-grown talent in the same way.”

Maikousis and others in the football world are also optimistic that a second division will lead to a mature domestic transfer market through the unification of the game into one linked football pyramid. This would allow FFA to regulate and encourage player movement, paving the way for a model that mimics those in many international environments.

“Clubs would have a financial incentive to develop their young talent as they would be compensated if A-League clubs or rival clubs acquired their players,” Maikousis said.

“Again, going back to the NSL, South Melbourne sold so many players overseas and we believe that would become part of the model in addition to player pathways, the idea that clubs develop players and are remunerated for it.”

Many football administrators would be excited by the prospect of an operation transfer market which rewards youth development, but a potential second tier would also create many additional financial benefits for Australia’s clubs.

From South Melbourne’s point of view, Maikousis believes the club already has the foundations and fanbase to compete at a higher level.

“South Melbourne would grow exponentially. We have done a lot of modelling when we were putting together our official A-League bid. In terms of sponsorships, memberships, gate attendances, and player development we believe the club would generate significant revenue,” Maikousis said.

“In our research we established through our social media channels that we have roughly 100,000 followers. This figure already ranks comparatively with some of the A-League clubs and we’re comfortable we would convert a percentage of these into members.”

“I think the critical thing to understand is the capability of these potential second division clubs. There will be significant long-term benefits because it allows South Melbourne and other clubs to better themselves and also puts pressure on the A-League clubs to continue to better themselves as it will create a competitive environment.”

During recent months there has been considerable speculation about what a potential National Second Division will look like. AAFC has formed a working group of clubs supporting a second tier, dubbing the division ‘The Championship’.

To date, 35 clubs have officially joined the group, including South Melbourne FC. The working group has publicly stated it hopes to see the second division implemented in 2022.

Maikousis (L) with SMFC captain Brad Norton and Greece legend Giorgios Karagounis.

“Progress has been very productive. We’ve had a number of AAFC meetings. The first was an invitation to all NPL clubs across Australia to see who is in a position to play in a potential second division and also to see who is prepared to fund the work that’s required,” Maikousis said.

“There are various working groups this week as well so there is more to come.”

Although the concept is still in its infancy, momentum is growing and The Championship working group is modelling and consulting with game stakeholders to provide recommendations to FFA.

“FFA is very much accepting that this is going to happen. It has been working with all the stakeholders to make sure we create a model that works for everybody. James Johnson and Chris Nikou have a chance to unify the game and I cannot think of a better way to unify football in this country than to build a system which acknowledges everyone and every club,” Maikousis said.

“FFA have asked us to consider a conference system instead of a broader European-style system. I can say from South Melbourne FC’s point of view, our preference is a traditional European-style national second division but the working groups will do the relevant work to provide recommendations based on what is best for the majority.”

While there is still much work to do, the official formation of the National Second Division now appears an achievable prospect. For more information on The Championship, please visit HERE.

Peter Tsekenis, Peter Papoythis and Manny Spanoudakis: Marconi’s three wise men

It’s rare to witness longevity in Australian football coaching staff.

However, in the world of Marconi head coach, Peter Tsekenis, and assistant coach, Peter Papoythis, a magic formula exists which has seen the coaching duo share 17 years together – including eight years in their current roles at Bossley Park.

Three years ago, the pair was joined by well known coaching analyst, Manny Spanoudakis, who has added another strand of expertise to the coaching regime.

With the National Second Tier imminent in 2025, the three coaches have a new challenge to restore the famous club to its former glory.

It’s no secret the club paraded some of the greatest players in Australian football history during the NSL – with the likes of Jim Rooney, Ray Richards, Ernie Campbell, Alan Maher, John Russell, Gary Byrne, Bertie Mariani, Richie Williams, Stewart Robertson, Paul Degney, Mark Jankovics, Peter Sharne, David Lowe, Rob Wheatley, Luke Casserly, Kimon Taliadoros, Ian Gray, Roberto Vieri, Rod Brown, Eddie Krncevic, Paul Carter, Tom McCulloch, Tony Henderson, Jean Paul de Marigny, Frank Farina, Peter Katholos, Steve Corica, Mark Schwarzer and Ian Hunter filling Marconi Stadium every time they appeared.

This season is a watershed in preparation for the National Second Tier and the Club is currently in fourth spot, just two points behind leaders Western Sydney Wanderers.

“There were a lot of changes this season with a refreshed squad of young players adding to the core group,” Peter Tsekenis said.

“Unlike Marconi in previous years and some other clubs, we believe it‘s important to cultivate youth development and this year will see several players emerging to make their mark on the League.

“Nevertheless, we’ve experienced the usual injuries and suspensions early in the season, but after the unfortunate 3-2 away loss to Sydney United, we bounced back with that resounding 4-0 win against St. George which was repeated with another 4-0 defeat of Hills United last Saturday night.”

Marconi players look on during the 3-2 loss to Sydney United.

“It was a total rebuild this season because we lost thirteen players in the off season and the new players have to understand what the coaching staff want,” Peter Papoythis said.

“The loss of James Bayliss in the first round for the season due to a popped shoulder was certainly something we didn’t expect.

“Fortunately, the established players Marco Jesic, Brandon Vella and Nathan Millgate are a mainstay and are supported well by Dominic Costanzo and James Temelkovski.”

The Marconi Men in a team photo.

“With the addition of the younger players this year, there has been a great energy to train and learn,” Manny Spanoudakis said.

“The five games played in fourteen days preceding the Sydney United match was a real test for the squad.”

“We were accused of parking the bus against Sydney United in the second half after dominating the first half and leading 2-0, but the heavy program certainly didn’t aid our cause,” Peter Papoythis added.

“There were no instructions to close the game down and our players simply didn’t rise to the challenge by neglecting the plan to play more into the opponents half in the second 45 minutes,” Tsekenis explained.

Marconi’s Senior Women who compete in their respective NPL NSW competition.

“Closing shop isn’t in our vocabulary and we’d had a good week of preparation,” Spanoudakis said.

“However, with new, young players who only have 30 games under their belt, game management, fitness and the extremely congested program weighed against us.

“We faced a similar situation on the Wednesday night, after the Sydney United defeat in the Australia Cup match against Southern Districts when we were down 2-0 at half time.

“In the second half we returned to our game plan and scored four goals which proved the players had learned from the Sydney United loss.”

“The late loss to Sydney United was a setback  but we didn’t set out to defend and some credit must be paid to our opponents for coming out at us throughout the second half and the winning goal was a screamer which couldn’t be prevented,” Papoythis added.

Rockdale Ilinden v Marconi in Round 2 NPL NSW Men’s.

With the stronger level of competition anticipated in the N.S.T., Tsekenis believes the brand of football will be similar to the NPL but the quality of player the League will attract will be better which will ensure a rise in playing standards.

“I’m programmed to play in the NST as the competition will provide a new challenge playing against Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and hopefully Tasmanian teams” he said.

“The NPL has its limitations and younger players will want to play in it and critically the Marconi club is totally switched on for it to provide something different for our supporters.”

“This will encourage former NSL fans to reconnect with the game as they will be seeing the best players from NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and possibly Tasmania competing at the highest level in a more professional League,” Spanoudakis added.

Sydney Olympic v Marconi in Round 4 of NPL NSW Men’s.

In anticipation of the step up to the N.S.T. , in the last two years, the Marconi club has implemented major refurbishment to the ground facilities, including a brand new state of the art scoreboard, painting of the grandstand, new world class change rooms for the home and visiting teams and two new synthetic pitches with grandstands and scoreboards.

“The field dimensions of these pitches are bigger than some other club’s facilities and it means irrespective of the weather we always train,” Tsekenis said.

“These facilities were a great investment because they were used for the home base of the Columbian Women’s World Cup squad last year,” Spanoudakis explained.

“The club is also planning replacement of the plastic seating if there is a positive response to the NST from supporters.

“Who knows, if demand is great enough for the NST, the club could make the ground an all seater boutique stadium.”

Marconi v Sydney FC in Round 7 NPL NSW Men’s.

This begs the question as to how a club like Marconi with 40,000 members isn’t in the A-League.

Peter Tsekenis believes as a coach you always aspire to the next level and geographically Marconi sits between Macarthur and Western Sydney Wanderers.

However, at this stage the club would appear committed to establishing itself in the NST before it entertains thoughts of applying for the A-League.

“It would be a perfect fit but it really depends on the aspirations of the club Board and the demands of the members,” he said.

“Yet there are players from the club who have moved on to A- League and that will continue to happen.

“Some players are content to play NPL as they earn more money playing part time football and working in a job.

“This is the case with some players who have been approached by A-League clubs but prefer to play part time football.”

“The club has everything to offer if it wanted to make a bid to play in the A-League and I would love to be part of it,” Papoythis added.

“However, consolidation in the NST is the first objective and then it’s up to the decision makers whether the A-League should be pursued.”

“A number of players in our current Marconi squad could step up to A-League if they were given the opportunity to train on a full time basis,” Spanoudakis explained.

“The N.S.T. needs to be fulltime so we can have six sessions per week, rather than only three.”

With the advent of the NST, there will also be more opportunity for coaches, but Peter Tsekenis always has adopted the philosophy of not looking too far ahead.

“I’m privileged to be coaching at one of the biggest clubs in the country and seeking success for the club this season is my main focus,” he said.

“The NST will be the next challenge and naturally to progress to a coaching job in the A-League with Marconi would be ideal.

“Beyond that I would love to be involved with the junior national teams which I experienced as a player.”

“I dream of having a full time job in football like coaches have in Europe even in the lower divisions because it’s difficult when you’re working in a business and trying to commit to football totally,” Papoythis added.

Manny Spanoudakis doesn’t look too far ahead but believes if you focus on the job at hand, opportunities will naturally present.

“I have really enjoyed my stint at Marconi for the last three years and if coaching at a higher level became available, I would consider it carefully,” he said.

“However, my main focus currently is to assist the coaching staff in their goal to add trophies to the club’s collection.”

AFC Technical Committee create new awards to improve standards

The AFC Technical Committee had its second meeting last weekend in Doha, Qatar on the eve of the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qatar 2024 Final between Japan and Uzbekistan.

The official AFC meeting outlines new initiatives on awarding development and solidifying supportive structures.

In conjunction with the overall rise in Women’s football within the AFC’s associations and the wider FIFA football community, The AFC has decided to unveil the new accolade of the AFC Women’s International Player of the Year Award.

The eligibility criteria include that applicants:

  • Must be Asian
  • Playing in the leagues of other Confederations
  • Have recorded significant achievements for country or club

There has also been an adapted criteria for the existing AFC Women’s Player of the Year. Similarly, they must be Asian and a regular national team player, specifically in the AFC competitions, and any of the AFC’s Member Associations (MAs) leagues.

The goalkeeper position has also been given due recognition with the Goalkeeper of the Tournament Award in the revamped AFC Champions League Elite – Final Stage, which commences from the 2024/25 season.

These initiatives are important for the AFC acknowledging crucial technical roles in the footballing scene. These individual awards give the incentive for further support for women and goalkeeping by officially elevating their status in the AFC.

Also, there was the support of structured initiatives within the AFC, including the ‘Positive Play’ campaign – promoting attractive football for players, coaches and supporters endorsing the expectation of positive future playing styles. This is especially prominent in the upcoming AFC youth competition with the winning team receiving a certificate of achievement.

On the topic of youth and growth, the AFC Elite Youth Scheme and AFC grassroots charter have also received updates and growing drive, including importantly newly updated regulations for the AFC Coaching Convention.

However, these decisions need to be further ratified by the AFC Executive Committee. This is a promising statement that the AFC Technical Committee is strategising large investments in increasing standards throughout all levels of the AFC’s MAs.

This meeting should also intrigue keen investors, shareholders and clubs in the AFC Technical Committees objective to encourage development means they are willing to reward. financially and strategically. This supports their aim to achieve higher standards and results on and off the field.

It’s an encouraging sign of evolution in the Asian football schedule and an ambitious push by the AFC.

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