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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 presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S3 Ep 5 with Gary Cole interviewing Michael Valkanis

Valkanis

Michael Valkanis was most recently the Assistant to John van’t Schip as the Greece National Team Coach and this week has been appointed as the new Assistant Manager at K.A.S. Eupen FC. They currently play the in Belgian First Division A, the top tier of football in the country.

Michael played his junior football at South Melbourne and as a student at De La Salle College. He made his senior debut in the NSL with South Melbourne before heading to Greece to play with Iraklis and then AEL Larissa. He played for eight years in Greece before returning to Adelaide and the A-League.

His coaching journey began at Adelaide United with the youth team and then as an Assistant Coach with the first team. A new opportunity took him to Melbourne City to work alongside John van’t Schip and then a brief spell as head coach before joining John in Holland with PEC Zwolle. This was followed by the move to Greece with the National Men’s Team.

Michael served a wonderful apprenticeship as Assistant Coach in Adelaide and Melbourne, with brief stints as Head Coach at both clubs. He is now keen to stretch his wings and take on the mantle of Head Coach as his journey continues to develop.

He firmly believes that there are many Australian Coaches good enough to work overseas. Coaches, like players, need to “get out of their comfort zone”. This is another conversation full of wisdom.

Michael’s ‘One Piece of Wisdom’ was: ‘Knowing yourself. Look in the mirror and ask who am I going to be?’ ‘What do I stand for, what are my values that will come out?’ ‘This will show to the group who you are, they stand out because they are consistent over time.’ ‘Your football philosophy will come to light through knowing yourself.’

Please join in sharing Michael Valkanis’ Football Coaching Life.

Gary Cole inducted into Football Victoria Hall of Fame

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Football Victoria (FV) has announced the first of its 2021 inductees into the FV Hall of Fame is renowned Socceroo, NSL great and championship winning coach Gary Cole.

Cole is part of three 2021 inductees to join 23 outstanding contributors for Victorian football in the Hall of Fame, with accompanying members to be announced in coming weeks.

Gary Cole has had an immense impact on Australian football for over half a century – with a playing, coaching, mentoring and administrative career that has seen him occupy roles at all levels of the game.

Cole’s passion for football – where he drives it forward with a pure agenda of what is in the best interests of the game and those who play, coach, administer and support it – is second to none.

Arriving from England with his family in 1971, Cole began his playing career with South Yarra in the Metropolitan Fourth Division, playing alongside his father and gaining promotion to the Third Division in his first senior season as a 15-year-old.

He won the NSL Golden Boot in back-to-back seasons with Heidelberg United in 1980 and 1981, claiming the club’s only national league trophy with a hat-trick in the 1980 NSL Grand Final.

Cole’s domestic league exploits were equally matched by an impressive representative career. He made his debut for Victoria in a 2-3 loss as a substitute against Hungarian club Ferencvaros in 1974.

Over almost a decade, Cole was an ever-present for the Socceroos, making 40 appearances and scoring 21 goals for his adopted homeland, 19 of which were A internationals, including 17 goals.

He held the world record for goals scored in a World Cup qualifier when he nabbed 7 against Fiji in 1981 (later broken by both Archie Thompson (13) and David Zdrilic (8) in 2001 against American Samoa).

Upon retirement from his playing career, he progressed into coaching, firstly with the Australian Institute of Sport, where he played a role in nurturing Australia’s best young talent alongside Ron Smith.

He returned to Victoria where he spent time at the helm of Heidelberg United in the National Soccer League, before returning to the Victorian Premier League with Altona Magic (two separate stints), Bulleen Inter Kings and Bentleigh Greens. He won two championships – with Altona Magic (1996) and Bulleen Inter Kings (1998).

Cole enjoyed great success as a football administrator at the top level of professional football in Australia during a period of immense change, occupying the role of Director of Football for both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC. He was the inaugural Director of Football at Melbourne Victory when the club was formed in 2004.

Cole was contracted at Football Victoria from January 2018 to January 2019, firstly as Manager Strategy and Special Projects and then as Executive Manager Facilities and Advocacy.

He joined the Football Coaches Australia (FCA) Executive Committee in 2019 and has played an integral role in building FCA to what it is today with MOUs in place alongside Soccerscene, Football Australia (FA) and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), as well as several international coaching associations. He is also the host of the FCA’s highly successful ‘Football Coaching Life’ podcast which gives unique insights in a one-on-one setting.

Football Victoria President Antonella Care celebrated the induction of a pillar of Victorian football.

“Gary Cole’s ongoing dedication and commitment to our game over so many years is absolutely remarkable,” she said.

“Gary’s influence stretches across all facets of football. His natural ability as a player transferred seamlessly into his off-field roles, all of which he has delivered with a single-minded focus on making our game the best it can be.

“Victorian football owes a debt of gratitude to Gary for so many years of service, which shows no signs of slowing down! On behalf of our Victorian football community, congratulations Gary on this well-deserved accolade.”

Upon his Hall of Fame induction, Gary Cole said:

“I’m obviously incredibly honoured to have received the nomination and the induction into the Hall of Fame. I want to thank Football Victoria and all of the people that made the decision to bring me into the Hall of Fame family, I’m incredibly proud and honoured.

“I also want to thank Andy McCarthur and her team, as well as Tony Persoglia and Nick Hatzoglou, who all brought together my story in the digital form. Which is a new thing for Football Victoria and the Hall of Fame, meaning it will be around for a while.

“I also need to thank my three former Heidelberg, Victorian and Australian teammates Jimmy Rooney, Jimmy Campbell and Kenny Taylor that took the time to contribute. It was very mood, and I’m very proud to be included.”

Cole’s incredible football story is told in his own words, and those of his peers in the first episode of FV’s Hall of Fame Series.

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