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Robert Cavallucci proud of competition reforms, outlines FQ’s plans for 2021

Despite a challenging 2020 for football across the country, a small silver lining to emerge on the extremely dark cloud that COVID-19 cast was the opportunity for administrators to implement off-field reform.

In an exclusive interview with Soccerscene, Football Queensland CEO Robert Cavallucci met to discuss the organisation’s strong end to the year and his aspirations for 2021.

“As disrupted as last year was due to COVID-19, it gave us an opportunity to push hard on news. We implemented a lot of competition and league reforms, and introduced new products across the board,” Cavallucci said.

“We had so many positive things coming out and projects being delivered along with the supplementary work around infrastructure, facilities, and accessibility. It’s hard not to suggest that the year was incredible for Football Queensland and we are really optimistic about building on that.”

Among the major initiatives set to commence in 2021 and expand further in 2022, is Football Queensland’s strategic plan to create a connected competition model.

Announced in October 2020, the plan aims to create one linked football pyramid where a promotion/relegation system exists from the National Premier League (NPL) all the way through to community level.

“How the model links the more advanced end of the competitive environment with the community end is a huge step for football in Queensland. We did the heavy lifting on connecting the leagues through 2020 and it’s one of the most exciting highlights for me personally,” Cavallucci said.

How FQ is transitioning to a linked football pyramid.

 

“Through promotion and relegation into and out of FQPL 2, clubs across Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, and South West Queensland will have the opportunity, from 2022, to compete for promotion into the new third tier and beyond.”

“It provides the mechanism for aspirational clubs, players, and coaches have a clear path from where they are to where they want to go. That has always been limited by the competitive structure in the past.”

Included in the reform is the replacement of the Under-20 age group with a new Under-23 age group across NPL, FQPL 1 and FQPL 2.

The change is designed to generate the opportunity for more competitive match minutes for young footballers, an issue which has plagued Australian football in the past.

In addition to sweeping structural changes set to take place, Football Queensland has made positive advancement to women’s football, something Cavallucci is extremely keen to build on.

The Kappa Women’s Super Cup was announced in November 2020 and is set to commence in early 2021. The knockout style tournament will follow a similar structure to the widely lauded FFA Cup.

“Another key step was to address the failures of the past. Women traditionally haven’t had the same opportunities as men when it comes to football,” he added.

“We have the Women’s Super Cup commencing this year and it will provide female teams across the state to engage in a knockout-style tournament, similar to what the men have had. There’s no better time to introduce the tournament than with the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up and with 2021 marking the 100-year anniversary of the earliest recorded public women’s football match in Queensland.”

“They are probably the two most exciting steps for me. Connecting the football pyramid and the work we have been doing in the women’s space.”

FQ sees enormous potential in Futsal.

Football Queensland’s strategic plan to promote accessibility and inclusion will also encompass Futsal. The federation is aiming to grow the five-a-side game through its 2020-2022 Futsal Strategy, which can be found HERE.

The push to promote Futsal will begin with the F-League, a new conference style futsal competition for that will kick off in March. In a similar style to the competition reforms, the change will aim to take the sport to a new level by connecting Futsal competitions around the state and providing a new elite Futsal competition for men and women.

“We’ve always managed our state’s Futsal rather than outsourcing it, we are embracing Futsal as its own game and it deserves to be treated as such. People don’t realise the participation and growth opportunity for Futsal,” Cavallucci said.

“It’s not just a game for outdoor players to enjoy in the off-season. There are Futsal-only players and now we have the framework in place to strategically grow the sport. We want to promote Futsal coaching courses, refereeing courses and other similar initiatives because Futsal is different and nuanced.”

With improvements to accessibility, infrastructure, competition format, and women’s football already in motion, Cavallucci added that there is still plenty more to come from Football Queensland for 2021.

“Hopefully, COVID-19 will be out the door now for good and we can have a fairly stable year in 2021. We focused heavily on competitions last year and this year we can focus more on the back-end of the game.”

Football Queensland announces Schools Referee Program

Football Queensland Ref

In an effort to boost referee numbers across the state, Football Queensland has announced a brand-new innovative Schools Referee Program in order to educate students about becoming match officials.

Refereeing is undoubtedly a vital part of football everywhere, and Football Queensland’s work towards building up match officials for the future is essential to the longevity of the game in its current form.

Football Queensland CEO, Robert Cavallucci, acknowledged the potential impact of the program for the state’s football future.

“The Schools Referee Program will grow referee numbers across the state as schools sign up to host a Level 4 Introductory Course for students,” he said.

“This program aligns with FQ’s Strategic Plan target to develop new schools programs and improve coach and referee development opportunities in an accessible way. Students will learn how to become a referee within their school environment, gaining a new qualification and the opportunity to earn money while embarking on a rewarding career path.

“Students have the opportunity to become part of the FQ referee family, gaining access to valuable resources such as education materials, video analysis tools and mentoring by senior FQ referees.

“Football Queensland is confident the Schools Referee Program will help cultivate the next generation of referees to officiate matches at community football or in our elite competitions.”

Jacqui Hurford, Football Queensland State Referee Manager, was enthusiastic about the numerous benefits afforded by the program for schools and students.

“The aim of this program is to help the schools become self-sufficient in match officials, which will ultimately drive down their costs. Boosting the number of student referees will address the shortage of match officials available for school games, particularly during school hours,” she said.

“Student referees exhibit improved confidence, self-discipline and a sense of responsibility, developing leadership skills as well as problem solving and conflict resolution.”

All registered first-year referees will receive a registration pack which includes a referee uniform, whistle, flag and cards. Football Queensland will also be providing schools with marketing collateral in an effort to promote the course to students, and to deliver the program at a time that best suits the school.

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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