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!”

One-on-one with John Aloisi: “I want to coach again”

Socceroos legend John Aloisi has declared he wants to coach again “sooner rather than later”, hoping to get that opportunity locally in the A-League or overseas in the future.

Aloisi, who currently works as a pundit for Optus Sport, last coached the Brisbane Roar to two top-four finishes in the A-League, in his first two seasons at the club.

The 45-year-old would eventually leave his post in late 2018, during his fourth season as manager at the club.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, the man who scored that famous penalty against Uruguay touches on the current status of youth development in Australian football, the need for a national second division, his future ambitions in coaching, the quality of local coaches, his playing career and the upcoming Women’s World Cup.

First of all John, the current state of affairs due to COVID-19 has seen a lot more youngsters get playing time in the A-League. Which young players have particularly stood out for you and how significant is it for youth development in this country for these players to get valuable minutes? 

John Aloisi: Yeah I think it’s very important for the players to get minutes. If you go around the world, the best leagues do have players at an early age playing a lot of games of football. You can do all the training in the world, but if you don’t play games you’re not going to improve as a footballer.

Pretty much every team in the A-League has had young players that are really standing out. It’s good to see the young Australian strikers at the top of the scoring charts, you’ve got Kuol at Central Coast Mariners, Wenzel-Halls at Brisbane Roar and D’Agostino at Perth all up there.

It’s a great opportunity for all the young players at the moment, because you’ve got the Olympic Games just around the corner. I think it’s exciting for Graham Arnold and for the young boys, if they do well they could be on the plane to Tokyo.

You played senior matches as a 15-16-year-old at Adelaide City at the start of your career. Personally, how vital were those games in your development as a player?

John Aloisi: I only really played one NSL game, but I played a lot of the cup games and whatever else, but at the time it was crucial. But look, you had to be good enough or else you didn’t play. Adelaide City didn’t just throw in young players for the sake of it, they had a very experienced squad. For me to play with the experienced players around me, I remember just in the starting 11, you had Milan Ivanovic, Alex Tobin, there were internationals, Tony Vidmar was there, Joe Mullen, Ernie Tapai and so on. I learnt a lot off them, not only in games but also in training, so I was fortunate in that way.

When I then went to Europe, I started playing at 17 in the first team for Royal Antwerp, so it was really valuable to get those minutes at that age to improve as a footballer.

Another thing that will aid youth development is a national second tier. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the right model for it in Australia; do you support the introduction of a full, home and away, national second division with 12-16 teams?

John Aloisi: Yeah, I do. I think if they can get that formula right in terms of the financials, that would definitely improve the younger players. They will get more opportunities then and there will be a different pathway for a lot of them. At the moment, it’s still quite tough for a lot of these young talented players to come up into an A-League side. If you have more teams, it will definitely help. You will also make it exciting with promotion and relegation battles and I think it will only be beneficial.

So, I do support a national second division and I believe in the future there will be one, it’s just the matter of how they go about getting one and how it works financially.

Moving on a bit from that, Aussie coaches have also been given more of a chance recently in the A-League. How do you see the current quality of Australian coaches and what type of differences have you noticed since you began coaching Melbourne Heart nine years ago?

John Aloisi: The quality of the coaches has been there for a long period. I think what’s changed and helped the quality is the likes of Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold, because they set a standard. From there, the standard keeps on going up and coaches keep on improving. A lot of Australian coaches have worked under them or with them, asked them questions and so forth, but also when you coach against them you learn a lot.

It’s a good thing to see more of these Australian coaches coming through.

Aloisi was appointed manager of Melbourne Heart in 2012.

You have obviously had a couple of senior coaching positions in your time, like I said with the then Melbourne Heart and also the Brisbane Roar. Do you have any further ambitions to coach again in the A-League or overseas in the future?

John Aloisi: Yeah I definitely do, I want to coach again. I hope its sooner rather than later, but it has to be the right job and right environment. Hopefully that will happen here in Australia.

In the future I would love to go back overseas and coach, I was there as a player, but who knows what the future holds. But coaching is definitely still on my radar and hopefully I can get that opportunity again soon.

Touching on that playing career overseas, you played in top leagues around the world including La Liga, the Premier League and Serie A. What can you tell me in regards to the difference in football cultures in these three countries based on your experiences there?

John Aloisi: It was very different when I was there. The Serie A was very defence minded, especially the lower teams, but it’s changed quite a bit now in terms of the way they like to play their football. It’s a lot more open and attacking, but back then the only thing that mattered were results. It didn’t matter how you won; the defence was key. It wasn’t always that great to play there as a striker, because we didn’t have many chances in a game.

England was a lot more open. The supporters there, if you tried, ran and fought, they would applaud your efforts. I enjoyed playing in England, it was a great atmosphere at the games and as a striker you got more opportunities to score goals than probably all of the three big leagues I played in.

The one that was a combination of both (Italy and England) cultures was probably the Spanish league. I just really enjoyed the style of football, the culture and the way they thought about football.

The three countries were all different, but football was number one, so it was great to be in countries where football means everything to them.

You obviously had a long successful career as a player, what would you say is the best moment you had in your playing career?

John Aloisi: The highlight for me was playing at the World Cup for the Socceroos. It was a dream as a kid, we hadn’t qualified for so many years. Watching the World Cups when I was growing up, was always without Australia there. It was exciting to play at a World Cup, but it was also just the whole build up…it was amazing when we finally got there. It was definitely a highlight for me and I’m pretty sure for all the players that played in that World Cup in 2006.

I think also playing in the Spanish Cup final for Osasuna, it was my last game for the club. To play in the Copa Del Rey final, the only time in Osasuna’s 100-year history to make a major final, was also a massive highlight.

They are probably two of things that stand out the most.

The Socceroos celebrate a goal at the 2006 World Cup.

Lastly John, looking ahead we have the Women’s World Cup here in 2023 and it could be a real game changer for Australian football. How important is it to capitalise on this event, something the game didn’t really execute with the 2015 Asian Cup?

John Aloisi: It’s massive. First of all, I believe the Matildas can win it. We have a great generation of talented women players, so hopefully we can win the World Cup and that will really boost the game on many levels.

But, it’s also about getting the infrastructure right for the Women’s World Cup, which will end up helping us in the future in terms of football at all levels. I’m talking about training facilities, purpose-built stadiums for football and that’s when it will be a lot easier to have a national second division and those type of things. When you have the infrastructure right, you can produce better players. That’s what we want to do, produce world-class players, both women and men.

It’s important to get the government backing us, because if they do that, we will get the facilities right.

AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas: “We want the best possible national second division”

AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas has outlined his plans for the organisation for 2021, with the continued pursuit of the introduction of a national second division at the top of his list.

Speaking with Soccerscene, Galatas explained that at the core of the organisation’s work on a national second tier, is the importance of producing the best outcomes for the sport.

“It’s about having the best possible national second division,” he said.

“That is front and centre of what we have put forward. What we’ve asked our clubs to put forward is not the minimum they can do, but the maximum they can do. Yes, we can always do less than the best, work below our capacity and set low targets that we can achieve.

“But we think we can do better than that.

“The clubs are assuming the risk, they are putting up the money and their resources, they think they can make it work from within their capability. Let’s use it, why wouldn’t we tap into that resource?”

FA CEO James Johnson recently spoke with Simon Hill on the Shim, Spider and So Much Moore podcast, praising the AAFC’s model and philosophically agreeing with the concept of a national second division with 12-16 teams.

However, Johnson believes that a more pragmatic model is a two-phase system where clubs will play out their local NPL season, with the best sides to then progress into a national-based “Champions League” group stage competition at the back-end of the year.

Galatas believes it is up to AAFC to convince Football Australia that the research they have conducted, in their feasibility progress report, will ultimately show that their model for a national second division is the appropriate way forward for the sport.

“Our job is to show Football Australia what they philosophically think is better, is in fact better and does in fact work,” he stated.

“We are not rejecting the outline of what James put out the other day, it may turn out to be better. We will explore that further and try and look at that and imagine it to its best level and work on that in good faith. If it looks good, and the risk associated with that is so much lower to make it more viable, then great.

“But, our work to date shows that it is not the case.

“The cost to the revenue side of a more limited model and the difficulty our member clubs will have in selling that to their own people, in terms of generating the relevant interest, isn’t worth it, as the savings it involves doesn’t compensate for the forgone revenue and interest. We look forward to seeing the FA model James mentioned in more detail when it’s ready, but we have anticipated such a model in our progress report before settling on our preferred model.”

AAFC hopes to complete its final report on its national second division plans by April, with Galatas anticipating a lot of the year to be occupied by Football Australia’s modelling of the second tier, something the organisation expects to play a notable role in.

Alongside this, they will look to navigate through all the changes to the game that directly affect the NPL clubs they are representing.

The organisation intends to conduct some work on advancing the women’s game in the country in the build-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, whilst also keeping abreast with recent announcements from the governing body.

“Going on to the domestic transfer system and the white paper FA has introduced, we are definitely looking at that. We’re preparing our position and contribution to that,” Galatas said.

“Football Australia also recently put out its domestic football calendar, so we are getting our heads around that as well and where we fit in.”

Possible reforms are also set to occur to NPL competition structures across Australia.

“We’ll be working with the member federations and with Football Australia in continuing to evolve that,” he said.

“There have been reviews into structures in Victoria, NSW and one now happening in Queensland, so we are constantly working on that part of it because most of our member clubs are involved in that.”

Galatas, based in Melbourne, believes on the back of the enthusiasm and movement on the second division front, strong crowds should turn out for the NPL season in Victoria.

“A lot of people want to see their teams play, practice match crowds are up from what I’ve heard and hopefully there are bumper crowds for the season.”

FV Head of Futsal outlines future plans: “We want to host a National Championships in Victoria”

Football Victoria (FV) Head of Futsal Anthony Grima believes Victoria is the perfect place to host an edition of Football Australia’s National Futsal Championships in the coming years.

Speaking with Soccerscene, Grima, who was recently appointed Head of Futsal at FV, explained the hosting of significant futsal events was desirable in the wake of the governing body’s plans to revamp the small-sided game in the state.

“Personally, I would love to see us showcase major futsal events in this great state of ours, such as the Football Australia National Futsal Championships,” he said.

FV Head of Futsal Anthony Grima

The 2021 Football Australia National Futsal Championships were cancelled due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with state federations still waiting for confirmation of its return in 2022.

Hosting rights to future Futsalroos matches, when reinstated, are among the notable futsal events that are also being targeted by the governing body to assist the rejuvination of the local tourism industry.

FV recently outlined their ambitions to unite the futsal community, by providing the sport with an increase in investment into resources needed to appropriately govern futsal in Victoria.

The state federation’s direction of the sport will be underpinned by the following strategic priorities:

  1. Formally recognise the sport of futsal within Football Victoria’s existing Strategic Plan 2019-2022 ‘FootbALLways’ to facilitate its growth, including in schools and to foster the increase and development of players, coaches, referees, futsal clubs and Futsal centres in the broader futsal pathway.
  2. Provide futsal competition providers and futsal clubs with a genuine value proposition to partner with Football Victoria via a revamped affiliation and support program to grow and develop futsal together as a unified futsal community.
  3. Integrate futsal within the implementation of Football Victoria’s current Facilities Strategy and advocate for increased and improved futsal facilities with local, state and federal government for the benefit of all futsal competition providers and futsal clubs across Victoria.

According to Grima, the final priority listed, centred around the importance of facilities for futsal, highlighted the need for all factions of the small-sided game to be on the same page.

“Ultimately, if we don’t work together, it’s the participants who suffer,” he said.

“Our main priority is to ensure that there are facilities for the players that are involved at a community level, but we do have some works in the pipeline that we’d love to see, such as a home of futsal in Victoria.

“There’s 40,000 players who play all across Victoria and a lot of those venues are not affiliated to Football Victoria at the moment, but we intend to speak to every single operator, every futsal club and even the indoor centre operators. I think it’s important that we all come under the banner and we support them as much as possible in a mutually beneficial system.”

Grima has been in constant dialogue with many futsal operators such as CEO of Futsal Oz Peter Parthimos, who had to endure a long stretch of inactivity at his centres due to the Victorian COVID-19 lockdown.

“Peter Parthimos has been one I’ve been speaking to regularly. I’ve known Peter across futsal circles for many, many, years.

“We are not here to compete with the providers, we are here to unite them, govern and lead them. They need direction, they need help, they need support. A lot of them have not seen their players for at least nine months, because the centres weren’t open.

“It’s really important to note, we should’ve been there providing them guidelines and support. That happened with the outdoor clubs, they got those guidelines whenever the state government released information (during lockdown), so I really felt for the futsal operators.

“So, we are here to reinvigorate them and also inspire the other states to learn from us and see how we can do things properly. We want to bring them on our journey, so when the national agenda is set up by Football Australia, everybody has been consulted and engaged properly and they know it is coming and they can be part of it.”

A strong emphasis on pathways for players, coaches, referees has also been put forward by FV, through the delivery of upcoming elite competitions such as the F-League (Victoria) and the FV State Futsal Championships.

Alongside this, both futsal referee and coach education courses will officially accredit and upskill referees and coaches from this month.

Grima, an experienced futsal and football administrator, is well placed to lead the sport into the future.

“My own experience in futsal has shown me that it is a sport with enormous appeal and potential,” he stated.

“As you can see, it is a big job ahead of us, but it is one that we are fully committed to.”

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