Olympiacos Melbourne: The benevolent football philanthropy advancing footballers to further their careers

Olympiacos Melbourne

Olympiacos Melbourne is a football philanthropy that has transformed hundreds of children and seniors in the most influential way during its long history, not only on the pitch but also off it.

The organisation was established almost 20 years ago with its founder Frank, who developed players on the football pitch and also in their daily lives.

Olympiacos Melbourne CEO Steve Papadopoulos is also at the heart of it, where he made the decision to join in that lead role four years ago.

Speaking to Soccerscene, he provides an in-depth insight into why he joined, how reciprocal European clubs are to Australian players and much more.

“I have known the founder for quite a number of years and his name is Frank, he has been running philanthropy for close to 20 years,” Papadopoulos said.

“What l noticed was the change that he makes to kids, from a soccer results point of view it’s phenomenal and from a psychological point of view as well it is absolutely amazing, and so l was touched by that and just came in to help out with that and do whatever to assist in that aspect.”

Four significant initiatives exist in this organisation. The first, the Helping Kids Football Centre, starts at developing the juniors self-identity and confidence. The second, Football Improvement Centre, helps families afford the extra training for struggling club players. The ID Schools – Junior Euro pathway is the third initiative which allows families to afford the kids Euro pro dream with Olympiacos FC having the first right of acceptance and refusal for boys under the age of 16. The last initiative, the Men’s Euro Pro pathway, allows families to be able to afford the Euro pro dream for their young men, where the philanthropy finds a suitable club in Europe from which they can commence their professional career.

The young players that play for clubs and looking for additional training to improve and get more gametime at the organisation’s football centres allow parents and struggling families to be able to afford that opportunity.

The cost of four sessions per week starts at $29, making it affordable for the families struggling financially.

The cost of one junior player to play for higher league local clubs is $4,000, where Papadopoulos was asked is this an obstacle for the younger footballers coming through.

“I think it is because there is a lot of families who can’t afford that, but what is a bigger obstacle if a child is wanting to go overseas and they do want to do the extra training hours, the parents have to purchase additional training on top of that $20,000 – $30,000 that’s spent and that price can vary significantly,” he explained.

Considering Europe is the top prize of every young footballer growing up, Papadopoulos explores how reciprocal European clubs are to Australian players.

“It’s very stiff competition, obviously Europe is the top prize for players, so a lot of Europeans have found is they do a significant number of hours in training and we don’t do as many hours as Australians for various reasons,” he touched on.

“Basically, what they see is there is some quality in Australian players but having said that they know that we are not comparing to them in terms of the training hours that we are doing, they know statistically that we don’t have much of a chance of actually being successful.

“They are aware that if an Australian player comes that they are most likely have not done enough hours required into becoming an elite sportsman. This is where our philanthropy helps, we provide the ability for the extra training hours at a very affordable price.”

In June 2023, the football philanthropy has been able to achieve tangible results for their young men, sending 3 men for pro Euro trials and all 3 are now playing for Euro pro teams. Cristhian Garcia, who started at the Helping Kids Football Centre, managed to start his pro Euro career at 31 years of age at FK Minija, Lithuania. Jack Yousif, 24, and Ahmed Almajidy, 22, both have positions at FK Tauras, Lithuania. All 3 players are now professional European players who are exposed to other European clubs, being able to promote themselves to higher calibre clubs as they prove their worth.

 

For a player to utilise both their left and right foot during a game is a feature that needs to be upskilled. Another quality to be worked that is not being taught enough is to dribble head-up – Papadopoulos reflected on if it’s a department that Australian players are lacking in.

“I think the one thing that players really need is to have equally strong feet – they can’t have one stronger than the other, that way the opponent is not forcing them onto their weaker foot, and also l think players are not learning enough to dribble with head-up because it is cutting their vision.”

For more information about Olympiacos Melbourne and the programs they provide, click here.

FCA President Gary Cole discusses glaring AFC Pro Licence issue affecting many top Australian coaches

The AFC Pro Licence is still not recognised by UEFA and this issue has been an ongoing battle for many years.

Despite professional coaching badges, years of experience and on-field success, coaches are exploiting loopholes in order to acquire these roles in Europe that clubs clearly believe they are qualified for.

Many top coaches like Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat have battled through many obstacles like job title changes and being unable to take training or sit on the bench for matchdays just to accept offers in Europe.

Football Coaches Australia President Gary Cole discussed the frameworks that are set in order to fix this issue whilst also communicating the many obstacles in place that are currently halting the process.

“The discussions, I’m going to say started at least 5 years ago, Glenn Warry, the inaugural FCA CEO encouraged to Football Australia voraciously to work on that,” he said.

“The truth is that UEFA clearly don’t believe that an AFC pro Licence is as good as theirs because Australian-Asian coaches go to Europe and their qualifications aren’t recognised which doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense.

“Football Coaches Australia will try to influence Football Australia to push for change, it’s very difficult to get the AFC to do so but our legal team has sent a good amount of time writing to FIFA, but they don’t recognise coaching associations.”

David Zdrilic’s story is quite fascinating with the current Sydney FC assistant coach spending around $20,000 on a qualification that was not recognised in Europe. If you factor in flights and accommodation, the outlay was closer to $30,000 as he had to return from Germany four times to complete it. The FCA worked with  Zzdrillic through this interesting period where he worked for the likes of RB Leipzig and Genoa on different job titles to escape trouble. However he wasn’t the only coach to have troubles with this system in Australia recently.

“David was one of the many people that Glenn Warry helped through this process because it’s a challenge. Essentially what they’re saying is, yep you have a certificate that says you have a pro licence, but you need to prove to us that you really are a pro licence coach and that can take many forms,” Cole said.

“I think Muscat ended up, after having to sit to get around it, his club in Belgium called him a Technical Director and initially he couldn’t even sit on the bench for matchdays.

“They eventually got around that and they got to a point where his previous experience gets ratified because they sit down with him, interview him and realise this guy knows what he is talking about. They don’t give him a pro licence, but they give him a letter that says ‘you’re ok to work in Europe’.

“So many Aussie coaches go through it, Kevin [Muscat] went through it, Ange went through it, David Zdrillic didn’t have a pro licence, got a job offer in Italy and couldn’t accept it because his credentials weren’t recognised”

When asked if Australian coaches succeeding in Europe would help force the issue on this situation, Cole mentioned that there was still a lot more that had to done outside of that for it to pass.

“Success will cause change to one degree. Obviously if Ange succeeds it will say we have done something right but that’s a one off,” he said.

“When you start to add up the volume, so you’ve got Ange’s success, now Tanya Oxtoby who’s manager of Northern Ireland women’s national team but like Joe Montemurro they both got their UEFA pro licences whilst spending time abroad and that adds another string to the bow.

“Question is should we be encouraging Australian coaches to plan to go to Europe to get into the UEFA coaching course but that’s really expensive because you have to fly over and take time off work etc.

“We’d like to think no but the reality is today that it would be a better option for those who have the capacity and the willingness to work at that level.

“There are people working to try and fix that but given the organisations involved, I don’t perceive that it will be a quick fix by any means.”

It remains an extremely interesting discussion that has accelerated into a bigger issue in recent years as more Australian coaches start succeeding domestically and in Asia which leads to the bigger job opportunities in Europe that they aren’t qualified for due to this incredible rule.

Football Queensland one step closer to gender parity

Football Queensland have released numbers for the 2023 year that show a steep rise in female participation across all age groups following the incredible Women’s World Cup held on home soil.

In 2023, the split for Football Queensland participation was set at 69.8% Male and 30.2% Female which represents a hefty increase from 25.5% participation in 2022. The federation have been adamant that the 50/50 gender parity goal can be achieved by the start of the 2027 season which matches Football Australia’s Gender Equality Action Plan.

In the 2023-2026 Football Queensland Strategic Plan, the federation recognised that they had to transform their Women and Girls Strategy by integrating it with FQ’s Strategic Infrastructure Plan and Schools Strategy to supercharge growth.

The plan mentioned that there will be new facilities in place for boys and girls teams built in Brisbane’s North which will deliver state-of-the-art playing fields, a clubhouse, and community spaces.

This ambition to fast track growth means that FQ are putting an emphasis on creating the best possible foundation for ongoing growth on their path to 50/50 participation. This consists of improving numbers in coaching, volunteering and refereeing for women and girls.

Quickly, the federation are seeing results in many different sectors of the women’s game, most recently announcing that there was an incredible 81.4% participation increase recorded at women and girls festivals and programs in 2023.

FQ also has an ongoing commitment to supporting the progression of female coaches which was seen in the 2023 success that resulted in a 28% increase in female coach numbers for the year.

The next step for Football Queensland is ensuring the up and coming talent in the women’s game is properly developed by making use of the FQ Academy QAS program. The program has been a major success and has produced players for Australia’s national teams, including eight players in the CommBank Matildas squad for the 2023 WWC.

The strategic plan key targets outlined that FQ are ensuring there will be at least 25 Advanced female technical directors and female technical staff in key roles across Queensland by 2026.

This drive to utilise the success of the 2023 WWC along with strategic planning and tactical investment in the women’s game has allowed the federation to see enormous growth so quickly.

They are well on their way to hitting important KPI’s, similar to the 50/50 gender parity by 2027 and 62,000 club based female participants by 2026 which signify the change in modern football.

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