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The importance of the professional football coach in Australia

Bobby Walker was the first professional football coach appointed in Australia when he took the helm at the Gladesville-Ryde club in 1939. Walker had played professionally in Scotland for Motherwell FC and Falkirk FC.

He was the first of many from the British Isles to venture to the footballing outpost that was Australia for much of the 20th century. The contributions that he and many others made played an important role in the growth and development of the game.

Sadly, the notion of fully professional coaches mentoring young players in their formative years has been more of a dream than a reality in Australian football. Enthusiastic parents often took on official duties at a grass roots level and the number of officially qualified coaches in schools has traditionally been low.

The reality for players blessed with talent not deemed worthy of representative level play; those perhaps destined to bloom and flourish as a player a little later in life, is that the influence of a professional to guide and nourish their football development is rarely a reality.

In recent times, parents keen to encourage and fast track their child’s development have sought other avenues. As a result, the unregulated and often absurdly expensive academy system has become a necessary evil for parents of talented and enthusiastic young footballers.

It is a somewhat surprising reality that it took nearly 80 years from the time of Walker’s appointment for a fully professional coaches association to appear. It is long overdue. There is a current and urgent need to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of young people playing football in Australia are given qualified and professional instruction.

Conjointly, immediate action is required to reform/rewrite the National Curriculum which has proven nothing but a failure.

With an intention to represent, advocate, develop and support professional coaches, Football Coaches Association (FCA) will play a key role in addressing such issues.

The association’s work extends beyond the obvious need to continually improve coaching standards in Australia. It is also focused on providing opportunities for professional and community based coaches to contribute to Australia’s football narrative.

As an extension of both a raising of the bar in terms of professional standards and providing a supportive, community based and inclusive environment for all coaches involved in the game, FCA also aims to enhance the reputation of Australian football and its coaches on the world stage.

As we speak, former Socceroo manager Ange Postecoglou stands within a handful of wins and just a few weeks of becoming Australia’s most successful coaching export. Should Yokohama F.Marinos manage to seal the deal over the final month of the J-League season, his achievement would be considerable and well deserved.

Postecoglou forms part of a group of Australian coaches who have dominated the top flight of domestic football since the inception of the A-League. Alongside Socceroo and Olyroo boss Graham Arnold, current Perth manager Tony Popovic and former Victory coach Kevin Muscat, Postecoglou completes an impressive quartet.

As a collective, the four men possess six A-League championships, countless grand final appearances and a staggering seven premierships. Their sustained success confirms the importance and value of a proven coach. In spite of playing personnel changes, injury concerns or absences due to international duty, their message always remained consistent, firm and effective.

Now, Western United’s Mark Rudan and Sydney FC’s Steve Corica loom as the new generation of Australian coaches, yet with only Popovic employed on the domestic scene, the stocks do look a little thin elsewhere.

It is potentially where Australian football is slightly off the mark when it comes to player development. Rather than mad capped international searches to find the right visa player or marquee man, A-League and NPL clubs would be better served investing more heavily in the person they ultimately choose to mentor their playing squad.

Acquiring the services of an elite international coach would do far more for young Australian players seeking to learn and develop their footballing nous.

Playing professionally alongside an experienced ex-La Liga or Bundesliga journeyman will no doubt count for something. However, young players like Riley McGree, Elvis Kamsoba and Al Hassan Toure will benefit far more from time spent under a truly world class manager than mingling with an ageing veteran merely visiting our shores.

Postecoglou, Arnold and Popovic have all had a taste of coaching abroad and our best minds will now always attract Asian Confederation interest. What remains on their departure will always be young and developing coaches, coaching young and developing players.

Redressing that cycle is vital and something within which the FCA can play a key role; both in improving standards and enunciating the importance of the coach at all levels of football.

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FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

Bundesliga looks to become the first sustainable league in the world – will Australia follow?

The German Football League (DFL), the body which governs the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, recently outlined their ambitions to become the world’s first carbon neutral domestic football leagues.

On August 19, the DFL announced that clubs would take a vote in December of this year on whether to include environmental sustainability as a part of its licensing requirements.

Environmental sustainability has been placed at the forefront of the DFL’s objectives over the past six months, through their Taskforce for the Future of Professional Football.

The taskforce, which is made up of 36 business, sport and political experts also looks to focus their energy on other topics such as financial stability, communication with fans and supporting the growth of the professional women’s game.

“This is only the first step of a marathon,” Christian Pfennig, member of the DFL management board, explained to Forbes.

“Our goal is to anchor sustainability oriented to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as another key factor in our licensing program by 2022/23. Then the following year, we want to introduce incentives, but also sanctions should a club fail to meet the minimum criteria.”

The criteria itself will be finalised with external experts in the coming weeks and months.

Multiple German clubs have been extremely well received for their commitment to sustainability over the years.

Wolfsburg, who are currently first in the Bundesliga this season, were ranked the most environmentally sustainable club earlier this year in a report conducted by Sport Positive.

The report highlighted Wolfsburg’s dedication to using 100 per cent green energy across the club by using bioplastic cups and for ensuring zero landfill waste, whilst offering vegan options at their stadium on game-day. The club’s website also contains a corporate responsibility page with information about climate protection and environmental initiatives, as they plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Freiburg have used solar energy at their Schwarzwald-Stadion since 1993, with their new stadium to follow suit when it opens in October. The new facility will also have green energy storage and plug-in charging stations.

In 2010, Mainz became the Bundesliga’s and one of the world’s first carbon neutral football clubs.

These promising examples and many others have generally been taken individually , but the DFL now wants to centralise its approach to sustainability.

“The most important step now is to create a framework for the different clubs that are part of the DFL, from a Champions League participant to teams promoted from the third division,” Pfennig said.

It’s a significant task, but the DFL believe they have to play a role in pursuing the best practices in tackling social issues, but they keep a realistic head in their objectives.

“There is no ideal world or ideal football, Pfennig said.

“We are aware that we will have to adjust our goals, also taking into account the background of an enormous change in all areas of life. That’s why we need a framework and always work in improving our goals.”

The centralised method has been successful for the implementation of other initiatives such as Supporter Liaison Officer’s (SLOs) and improvement of youth academies.

These works, which are part of the DFL’s licensing framework, have been copied by other countries around the world and Australia should be keeping a keen eye on them.

While looking to Germany may be a good guide for improving fan to club relations and youth academy developments, they should especially look to follow their upcoming sustainability guidelines.

Australian clubs should be further focusing on improving their efforts towards sustainability, in a country which generally fails to meet any of those types of objectives.

It may be a difficult initial transition but clubs will eventually benefit from this push in the years to come.

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