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The next generation of Socceroos is here and we can thank the developmental A-League for it

There are few things that draw more criticism and disrespect in Australian sport than the A-League and by extension, the game of football. Some weeks back, respected journalist Will Swanton took his swipe at the competition, rather unsuccessfully I might add, and the next veiled attack will not be too far around the corner.

In essence, those yet to discover and embrace the beauty and passion of the ‘beautiful game’ and Australia’s domestic competition, still see something less than courageous and creditable about the most popular sport on the planet.

Sadly, to many Australians, the people who play football are actors, fakes and more inclined to simulation than substance, play-acting to performance and the dramatic rather than determined effort.

Thus is the challenge of educating the beer swilling, muscle brandishing and winter-code loving Australian sporting public; to enable them to see the beauty and dexterity of the round ball game.

It is a common misconception for some than football fans want Australia to succumb to its world-wide popularity, in some sort of takeover that destroys the ingrained love and passion for AFL, rugby league and the slowly declining rugby union.

Nothing could in fact be further from the truth and many writers such as I grew up watching, playing and being captivated by other codes of football in our early years. Australia is somewhat unique in the broad array of sporting endeavours available to its citizens, with football now the most popular of all according to current figures.

Logic would suggest that such interest and participation would directly correlate to international success in a sport played by around 1.8 million people on our shores. However, such logic is seriously flawed with far more than participation and enthusiasm required for a nation to even dream of grasping international trophies.

For Australian men’s football, despite the growth, development and gradual ‘street cred’ achieved over the last 50 years, international success has been fleeting and rare. Our women have fared far better in recent times, something that has made the Matildas arguably the most loved national team in the country.

The 1974 Socceroos trail blazed to the World Cup, before 32 years of alienation saw them lampooned as perennial losers. When John Aloisi’s penalty sent the men’s team to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the tide appeared to have turned.

Despite some qualification challenges, the Socceroos have featured on the World Cup stage without fail ever since. It’s move into the AFC has played more than a minor role in that success, yet creditable the achievement is.

The A-League competition was birthed in 2005-06, devoid of the community, cultural and nationalistic ties that the powers at be had told us held the game back and restricted its appeal.

Quite the opposite in fact, as the competition proved somewhat fractious and difficult for many Australian football fans to embrace. The A-League was problematic and tough to swallow for many fans of long standing clubs.

Refreshingly and despite constant criticism around the recruitment of ageing international veterans and the recycling of local ‘B Grade’ talent, the league is actually producing a potential goldmine for Australian football.

Such contemporary talents as Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Mathew Ryan have already ventured abroad to expand their skill set and become key components in Graham Arnold’s Socceroo equation.

Adelaide United’s Al Hassan Toure has declared his allegiance to the Socceroos and looks a flat out star. Team mate Nikola Mileusnic is not far behind, after overcoming injuries that hampered him early in his career. A trio of talent from the city of churches is completed by Riley McGree, potentially the most gifted player to emerge from the A-League in some time.

Daniel Arzani’s talent was so rich that his journey to Europe was expedited with a move to Celtic and Connor Metcalfe’s trajectory may well be similar, so impressive have his first six games been for Melbourne City.

Melbourne Victory’s Thomas Deng continues to loom as a long term Socceroo, Jamie Maclaren has confirmed his place in Graham Arnold’s squad and Adam Taggart’s golden boot season in Korea places the current Socceroos coach in a healthy space when it comes to weapons in front of goal.

Awer Mabil’s arc of improvement has continued abroad, Paul Izzo’s potential has begun to take a tangible shape and Central Coast Mariners star Samuel Silvera looks one of the most exciting youngsters seen on local shores for some time.

Throw in Newcastle Jets’ Angus Thurgate and Melbourne City’s Lachlan Wales and the depth of talent emerging is clear. Perth Glory’s Chris Ikonomidis might just prove to be the best of the lot, so talented is the 24-year-old Sydney born attacker.

The Socceroos have tread an oft criticised path in recent times, with many citing a lack of emerging world class talent when compared to the so-called golden generation of the early 2000’s.

However, in the new world order of truly global football, the talent being produced in Australia looks as exciting as ever. Once it matures, the Socceroos will have a wonderful team to represent us all on the world stage.

Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

Macarthur FC links up with Southern Tablelands FA

A-League newcomers Macarthur FC have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Southern Tablelands Football Association (STFA).

The MOU will see STFA join the three other existing football associations in the region, who have already partnered with the 12th A-League club.

Macarthur Football Association, Southern Districts Football Association and Bankstown Amateur Football Association are the other bodies already in a partnership with the Bulls.

The newly signed agreement will boost grassroots football in the Southern Tablelands with over 100 clubs and up to 30,000 players and officials to be engaged by the new A-League club’s community programs.

Macarthur FC Chairman, Gino Marra, outlined the importance of the new club expanding its community footprint.

“This MOU is an important step for the future growth of the game in our region. We know collaboration, consultation and engagement are the key components to develop and inspire the next generation of players. We are thrilled to welcome Southern Tablelands Football Association to the Bulls family.

“The largest growth area of football, not only in our community, but across the country, is female participation. It is imperative for us, as a club, to develop further programs that enhance female participation across all areas in the game, especially in the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023,” Marra concluded.

Director of Southern Tablelands Football Association, Craig Norris, was delighted with the prospect of partnering with Macarthur FC.

“I’m excited that our association will be part of the Macarthur FC journey. For our players, coaches, and admin staff to identify with a national club is a huge boost. Having a local A-League club like Macarthur FC, shining a light on grassroots football with our association will provide our members the feeling of being part of something massive.”

AGL extends partnership with Melbourne Victory

AGL has announced it has renewed its partnership with four-time A-League champions Melbourne Victory for another two years.

AGL General Manager Customer Channels Jane Morwick said AGL was proud to be Melbourne Victory’s
Major Partner, extending a relationship that dates back to 2014.

“We had no hesitation in reaffirming our support for the Melbourne Victory, particularly given the success
of the partnership,” Morwick said.

“We are also pleased to be able to continue to support the club during what we know has been a
challenging year, given the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As part of a new two-year deal, AGL will remain the naming rights partner of the club’s Victory in Business
networking functions as well as the Chairman’s Function on match-days.

“Our partnership with Australia’s biggest A-League club has been highly successful and we look forward to
continuing our support of its network and its most passionate fan base,” Morwick said.

“Victory members will also continue to enjoy the benefits of this relationship through special energy offers
for partners.”

Melbourne Victory CEO Trent Jacobs added that the club was thrilled to continue its relationship with AGL.

“To recommit to the club in the current environment speaks volumes of the leadership at AGL, and behalf
of the entire football club we thank CEO Brett Redman and his staff for their ongoing loyalty and support,”
Jacobs said.

“AGL has been a wonderful supporter of our strategic vision, both on and off the pitch, and have also
provided our members and fans with genuine value through their products and services.”

Katholos and Spanoudakis – Players who know best

In this age of uncertainty, Australian football faces great challenges to maintain prosperity in the professional sporting environment.

The decision makers would assure the football fraternity,  the right decisions are being made by the  people who are responsible for the governance of the game.

However, the history of the game is highlighted by the failure to provide former players the opportunity to contribute  in their life after football.

Many of these players have succeeded in the business world but have never been sighted by the hierarchy.

In 1992, the former Socceroo great, Marshall Soper, commented the game was all about administrators, not players.

Two former players who have succeeded in the business world are former Sydney Olympic team-mates, Peter Katholos and Manny Spanoudakis.

Katholos commenced a business in the manufacture and supply of football equipment while still playing professionally, has applied his electronics background in telecommunications and pursued extensive property and development interests.

Spanoudakis’s specialty was in electronic engineering with Unisys and is now General Manager of Sales for global technology company, Cisco Systems, in the Asia Pacific region.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Katholos and Spanoudakis provide their insights into Australian football.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

With the restart of the A- League, what are your views on the current state of the game?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Like all fans, I’ve missed the game and it wasn’t before time that the League was recommenced.

Ironically, the pandemic is an inflexion point for the stakeholders to reassess the existing status of the key areas of operational, technical and administrative procedures, and to implement necessary change.

PETER KATHOLOS

The restart was critical because if the League wasn’t to be completed, it could’ve potentially led to its premature demise.

Some players and coaches haven’t returned and without a competition, there was no publicity and the League became a distant memory.

However, the game probably required a reset so it could come out stronger at the other end.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What was your opinion of the playing standard before the halt?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Watching overseas football with no crowds over the last few months has given me the opportunity to reflect and compare against the standard of the A League. Whilst the tempo, skill and intensity overseas is more advanced than the A League, turnover of possession and defensive frailties even at the most elite level are still there to be seen. That said, the standard of the A League still has significant scope for improvement in order to be compared with most European leagues.

PETER KATHOLOS

There are a couple of good teams in the League but it’s far from exciting as there is an absence of creative players.

I watched Leeds United v Stoke City a few weeks ago in the English Championship and it was breathtaking.

It highlighted the speed, technique and intensity which is lacking in our game and the bottom line is broadcasters woudn’t be pulling out of A-League coverage ,and subscriptions wouldn’t have been declining so consistently in the last few seasons if the product was better.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What is your view on the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, recently released?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

The document is voluminous so it’s better to consider the main points.

Point number 1 refers to the requirement for a strong brand and identity. I believe the Socceroos and Matildas already have a strong affinity with even the most casual sports fan across Australia. However, at the domestic level, promotion and marketing of the A League is almost non existant.

The awarding of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will certainly increase awareness of our sport across all demographics and we should look to leverage this great event to amplify the A League at every opportunity.

PETER KATHOLOS

To improve the identity of the game, there has to be consistent marketing for the benefit of the sporting public.

People are aware we qualified for the last four World Cups which we should continually market to the masses.

Personally, I was pretty disturbed by the total lack of coverage when the A-League and NPL competitions ceased at the start of the Pandemic.

ROGER SLEEMAN

On that note, what are your thoughts about the viewing audience last Saturday for Central Coast v Perth of 9,000 compared to NRL of 804,000 and AFL 978,000.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Before their seasons recommenced, the other codes launched their publicity machines and people knew what was happening.

Honestly,  I wasn’t aware that Sydney FC played Wellington in the first match of A- league until I saw the score the day after.

Also, I didn’t know about the Central Coast match so the message is, there has to be some money spent on promotion because I didn’t see any advertising for the A-League.

PETER KATHOLOS

The figures don’t lie which suggests the A-League isn’t exactly capturing the imagination of the sporting public.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Point 3 of the Principles highlights payments in the transfer system.

Your thoughts about player transfer payments.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

In order to stimulate the football economy, the most immediate focus should be for the establishment of a transfer system across all levels of football in Australia.

For example, I remember in 1989, Zlatko Arambasic was an up and coming striker playing for Canterbury Marrickville Olympic in the NSW Super League. Blacktown City was in the NSL and paid a $50,000 transfer fee to secure his services.

If NPL clubs can generate revenue from developing players, they can reinvest in better facilities and coaching which sustains the football economy.

PETER KATHOLOS

We need a vibrant and sustainable development system so the NPL clubs can be rewarded via a transfer system which provides the resources for them to continue to churn out quality players for the A- League and the national teams.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Point 5 in the Principles refers to creating a world class environment for youth development.

Your take on this.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

The whole youth development system needs to be revamped and a funding structure established.

In order to improve the end product, we need a 5-10 year plan which entails developing better youth coaches and investing more in player education.

Parent education also has a key role to play in assisting youth development because up to 80% of the player’s available time during the week is at home.

Consequently, nutrition, fitness levels and private practice of technique and drills have to be of the highest order.

PETER KATHOLOS

Our major objective should be to develop better players who can boost attendances and bring more money into the game with the help of companies and the government.

In the 80’s, when I played at Sydney Olympic, our star local players attracted crowds of 10-15,000 without much promotion.

If you raise standards, more money will naturally flow into the game and also players can be sold overseas providing another substantial revenue stream.

ROGER SLEEMAN

There is a severe absence of past players involved in the game.

How can this change?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

As a corporate manager, I believe you need football people in the key positions of financial,  operations and marketing.

Historically, the CEO role was awarded to a non-football industry candidate but times have changed and James Johnson’s appointment was a positive one and quite timely.

The previous CEO’S had a lack of emotional connection to the game so at least giant strides have been made here.

PETER KATHOLOS

There are enough football people and former players available to be involved in all areas of the game like in Europe.

When the FFA started, their executives didn’t know who we were.

The skill set of former players should be utilized in coaching, mentoring, marketing and administration.

I applaud the selection of the first eleven but the key issue is, some of these current and former players may have little business experience.

Undoubtedly, there are many former players who have succeeded in business and willing to make a contribution to the progress of the game.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Is the administration hanging its hat on the success of the Women’s World Cup bid?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

This is a fantastic victory for the sport as it promotes gender equality and it should be an amazing tournament.

During the difficult times, a better good news story couldn’t have happened to the sport.

PETER KATHOLOS

This was a real success after the failure of the Men’s World Cup bid and hopefully it will encourage a large commitment to building better infrastructure for the sport.

Frankly, I didn’t follow the women’s game closely until the Stajic saga prompted me to take interest.

However, I believe the players like our men, have to improve the technical side of their game if they’re going to be a threat in the tournament.

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