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Phil Stubbins: Past lessons the key to reviving Australia’s youth development

Phil Stubbins believes that in order to create a competitive level of youth development and infrastructure, Australia needs to commit to a long-term vision with a clear and detailed plan.

The current Head Coach of Campbelltown City SC, Stubbins has had a storied career in football that spans three-decades, but during this timeframe there has been a marked shift in Australia’s football landscape.

“I think we can certainly get better and definitely need to keep looking at ways to improve our infrastructures and youth programs in order to keep on the shirt tails of the ever-improving world’s best. To not do that could prove extremely damaging to our game, both nationally and domestically,” Stubbins said.

“All of this will need money, of course. If you look at youth development currently in the UK alone, we must acknowledge that vast amounts of money and resource have been poured into their development systems.”

While Australian football lacks the financial muscle to compete with the globe’s leading leagues, the success of the ‘Golden Generation’, who broke the nation’s infamous World Cup drought in 2006, proves that there is an underlying capability to produce talent.

Despite this capability, Australia’s youth pathway systems have come into question from many influential figures and it feels like an age since world class players were being regularly cultivated.

Stubbins during his tenure as Newcastle Jets Head Coach.

“Here in Australia, we’ve actually taken away the most efficient development pathway available to our young players by sadly abandoning the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). The AIS was our most effective provider of top national team players at one time with a program truly aligned to a top centre of excellence,” Stubbins said.

“I’m not saying that A-League clubs can’t now run their own academies efficiently but, the AIS was a facility designed specifically to accommodate, nurture, and educate professional levels of the game to our ‘best’ young players of the country. These players would all be training against each other on a daily basis looking to stamp their mark. That’s now gone!”

The long-term ramifications of decommissioning the AIS and moving to an academy-based system are yet to be seen, but for Stubbins, players are not being exposed to enough competitive football or elite level football education.

“The English Premier League academy players are playing 40 games per season as a minimum, plus, 10 to 12 hours per week of training, and then educational analysis of themselves and opposition teams in the classroom. Can you imagine the development curve for these players?”

“To be competitive these players are challenged in all aspects of their ability. Preparation, commitment, discipline, desire and a winning mentality. That’s just to compete, let alone to succeed.”

Stubbins understands the AIS intimately, having spent a year there as an assistant then interim head coach.

Additionally, as a star player for Heidelberg United FC during the early 1990s, he played with and against some of the most prodigious talent Australia has ever produced.

“I played in the old National Soccer league (NSL) with the likes of Paul Okon, Ned Zelic, and the emerging Mark Viduka. Kevin Muscat was another who was with us at Heidelberg United. From memory, all of these boys were only 17 when making their mark in the game back then. How many of the same age players do we now we see having man of the match performances in the A-League like these players were?” Stubbins asked rhetorically.

Mark Bosnich, Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, and many more were making their mark in the NSL during the era, many of which went on to become household names who represented the nation at the highest level.

“The lessons? It was tougher, far tougher back then I’d say. There are some excellent players today of course but holistically speaking, in terms of behaviours, attitude, mentality and the like I’d have to say that the old NSL was simply a tougher breeding ground of competition than the current A-League and that dogged mentality has evaporated to some degree,” Stubbins said.

“How to get some of that back plus, differing ways to progressively take the game forward is now a huge challenge for all of us.”

Stubbins’ Campbelltown City SC were crowned NPL champions in 2018.

Although a major challenge certainly exists to recapture the standards set from yesteryear, Stubbins believes it is possible by leveraging knowledge from current industry leaders and using it to setup a sustainable, long-term strategy.

“I don’t have all the answer but perhaps we could start by introducing the best people possible to oversee the reincarnation of youth development in Australia, with a mandate to provide ideas on gaining parity with the world’s best,” he said.

“To me, it’s very important to offer more educational insight into how top players ‘think’ and ‘train’ at the top level. Find out what separates the best from the rest with insights into their daily, weekly routines. We firstly need to showcase to our coaches exactly what those levels look like,” he said.

“We need to access the knowledge that these people can provide, otherwise, we’re simply guessing on how to improve.”

Another key talking point in recent times has been whether domestic-based talents are leaving too early in their careers. A trend has emerged of players thriving at a young age domestically only to move overseas prematurely, losing their momentum.

“We need to build the game here firstly and offer more elitist environments. That said, too many youngsters go before they are ready to go,” Stubbins said.

“There is no sense in going overseas when you are not prepared and ready. That’s why many of these young players that go overseas early never fulfil their aim to make it abroad. They simply go unprepared.”

While there is no obvious answer or quick fix to Australia’s youth development and infrastructure challenges, progress appears to be heading in the right direction under FFA CEO James Johnson  – and with rumours of a National Second Division starting to gather steam, Stubbins is keenly focused on his current role with the South Australian NPL champions.

“We have a strong junior contingent and a sound underpinning of direction and transparency from the board. Campbelltown City is an exciting club to be around with a terrific work ethic, and culture, both on and off the field.”

“I believe a second division would help to reinvigorate the Australian competition. If we can structure it to offer an attainable pathway opportunity from State Leagues across the country, then let’s make it happen. How? I’m personally not quite sure, but where there’s a will, there must be a way!”

Football Coaches Australia present ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ #8 with Gary Cole interviewing Joe Montemurro

Joe Montemurro is currently the manager of Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League, where he has decided to step down at the end of the season.

Joe Montemurro is currently the manager of Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League, where he has decided to step down at the end of the season to have a well-deserved break, recharge, refresh and review.

Joe has transformed Arsenal since his arrival in 2017 and has won the Championship, the League Cup, been runners up in the FA Cup and the League Cup and made the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

This conversation reveals Joe’s very humble personality and looks at his journey from coaching juniors at his beloved Brunswick Juventus in the Victorian Premier League, through to Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City in the W League before taking up the incredible challenge with Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League.

He discusses coach education in both Australia and Italy and his experiences in the differences from ‘how to coach’ to ‘what to coach’. He also discusses how his coaching has changed and matured over the journey and the importance of resilience when being under the spotlight for coaches.

Joe was humble, open and honest and clear about wanting to build a legacy by leaving each club and team he has worked at in a better place than when he arrived.

Please join FCA in sharing Joe Montemurro’s Football Coaching Life.

https://thefootballcoachinglifepodcast.podbean.com/e/joe-montemurro/

Rangers Coaches Convention to give unique access

Rangers Football Club have announced a week-long online Coaches Convention with unique access, set to begin on May 24, 2021.

Rangers Football Club have announced a week-long online Coaches Convention, set to begin on May 24, 2021.

The recently crowned Scottish Premiership title winners for 2020-21 will hold the convention that’s led by the renowned Rangers Soccer Academies team, as well as keynote speakers – Rangers manager and assistant manager Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister respectively, first-team coach Michael Beale, and Sporting Director Ross Wilson.

This unique offering provides greater access to Rangers, bringing together the expertise of coaches and senior members of staff from across the club.

Taking place every evening from Monday to Friday, from 17:00 to 21:00 (BST/UTC+1), attendees are recognised with a 12-month premium subscription to the Rangers Online Academy. The first 500 registered will receive an exclusive welcome pack in the post.

The convention will contribute towards the Scottish FA and Irish FA CPD hours, with early bird offers on sale for £120 ($215) per individual.

An outline on speakers and subjects are below:

  • Ross Wilson – Football Department Strategy
  • Craig Mulholland – Academy Overview
  • Graeme Murty – Game Model and Curriculum
  • David McCallum – Professional Development Phase
  • Mark Spalding – Youth Development Phase
  • Alan Boyd – Foundation Phase
  • Graeme Smith – Academy Goalkeeping
  • Creag Robertson and Arlene Sinclair – Player Care Provision
  • Jamie Ramsden – The Academy Performance Strategy
  • Chris Milne & Olivier Materne – Academy Medical Provision
  • David Stevenson & Andy Scoulding – Scouting and Recruitment
  • Amy McDonald – Women’s and Girl’s Department Overview
  • Malcolm Thomson and Kevin Murphy – Women’s First Team and Girls’ Academy
  • Dr Victoria Campbell, Olivier Materne & Emma Traynor – ‘The Female Athlete’
  • Michael Beale
  • George Brown – Performance Analysis
  • Guest Session with former Rangers player(s)
  • Live panel discussion with members of Academy Management Team
  • Steven Gerrard & Gary McAllister – Three Year Journey and 55 Title Win.

“We are thrilled to announce the inaugural Rangers Coaches Convention on the back of the club winning our 55th title and as we enter into our 150th anniversary year,” Head of Soccer Academies and International Relations, Gary Gibson said.

“As we continue to expand our partnerships across the globe, the Coaches Convention will become part of our international strategy to give coaches and fans an opportunity to access the inner workings and showcase the work within the football department.

“For the first time ever, you will be able to interact with senior staff from the men’s first team, women’s team, academy and club legends and we will cover specific areas such as goalkeeping, sports science, medicine, match analysis, scouting and recruitment, and educational programmes through the player care team. It is a truly unique opportunity!

“We are very much looking forward to welcoming coaches from all over the world which will include our official partner clubs Bengaluru FC (India), Orange County Soccer Club (United States) and Hamburg SV (Germany).

“I would like to thank all the staff across the commercial and football departments which has allowed us to create the Coaches Convention, further highlighting the one-club ethos that has now been implemented.”

Details on how to register can be found 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.

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