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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.

Q&A with Heidelberg United Technical Director Daniel Girardi

Daniel Girardi is the current technical director at Heidelberg United FC. He has previously worked at various clubs across Australian football, including Adelaide United, where he was a scout and an assistant to then head coach of the youth team Michael Valkanis.

Girardi has transferred the wealth of knowledge he has picked up over the course of his coaching career to spearhead the current youth development program at Heidelberg.

Girardi, alongside other coaches and staff, have implemented a philosophy at the club that focuses on critical areas to develop young footballers.

For example, it’s not enough to just develop a footballer, but rather a ‘total footballer’ that is a good person, friend and member of the community. Alongside having the technical, tactical and physical skills, Girardi believes it is necessary to exhibit good behaviours on a consistent basis.

Training programs are based around emphasising individual development within a team context, whilst coaches working with their different squads are encouraged to collaborate together as a unit to focus on the long-term development of players.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, Girardi further explains why the youth development setup at Heidelberg has been successful, his career progression, the importance of a national second division, his own views on coaching standards in Australia and more.

First of all, tell me a little bit about your personal career in football and how you ended up in coaching?

I started playing in Adelaide. Like any junior you go through the ranks of a club, I went through Adelaide Blue Eagles. I went on to play with the senior team, from there I had coaching opportunities but I was very naïve and I didn’t want to take them. My senior coach at the time, Zoran Karadzic, said to me ‘Daniel, to be an even better player you need to understand the little intricate things, things that you don’t see that we need to see as coaches’. So at an early age of 17, he asked me to coach a junior team (under 8’s) so I did that while I was still playing. Then from there I went into further coaching, I became a junior technical director and coached all the way through from juniors to eventually senior head coach.

From there I moved to Adelaide United, Michael Valkanis asked me to come and join the team there. I joined United as a scout, as well as an assistant to the youth team, and that’s where my football mindset and career met as one. I honestly thought to myself ‘you can do this as a full-time job’. In Australia it’s very difficult, but at the same time you can put a program together to make it work. I tried to make it work now in my daily life, but again it’s very difficult. You have to coach early mornings and late at night, but it’s a passion that’s why you do it.

At Adelaide, I got to work with Josep Gombau, Michael Valkanis, Angelo Costanzo, Guillermo Amor and Pau Martí. Between all of them, my acceleration as a coach grew exponentially. Just the understanding, the little things that they can teach you about what to look for in a player, how to run, when they should pass the ball, timing, things like that, where in Australia we are not there yet. It was good for me to understand that the game is very simple but it’s the hardest thing to do. People talk about playing simple, but what does that mean?

There are 6 basic style rules that govern football throughout the world. If I see you, you see me, there’s a line of pass, we pass that ball. If there’s no line of pass, I need to run with the ball in order to find the next line. After that, the third rule being if you can’t find a line of pass and you can’t run with the ball, you need to protect the ball. We never player square – that allows counter attacks. Receiving always with your furthest foot so that you can face forward and no two players should be in the same line.

Would you say that standards and methods in local coaching have improved over the period of time since you began coaching?

That’s a hard question. I think the general understanding has improved. People are watching a lot more football, they understand they need to keep the ball and not give it away. But actually understanding the way you keep the ball is very different. In Europe, from a very young age, positionally, kids know where they are on the pitch. Kids know where they shouldn’t be, they know who they should pass to and when they shouldn’t pass to those players.

In Australia, people just see a pass and they just pass the ball. They are not understanding that if I pass the ball the wrong way to my teammate, not to his furthest foot, I’ve put them under pressure straightaway. If I don’t pass that ball with the right ball speed, I’ve put them under pressure straightway. When a player runs with the ball, does he or she use the furthest foot so their body is between the opposition player and the ball? What is the player’s orientation to the player with the ball and without? What’s their orientation to the defender? So, there’s the little things, I don’t think the level of detail is there in Australia yet.

Tell me a little bit about your current role at Heidelberg and your overall involvement in the current youth set up at the club. How did it come about?

I was speaking with George Katsakis a couple of years ago and he asked me if I was interested to join the club as technical director. At the time, I said yes I’d definitely be interested. Heidelberg is a big club. Heidelberg in the last five-six years is one of the best clubs in the country, because of the guidance from the board, Steve (president) and George as senior coach. So, I joined knowing that we are trying to develop players for that senior team. That’s what the goal always is.

However, we focus on how we can accelerate their growth in order to get them to the first team quicker, but at the same time make sure they are our juniors. We don’t want to go and continuously buy players, we don’t want to continuously bring players in from other clubs, we want to bring through our own. We want to have a long-term culture of developing Heidelberg boys and girls. Boys and girls that live in the area, that live and breathe wanting to be a part of Heidelberg, of Alexandros, it means something. To have players who start with our MiniRoos and give them every opportunity to progress into the junior setup and then to the seniors. That’s the main goal.

Heidelberg have strong teams at a junior and senior level across men’s and women’s competitions, what do you think is the formula behind this success in developing young talent at the club?

For me, 100%, having the facility continuously upgraded is so important. You need to have pitches, equipment and the club has always been willing to buy all these things. They’ve bought us new goals, new mini-goals, the smart goal system now, trackers, VEO and we’ve established a new collaboration with Oxidate – we are always cutting edge. So, we are trying to build that DNA and at the same time use technology effectively.

Importantly, we have really good coaches. Brian Vanega (U21s) who unfortunately had to leave due to family commitments, Jeff Olver who has come back to help the club, Renato Liberto (U19s), Adrian Mazzarella (U17s), Sinisha Ristevski (U16s), Jim Daglaras (U15s), Kai Maxfield (U14s); these are all coaches who have either got A licenses or B licenses. They all understand that we are trying not just to look at one team, the U17’s or U19’s or whatever. It’s a culture of looking more at the overall picture, the 200 boys and the 200 girls at the club and saying ‘how can we develop them as a group rather than individually?’ Anyone can go and kick a ball but you can’t play football by yourself, there’s 10 other people on the pitch. So, we focus on how we can get all of them up to the level we want them to be at.

What type of programs, initiatives have you introduced in regards to learning opportunities for other coaches at Heidelberg United? What do you provide coaches at the club with?

We provide them with an innovative online session planning and player management system called SoccerPLAY. It’s got hundreds of different sessions and drills that they can use for ideas to create and implement our methodology. Additionally, at any time, we are able to provide feedback to help improve the sessions and the coaches. At the same time, we also do coach to coach sessions and are always looking to improve the program.

We have a new athlete development and high-performance collaboration with Oxidate, headed by Jacob Falla, which is specifically designed to educate the players about football development, physical performance (strength, conditioning, recovery, nutrition) and overall wellbeing. We have a club philosophy which connects all players via the ‘three wheels’, the Skills Phase for our MiniRoos, Growth Phase for our junior NPL teams and Elite Phase involving our seniors. You are trying to build across these wheels to get them into to the top teams at the club. We continually reassess what we are doing across all the different pathways to make the necessary improvements daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.

A snippet of Heidelberg United’s philosophy.

How crucial do you think a national second division is for the progression of youth development in Australian football?

It’s imperative. I’ve actually spoken with James Johnson and his team about it a few times. I think you need more than just a second division; you need a third division. I think that the NPL should be that you go from that league to a third division and so on. The more levels there are, you give more opportunities to the kids in order to develop at the level that they’re at. At the end of the day, we’re not just trying to develop a footballer. We’re trying to develop good boys, good girls, good sons, good daughters, it’s the overall person we are trying to develop…a total footballer.

The women’s side of the game is seeing huge increases in participation numbers and a home Women’s World Cup is on the way in 2023 which will lead to even more playing the game. How important is it capitalise on this and build female youth development standards and produce the next generation of Matildas?

Again, it’s imperative. The girls’ game has gone from A to Z in the last couple of years and it’s only going to continue to grow. The standard of the girls is phenomenal and improving all the time. It’s so important that the football community and country get behind the Women’s World Cup. I’ve coached girls’ teams and their enthusiasm for the game and desire to improve is brilliant. We need to capture that and harness it for both the girls’ and boys’ games to make a better competition for Australian footballers going forward.

Grassroots sport given new lease of life in Frankston

The Frankston City Council have been provided $2.9 million in funding, part of projects that the Victorian Government has been involved with.

The Frankston City Council have been provided $2.9 million in funding, in a move that forms part of the ongoing community sport and recreation infrastructure projects that the Victorian Government has been involved with since 2014 – exceeding the amount of $1 billion.

Ballam Park, home to the Peninsula Strikers Junior Football (Soccer) Club, were granted $300,000 as an investment towards a new pavilion and an installation of new lighting for two pitches to allow further utilisation of the pitches for training and games.

The club consists of around 300 registered players and a rebuilt facility will ensure that it is inclusive for female participants. This is a boost and reassurance of female participation throughout all age groups.

Players and coaches will be delighted to find that the new pavilion created by the grants will include eight new female-friendly changerooms, kitchen, kiosk, social space, referee changerooms, storage, first-aid accessibility and public toilets. On top of this, there will be new parking facilities with street lighting upgrades for patron safety.

In addition to the Victorian Government’s financial contribution to Frankston City Council’s grassroot clubs, RF Miles Recreation Reserve, home to the Seaford Tigers Football (Aussie Rules), Netball and Cricket Clubs, will receive a new pavilion too.

Following consistent growth of participation numbers for the clubs of the three different codes, they will be treated to a brand new two-storey pavilion to cater for them. This will also include female-friendly changerooms and amenities, social and meeting rooms, first-aid room and umpire changerooms.

The oval at RF Miles Recreation Reserve will consist of a reconfigured larger oval with lighting that will meet to AFL standards. Along with this a new scoreboard, a coach’s box, cricket nets and brand-new netball courts.

All was made possible through the government’s Local Sports Grants initiative. The timing of the announcement and delivery conveniently falls in line with the lifestyle recovery post-covid. As such projects will inherently create much needed stimulating and restoration of the local economies, creating new jobs and bringing communities closer together.

Football West announces latest round of Building Stronger Clubs Program

Football West has announced the launch of their latest round of the Building Stronger Clubs Program, to future proof football in the state.

Football West has announced the launch of their latest round of the Building Stronger Clubs Program for 2021.

The program aims to future proof football in the state by ensuring that clubs and associations provide a better all-round experience for all participants, volunteers and fans.

The initiative enables clubs and associations to apply for grants of up to $1,500. Last year alone saw 24 clubs across WA sign up for the program and put the funds towards projects valued at more than $100,000.

The resulting projects included a club history timeline at Subiaco AFC, committee upskilling for Mindarie FC and an Asian Cup tournament at Westnam United. In addition, other clubs used the funding towards the purchasing of new equipment and the development of websites.

Meanwhile, Sorrento FC used the Building Stronger Clubs Program grant to develop a business plan to secure a $1 million election pledge from Western Australia’s Labor Party to fund new changerooms and upgrade club facilities.

The Building Stronger Clubs Program grant can be used to assist clubs and associations in strengthening their setups across a variety of aspects, including:

  • Governance and Policy Development
  • Facilities Management, Planning or Design
  • Stakeholder Engagement (including Government, commercial, community, schools)
  • Volunteer Engagement & Recognition Plans
  • Marketing Plan or Communications Plan or Digital Marketing Plan
  • Fundraising/Grant/Sponsorship/Partnership Plan or support
  • Upskilling Boards and Committees
  • Financial Management Practices and Advice
  • Inclusive Participation Pathways
  • Football Development Pathway programs for players, coaches, referees, administrators
  • IT Services or Website Development
  • Strategic or Business Planning

Additionally, clubs and associations can also submit collaborative applications for larger scale projects dedicated to making a difference to their football communities.

The program gives Football West the opportunity to also provide concerted support for clubs and associations to complete the Football Australia National Club Development Program through facilitated experts.

As well as this, Football West’s preferred technology supplier, Computing Australia Group, can help any clubs and associations seeking website support or grant application assistance.

Those seeking full details for Football West’s Building Stronger Clubs Program and how to apply for the $1,500 grant need only click here. All grants must be submitted by June 28, 2021 – at 5pm WST.

Any questions or queries related to the application process can be directed to Football West’s Cub Engagement Lead, Abid Imam at abid.imam@footballwest.com.au

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