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Shay Boyle: Developmental issues send more and more young domestic players abroad

The tyranny of distance remains a challenge for many young Australian footballers looking for opportunities abroad, yet domestic developmental issues for talented teenagers like Shay Boyle also play a role.

Australian parents spend tens of thousands of dollars on academy and registration fees from a very young age; often over-estimating the talent their son or daughter possesses. They are tempted by fame and fortune and lured into the trappings of football professionalism, potentially unaware of just how difficult the road can be.

With obvious failings in Australia when it comes to development, it is highly likely that a significant percentage of our best young players are not fulfilling their enormous potential by remaining on local shores. That fact is causing more and more players to look and head abroad in search of the skills and knowledge required to be a top class professional.

There is a vast chasm between the talented Aussie youngster, seemingly with magic at their feet and the polished and experienced professionals in the lower leagues of European football. No doubt, our best young players can succeed if given the opportunity abroad, however, knowing the recruitment and scouting game is paramount. Parents with experience in it could potentially have much to share with those less versed in the idiosyncrasies of the system.

One man with plenty of experience and nous when it comes to such matters is James Boyle. A Scotsman, he immigrated to Australia in 2010 and in 2018 launched the Football Business Network; an organisation designed to forge connections between the football and corporate worlds, providing mutual benefit.

An astute coach, Boyle has experience at numerous Sydney based NPL clubs and will be working under Rydalmere FC head coach Gavin Rae in season 2020.  He also has a talented young footballer for a son.

The eldest of his twins, Shay, has recently taken a leap of faith and ventured abroad; granted a spot at the Fleetwood Town FC International Football Academy. The club competes in England’s third tier, League One and stands a chance at promotion after some excellent recent form.

The academy aims to locate and enlist international talent oft dismissed in its domestic setting, something Shay has lived his entire footballing life thanks to his diminutive frame.

The young Boyle has found his football pot of gold with Fleetwood Town. After years of toil, disappointment and some success, a trial with Getafe FC’s youth academy and some interest from Scottish giants Celtic, led to a scout making contact with the Boyle’s in the land down under.

Fleetwood Town were interested and after viewing a professional and extensive YouTube clip that featured edited highlights from hours and hours of his play, Shay was offered a six month placement and flew to the northern hemisphere just before Christmas.

The senior Boyle to me expressed his undeniable belief in the importance of such a professional digital package being presented to prospective clubs. Mounting a compelling case for an international academy to take a punt on a young man from the other side of the world is a challenge, yet Shay’s presentation convinced Fleetwood Town that there was indeed something worth pursuing. The teenager’s professional journey has begun, albeit far from home.

Not a tall boy, Shay has battled against perceptions of physical weakness throughout his career. Year after year, the now 16-year-old was told that his skills were more than adequate, yet that the modern game accommodated few players of his stature. Footballers continue to improve as athletes and the thinking appears to be that potential at a young age is measured by frame size and not always the skills possessed by the athlete.

Boyle has been dogged by such opinions in the Australian domestic scene. Frustrated, his view is that his son may never have received such recognition in his adopted home, thanks to a valuing of size above skill.

It is undoubtedly true that more and more imposing men are taking up the game around the globe and the next generation will once again prove to be bigger and more powerful than the next. Yet for every menacing centre-back, there is a dexterous genius capable of embarrassing the taller and more cumbersome man.

Shay Boyle has always been that player. After watching the scouting clip, it is clear he is undoubtedly skilled and blessed with a football mind and spatial vision. James constantly used former Italian International Andrea Pirlo’s words, “Football is played with the mind and the feet are the tools” as he worked with Shay as a junior footballer.

That sentiment has been the cornerstone of his development as a player.

Socceroos and Olyroos coach Graham Arnold recently called for further investment in the national youth teams, also stating that he sees little being done to develop domestic talent. Whilst Boyle is now receiving the tuition and competition he requires to test himself, Australian football has lost another promising player and depth.

Boyle senior has set up a Facebook page to assist parents of Australian players and arm them with the knowledge required when it comes to pathways towards international academies and opportunities abroad.

Visit YSA – Youth Soccer Australia – Information and Agency on Facebook.com, follow the page and use the collective wisdom of coaches, administrators and parents to inform your knowledge of the sometimes confusing structures in professional football.

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Why the FFA Cup is perfectly placed to kick-start a resurgent season for Australian football

FFA Cup

Fans of Australian football could not have predicted the tumultuous ride that the sport has taken over the past few years.

The recent acquisition of all domestic football products (including all A-Leagues, internationals, Asian Cup and FFA Cup matches) by 10 ViacomCBS has delivered an overdue confidence boost for even the most perpetually cynical of Australia’s football fandom. And rather than placate fans with gimmicks, 10 ViacomCBS have opted to embrace football for its greatest attributes – the stories and the fans, qualities that the FFA Cup possesses in abundance.

The FFA Cup is not just the often singularly represented storyline of the under-resourced semi-professional minnows taking it to the well-backed sides of the A-League. It’s the deeper footballing stories of club CEO John Boulous encouraging a festival of football atmosphere for Sydney Olympic’s resolute fanbase to enjoy in the upcoming clash against A-League giants Sydney FC; of Head Coach Stewart Montgomery taking an unfancied Mount Druitt Town Rangers to potential lofty heights; and of NBL Hall of Famer and now Blacktown City Executive Chairman Bob Turner working to establish the side as the pride of Blacktown.

Trophy

Each of these fragments in time correspond as mere moments in a competition wholeheartedly intended to enliven the Australian footballing public to latch on to these stories and to the players who shine in these fiercely competitive knockout tournaments.

“We are a big club, with a strong following and tradition in Australian football, and are still recognised nationally. In matches like this, Australians like to see underdogs; they like to see both the experienced and younger kids in our squad get that opportunity,” Boulous said.

“I think what’s important as a club is we need to give them that opportunity. You need to be given that opportunity to play against the best players in Australia. If you play against the best players in Australia, and you do well, you’re all of a sudden on the radar.”

Olympic

Traditionally, the FFA Cup is a curtain raiser to the A-League Men’s competition – but due to COVID-enforced extended lockdowns across Australia, the competition has experienced significant delays.

However, by remaining steadfast in ensuring that the competition is completed, Football Australia have stayed true to the timeline they committed to in the release of their Domestic Match Calendar that was outlined earlier this year.

Even if that means National Premier Leagues (NPL) clubs are handed less time to prepare, their excitement is still palpable.

The capacity for NPL clubs to be able to effectively match A-League sides well into their own pre-season is an obvious challenge befitting any gargantuan David versus Goliath monolith of an analogy that has been overcome by these same clubs for years. And it is certainly one the clubs are well aware of and eager to overcome.

“It just highlights that with extensive training, focus, application and resources being thrown at the NPL level in the lead-up to these games, the difference between a standard A-League player and your good NPL player is not that big. The difference is training and that continued exposure to professional full-time training,” Montgomery said.

“I’ve got no doubt that if we gave two thirds of the players in the NPL exactly that you’d see games being even closer.

“I think historically the A-League teams are coming into their pre-season when we are finishing our season but this will be interesting, because the A-League teams have been well and truly in their preparation for pre-season and are super fit.

“They’ve had the ability to train because of their professional status through the government giving them access to training, whereas the NPL clubs haven’t been able to do anything. It’ll be an interesting to see the outcome of these next three games.”

Rangers

This year’s iteration of the FFA Cup will offer NPL clubs a greater impetus to pursue a spot in the FFA Cup Final – due to the added incentive of a spot in the Asian Champions League’s preliminary round.

Whilst cup competitions are traditionally notable for facilitating matches typified by a dearth of free-flowing end-to-end football due to the added weight of expectations and the intuition for coaches to (understandably) invoke their innermost pragmatic instincts, they exist as a platform for unpredictable instances of magic and breath-taking nights of football. Blacktown City are no strangers to such occasions, having notched a remarkable 3-2 win over their upcoming Round of 32 opposition – Central Coast Mariners – in the 2017 edition of the tournament at the very same stage.

With the tie set to take place at Mudgee’s Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium, there will be an undoubted added intensity to the game.

“The reason we took it to a regional area in Mudgee is that Central Coast and ourselves both thought that this would be a very positive move for football. For Mudgee it’s a great opportunity to see top-notch football and from what I understand, their ground is top-notch,” Turner said.

“We know that they’ll welcome us and we’re expecting a big crowd.

“Four years ago, we played the Mariners in the FFA Cup and we knocked them off. And then we played the Wanderers and had 5,000 people at the ground. It’s a great stimulus for us to be able to show our credibility as a team and bring some extra pride as a team.”

BCFC

The strength of the FFA Cup lies in not just how effectively it encapsulates Australian football as a microcosm, or in the way it emphatically engages the hardcore Australian football fandom, but in the way it unites and invigorates local communities. A notion all three club devotees are impressively aware of.

“We hope to be able to get a strong crowd here at Belmore. And it will be Olympic supporters and Sydney FC supporters, but we hope that it will be football supporters. Because people have been starved of opportunities to go and watch football matches, and now, they have the opportunity,” Boulous conveyed.

“We’ve got a ground that can hold, in today’s climate, a really strong and big crowd. And I think that that’s important to get people here and back into football. People here want to see it.”

For Sydney Kings legend Bob Turner, both the legacy of his time at Blacktown City and the impact of a potentially successful cup run is uncemented as of yet.

“Our goal is to become what the Panthers are for Penrith, we’re Blacktown City. There’s plenty of sport being played, but there’s nobody like us in town. For me that’s a huge plus. We have all of the ingredients, including one of the nicest stadiums in all of Sydney which we now control and we have history,” he said.

“The one thing I can say we’ve been a letdown in, from a marketing point of view, is how to tell Blacktown who we are. Within two years I think that we’ll be the toast of Blacktown. Blacktown has 188 different nationalities and arguably 80% of them grew up in a country where football is number one.”

Turner

For Montgomery, the occasion will be one to savour for a Rangers side representing a community with plenty to prove. Particularly in a winnable match against a Wollongong Wolves side they had beaten 3-0 prior to the NPL NSW season being interrupted.

“It can put an exclamation mark on a season that had unfulfilled expectations, so, it allows us to continue playing, stay together as a group and build the club’s profile which is really important for us,” he said.

“A lot of people are waiting for us to fall over and they’re expecting us to drop back down. So, every day we approach it in the same way where people expect us to not perform, and every time we do the opposite of that we send a message.

“We represent an area that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves and we take the park to represent the whole of the City of Blacktown area and the Western suburbs. We take a lot of pride in that and we’ve got a great, passionate vocal support that gets behind us. And Saturday night’s going to be a great night.”

Leading into the season there will be six FFA Cup Round of 32 games available to attend or to watch via Paramount+, with more to follow-up the beginning of the A-League Men’s season on Friday, November 19. All tickets to games can be accessed via the FFA Cup website here.

Is Australia ready for a two-year World Cup cycle?

Battle lines are being drawn between FIFA and key stakeholders, as it remains to be seen whether Australia will support the push for a two-year World Cup cycle.

FIFA’s minutes from the 71st Congress, where Saudi Arabia put forward the motion to study the viability of a two-year cycle, doesn’t include what member federations voted for in the motion.

Football Australia hasn’t stated publicly whether they were one of the 166 nations who voted for the motion, or whether they support the plans.

Football Australia is instead adopting a wait-and-see approach, to avoid taking a position before any proposal for changes are put forward after the viability study is completed.

Two-time A-League Coach of the Year Ernie Merrick believes the push from FIFA for a two-year World Cup cycle is because of business and money.

“It’s about profit and loss. It’s not about the people in the sport really, and FIFA are always competing with their confederations, of which there are six, and FIFA only have one event where they make substantial money from revenue and that’s every four years,” Merrick said.

“So in effect FIFA loses money for three years, and then the fourth year and makes massive profits mainly from broadcast, ticket sales, and sponsorship from a World Cup.”

The majority of FIFA’s $8.7 billion in revenue between 2015-2018 came from the 2018 Men’s tournament.

The commercial value of another World Cup every four years is incredibly attractive to the governing body as a way to boost its already full coffers.

Australian football will struggle to keep up with other countries if the World Cup is hosted every two years, according to Merrick.

“At the same time a lot of countries, including Asian countries, are spending an enormous amount of money on facilities and preparation setups for national competition. We all know of England’s setup, which is huge at St George’s Park, and here we don’t have a designated specific setup to prepare national teams,” he said.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that will have to change to give Australia a chance to qualify on a regular basis. We certainly have good players and good coaches and we can compete with anyone regarding players, coaching and strategy but when it comes to the sort of money involved in preparing a national team, friendly games, and the amount of travel involved, Australia is really going to suffer.”

Michael Valkanis – former A-League coach, player and current Greece assistant coach – believes that without aligning with FIFA international dates, it means the A-League will struggle to adapt to a two-year World Cup cycle.

“We saw the effects of the Socceroos going away to play, and it always makes it difficult on A-League coaches and teams to support that.” Valkanis said.

“You can see the effects it can have on finals games, and we’ve been crying out for a long time that we become parallel with the rest of the world with international dates.”

Some of Australia’s biggest competitors in the AFC are showing ambivalence towards the concept.

“It would depend on how it would all be organised,” a Korean FA official told Deutsche Welle.

“If we want to have consistent success then we need to play as many competitive games against South American and European teams as possible. At the moment, we play one or two games every four years if we qualify. It’s not enough.”

While the viability of a two-year World Cup cycle is being studied, it is unclear how determined FIFA is to implement such a radical change to the football calendar against intense opposition from some of its members.

Merrick believes the end result could be FIFA demanding a portion of the confederation’s revenue.

“I think four years is probably a better situation at the moment – maybe three years down the track – but I think confederations will have to come to an arrangement with FIFA, and FIFA will want to take some of their revenue somehow through licensing,” Merrick said.

Those involved in international football already believe that the best model is the one we have currently, something that Valkanis is a strong fan of.

“I am a traditionalist. I think the World Cup is something special that stands out from any other competition in the world,” he said.

“The only other event that comes close is the Olympic Games, and to change the format so we see it every two years instead of four, I don’t think it leaves it the same. It is special the way it is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson will have a challenge on his hands navigating what a change in the World Cup’s schedule means for Australian football, as FIFA continues to push for increased revenue from the game.

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