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.