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Robert Cavallucci: “We are no longer going to accept playing second fiddle to other sports”

With the COVID-19 restrictions easing in Queensland, CEO of Football Queensland Robert Cavallucci is travelling the state to conduct club summits as part of the Future of Football 2020+ consultation process.

The strategy aims to provide a voice for people involved within the football industry. Administrators, coaches, players, and other stakeholders are being encouraged to constructively participate in high-level discussions and provide recommendations.

After conducting several summits and scheduling many more, Cavallucci spoke exclusively with Soccerscene to share his insights into the current state of investment, infrastructure, and regional football in Queensland and also to discuss some of the challenges ahead.

“We are conducting an extensive state-wide consultation process and the main purpose of it is to listen. It is about asking football stakeholders their vision of the game and ultimately, we will bring it all together in a report where we will outline opportunities across four key areas of focus. Governance, administration, competition reform, and affordability,” Cavallucci says.

One of the major goals for Football Queensland moving forward will be to amplify the level of investment that the State and Federal governments provide. With participation rates steadily increasing, Cavallucci fears the current level of infrastructure will struggle to meet the growing demand caused by more players and more staff.

“The level of infrastructure and financial support is mixed. Some areas have fantastic facilities and others have suffered from years of underinvestment,” he says.

“Underinvestment has been a systemic problem for Australian football. In the past our sport has failed to work with governments in a meaningful way. In Australia and in Queensland, we have failed to demonstrate our value and our contribution to the community. We have failed to stand up for ourselves and we have failed to make the case as to why our sport deserves significantly better investments from the government.”

“We now can demonstrate with data that we are clearly the biggest game, particularly for girls and women. We have the Women’s World Cup on the way and it is absolutely our responsibility to make the case as to why they need to support our game. There is an imbalance of investment and our infrastructure can simply not accommodate the growth, let alone the nature of the game which is changing and becoming far more inclusive and accessible than ever before.”

Although there is a need for more financial backing, recent years have seen a positive trend in the amount of wages Football Queensland have been able to allocate to staff working within the industry.

Data provided by Cavallucci reveals that for men’s football, the annual budget allotted to coaches and other staff in the state was $178,000 in 2017. This rose to $316,000 in 2018 and to more than $551,000 in 2019.

For the women’s side of the game there has also been a substantial increase of funding to meet the demand driven by participation rates. In 2018 $65,000 was being invested into staff wages, a figure which rose to more than $200,000 in 2019 and is set to increase further.

Football has long overtaken the traditional powers of Rugby League and Rugby Union as the most popular organised sport in Queensland and the successful Women’s World Cup bid will certainly add to the world game’s momentum. Football Queensland is optimistic of seizing the opportunities that are presenting themselves by implementing a level of planning and professionalism that has not previously existed.

“For the first time we have created a state-wide infrastructure plan which clearly outlines our motives for the next four years, how we plan to deliver these motives, and how we will work with the government to achieve them. It’s the first time all these types of things are being done and documented,” Cavallucci says.

“Football is the biggest and greatest sport; we are no longer going to accept playing second fiddle to other sports.”

While Football Queensland is working towards high-level reform, the current summits are also focusing heavily on regional and grass-roots football.

One of the major challenges top level administrators currently face in Queensland is the sheer vastness of the state. Townships and regions are often separated by hours of travel so providing equality in terms of competition, infrastructure and development pathways has always been difficult.

“We’re absolutely keen to develop regional football further, but Queensland is a very big state. The tyranny of distance presents immense challenges to ensure we have the opportunity for all participants to have access to the same services, pathways, facilities, opportunities for coaches, and referees. It presents enormous challenges,” Cavallucci says.

“That being said, regional football in Queensland is in a fantastic place. We have great local competitions and there has been some major growth in participation figures for across both genders.”

Cavallucci adds that a theme of the feedback, particularly from those in northern Queensland has been around restructuring the competitive zones. The state is currently split into 10 geographical zones which although designed with the best intentions may be holding clubs back.

“From our perspective, there needs to be a willingness to be open to new ideas. Many of the clubs want broader regions because they feel constrained within their geographical boundaries. The feedback around that has been really strong as the boundaries may limit what some of the more aspirational clubs are wanting to do,” he says.

The Future of Football 2020+ consultation process is expected to include more than 186,000 participants, 317 clubs, and 12 stakeholder groups. For more information or to register for a focus group, visit footballqueensland.com.au/future-of-football.

Football Queensland awards four teams with FQ Club Shields

Football Queensland have issued their first FQ Club Shields to four teams across the sunshine state.

The clubs to receive the accolade are Brisbane City, Brisbane Strikers, Lions FC and Gold Coast United.

The FQ Club Shield initiative was announced in June, serving as a visual representation of how clubs are performing based on a number of factors including extensive technical assessments.

“The FQ Club Shield initiative has been developed to improve accountability, transparency and visibility across a club’s technical performance and achievements while giving them a platform to celebrate success and growth in a meaningful way,” FQ CEO Robert Cavallucci said.

“We congratulate Brisbane City, Brisbane Strikers, Lions FC and Gold Coast United on completing their assessments in partnership with our FQ Club Development Unit and becoming the first clubs to receive their FQ Club Shields, with the remainder of National Premier Leagues Queensland Men’s, Women’s and Football Queensland Premier League clubs to receive theirs in the coming weeks,” he continued.

“FQ will continue to roll this initiative out across clubs as we support them in building capacity and improving technical development standards.

“Assessments are undertaken continually with star ratings provided annually. Up-to-date FQ Club Shields will be displayed on the Football Queensland website where players and parents can view them.”

The Club Development Unit critiques clubs on their planning, delivery and development outcome measures.

It also takes into account factors such as training and game observations, as well as an assessment of coaching standards.

“It is important to note that achieving any of the Gold, Silver or Bronze rating categories demonstrates considerable effort and consistent work and quality delivery by clubs’ administrators and technical staff,” FQ State Technical Director Gabor Ganczer said.

“The FQ Club Development Unit is continuing to ensure that both the players involved in these programs and the clubs themselves are well supported in their development.

Fixing Australia’s youth development starts with revamping the Y-League

A lack of consistent talent-production has cast the spotlight over Australia’s youth pathways in recent years, a topic that has generated robust discussion in football circles.

With many in the industry calling for change, it was a welcome sight when in July, Football Federation Australia (FFA) released its ‘XI Principles’ discussion paper. The document was generally well-received and among the key issues James Johnson and his team addressed was the requirement for a systematic revamp of Australia’s youth system.

According to principle five, FFA will seek to ‘Create a world class environment for youth development / production by increasing match minutes for youth players and streamlining the player pathway.’

Reinvigorating Australia’s youth football pathways will require a long-term, systematic approach to be successful but one thing is certain – young players simply need more competitive minutes.

And that starts by revamping the Y-League. As it stands, 10 clubs make up Australia’s national developmental and under-23 reserve league, forming two conferences.

In principle, the league fits a purpose, but in practice the system is not providing anywhere near enough high-level football for youngsters, certainly not since structural changes were made that hamstring the progress of Australia’s youth prospects..

Gary van Egmond was appointed Young Socceroos manager after the team failed to qualify for three consecutive Under-20 World Cups.

The 2015-16 season saw a new format introduced whereby the Y-League’s regular season was reduced from 18 games per team to a meagre eight (with potential for nine including a grand final).

Part of this reduction in games was due to budget cuts, another part due to FFA’s desire for players to use the NPL system as a developmental tool. On paper this seemed reasonable, but it has proved counterproductive, as talented youngsters are often torn between multiple commitments, causing a severe lack of continuity.

Although A-League clubs can enter their academy teams into their respective state’s NPL competition, elite players are playing a mixture of Y-League, NPL and the A-League games, the latter usually in a substitute or benchwarmer capacity.

This lack of consistency is creating a massive void in player development during what are some of their most critical years.

Earlier this year, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) published an extensive report reviewing the national youth competition through historical analysis and player surveys. In an interview with pfa.com.au regarding the report, Guinean born Australian youth-level star John Roberts had the following to say.

“The Y-League is only eight games, and sometimes you don’t play eight, maybe it’s just four or five because you’re trialling with the first team or you’re the 17th or 18th man and you don’t get to play. In my opinion, for young players I think the youth league needs to go to a full season because I just think it will benefit us young players, it will give us more opportunity when we’re not playing.”

“But after the youth league finishes, you have to wait a while and then play NPL1 or NPL2 or just wait for your opportunity in the A-League.”

“You have to play regularly in higher competitions. If you’re playing NPL1 or NPL2 and you get called up into the A-League, the intensity of the game is too different because you’re not used to that and you don’t play in a high enough competition.”

The full interview with Roberts can be found here.

Striker John Roberts spoke about the limitations of the Y-League.

Among the notable results published in the report were that 90% of players believe the Y-League season should be extended and that only 20% of players who have graduated from the Y-League over the past five years went on to make an A-League appearance.

The findings led PFA Chief Executive John Didulica to state “In its current format the Y-League does not meet the needs of the players, A-League clubs or Australian football.”

The lack of youth production has predictably influenced the national setup, with Australia’s Under-20 team failing to qualify for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup for a record third consecutive time.

With the Y-League’s structural changes in 2016 clearly not having their intended impacts and FFA’s 2017 closure of the AIS, changes need to be made.

The solution may simply involve favouring the decentralized, academy-first approach which FFA has created but designing an environment which complements it. Something akin to the National Youth League of 1981-2004.

Extending the Y-League to run parallel to the A-League as a genuine reserve grade competition would allow players to fully commit to their academy side. This would mean ample minutes, plus a guarantee of continuity that does not currently exist for players who are forced to rebound between Y-League, NPL and occasionally A-League clubs.

While in theory this could harm NPL teams if their talented youngsters are poached by academies, it could create a perfect opportunity for FFA to implement new rules and regulations surrounding player transfers and compensation that would form part of an improved transfer system.

This is something the federation has stated it wishes to achieve through principle number three, in which FFA states in intention ‘To establish an integrated and thriving football ecosystem driven by a modern domestic transfer system’.

Designing a formal compensation system to parallel a legitimate under-23’s full season competition would kill two birds with one stone, rewarding grassroots clubs for producing talent while giving young players the consistent exposure to competitive football

There are undoubtedly factors, mainly commercial, which would dictate the validity of these ideas, but the game’s top administrators do need to act, or Australia will face the risk of losing its next generation and fading from international football relevance.

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