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The next generation of Socceroos is here and we can thank the developmental A-League for it

There are few things that draw more criticism and disrespect in Australian sport than the A-League and by extension, the game of football. Some weeks back, respected journalist Will Swanton took his swipe at the competition, rather unsuccessfully I might add, and the next veiled attack will not be too far around the corner.

In essence, those yet to discover and embrace the beauty and passion of the ‘beautiful game’ and Australia’s domestic competition, still see something less than courageous and creditable about the most popular sport on the planet.

Sadly, to many Australians, the people who play football are actors, fakes and more inclined to simulation than substance, play-acting to performance and the dramatic rather than determined effort.

Thus is the challenge of educating the beer swilling, muscle brandishing and winter-code loving Australian sporting public; to enable them to see the beauty and dexterity of the round ball game.

It is a common misconception for some than football fans want Australia to succumb to its world-wide popularity, in some sort of takeover that destroys the ingrained love and passion for AFL, rugby league and the slowly declining rugby union.

Nothing could in fact be further from the truth and many writers such as I grew up watching, playing and being captivated by other codes of football in our early years. Australia is somewhat unique in the broad array of sporting endeavours available to its citizens, with football now the most popular of all according to current figures.

Logic would suggest that such interest and participation would directly correlate to international success in a sport played by around 1.8 million people on our shores. However, such logic is seriously flawed with far more than participation and enthusiasm required for a nation to even dream of grasping international trophies.

For Australian men’s football, despite the growth, development and gradual ‘street cred’ achieved over the last 50 years, international success has been fleeting and rare. Our women have fared far better in recent times, something that has made the Matildas arguably the most loved national team in the country.

The 1974 Socceroos trail blazed to the World Cup, before 32 years of alienation saw them lampooned as perennial losers. When John Aloisi’s penalty sent the men’s team to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the tide appeared to have turned.

Despite some qualification challenges, the Socceroos have featured on the World Cup stage without fail ever since. It’s move into the AFC has played more than a minor role in that success, yet creditable the achievement is.

The A-League competition was birthed in 2005-06, devoid of the community, cultural and nationalistic ties that the powers at be had told us held the game back and restricted its appeal.

Quite the opposite in fact, as the competition proved somewhat fractious and difficult for many Australian football fans to embrace. The A-League was problematic and tough to swallow for many fans of long standing clubs.

Refreshingly and despite constant criticism around the recruitment of ageing international veterans and the recycling of local ‘B Grade’ talent, the league is actually producing a potential goldmine for Australian football.

Such contemporary talents as Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Mathew Ryan have already ventured abroad to expand their skill set and become key components in Graham Arnold’s Socceroo equation.

Adelaide United’s Al Hassan Toure has declared his allegiance to the Socceroos and looks a flat out star. Team mate Nikola Mileusnic is not far behind, after overcoming injuries that hampered him early in his career. A trio of talent from the city of churches is completed by Riley McGree, potentially the most gifted player to emerge from the A-League in some time.

Daniel Arzani’s talent was so rich that his journey to Europe was expedited with a move to Celtic and Connor Metcalfe’s trajectory may well be similar, so impressive have his first six games been for Melbourne City.

Melbourne Victory’s Thomas Deng continues to loom as a long term Socceroo, Jamie Maclaren has confirmed his place in Graham Arnold’s squad and Adam Taggart’s golden boot season in Korea places the current Socceroos coach in a healthy space when it comes to weapons in front of goal.

Awer Mabil’s arc of improvement has continued abroad, Paul Izzo’s potential has begun to take a tangible shape and Central Coast Mariners star Samuel Silvera looks one of the most exciting youngsters seen on local shores for some time.

Throw in Newcastle Jets’ Angus Thurgate and Melbourne City’s Lachlan Wales and the depth of talent emerging is clear. Perth Glory’s Chris Ikonomidis might just prove to be the best of the lot, so talented is the 24-year-old Sydney born attacker.

The Socceroos have tread an oft criticised path in recent times, with many citing a lack of emerging world class talent when compared to the so-called golden generation of the early 2000’s.

However, in the new world order of truly global football, the talent being produced in Australia looks as exciting as ever. Once it matures, the Socceroos will have a wonderful team to represent us all on the world stage.

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Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S3 Ep 2 with Gary Cole interviewing Steve Corica

Corica FCA

Steve Corica is Head Coach of A-League Men at Sydney FC, where he narrowly missed out on three A-League Championships in a row, losing to Melbourne City in the Grand Final last season. What a remarkable start to his first senior head coaching role!

He played his junior football in Innisfail in North Queensland, before heading to the Australian Institute of Sport and playing just under 500 professional games in Australia, England and Japan.

Steve’s preparation for coaching began while he was playing, and he started to gain his coaching licences before taking on an assistant role with the Sydney FC Youth Team.

He served a seven-year apprenticeship at Sydney with the Youth Team and then as an assistant to Vitezslav Lavicka, Frank Farina and Graham Arnold before taking on the Head Coach role in 2018. He learned from each of these coaches and also learned, like most ‘he didn’t know, what he didn’t know’ when taking on the Head Coaching Role.

Steve believes that team and club culture are key to success. He understands that while he is the driver of the culture, that buy-in from all of the players is integral to behaviours being demanded from the playing group of one another.

Steve’s ‘one piece of wisdom’ was ‘to be yourself’. Know how you want to play, the style of football you want to play. Be strong when you do get setbacks, but believe in what you’re doing, stay strong and keep believing in the style of football you want to play.

Please join me in sharing Steve Corica’s Football Coaching Life.

A-League supporter numbers grow – but 2 million football fans still unattached

Despite attendances dropping in A-League matches over the past few years, supporter numbers across the board have grown in the past 12 months, according to a recent Roy Morgan report.

“A-League clubs have enjoyed a substantial increase in support over the last year in line with the increases seen for other football codes such as the AFL and NRL,” Roy Morgan Industry Communications Director, Julian McCrann, stated.

“Over 3.6 million Australians now profess support for an A-League club, an increase of over 1 million (+38.3%) on a year ago.”

“As we have seen across other football codes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to be played in front of empty stadiums but live on TV to supporters stuck at home in the many lockdowns we have seen over the last 18 months around Australia.”

Sydney FC have the biggest supporter base with 640,000 fans according to the report, a 32% increase on last year’s numbers.

Melbourne Victory were also well placed on the supporter ladder, slightly behind Sydney with 632,000 fans, an increase of 46% on a year ago.

A-League Men’s champions Melbourne City and expansion side Macarthur FC also saw impressive numbers of increased support.

“Another big winner over the last year has been Melbourne City which won its first A-League Men Championship earlier this year after defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final (between Melbourne’s fourth and fifth lockdowns) in late June,” McCrann said.

“Melbourne City’s support has increased by an impressive 50.9% on a year ago to 249,000 to have the highest support of any A-League Men expansion team.

“The newest club in the A-League Men, Macarthur FC, has had a successful first season in the league with a finals appearance, a victory in an Elimination Final, and a loss to eventual Champions Melbourne City in the semi-final.

“Not only has Macarthur FC performed strongly on the pitch but they have already attracted 84,000 supporters to rank in tenth place overall.”

Whilst all A-League sides saw an increase in supporters in 2021, Central Coast Mariners experienced the largest percentage rise from 2020 – with fan numbers growing by 90%.

In regards to television numbers, over 1.5 million Australians watch the A-League Men’s competition.

However, the report states that 3.5 million Australians watch any football match on television, including leagues such as the English Premier League or international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup.

This represents a huge untapped audience of around 2 million Australians, something which should be capitalised on.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for the A-League will be to continue to grow the league in an increasingly competitive sporting market and find a way to connect with the millions of Australians who love their football but don’t presently engage with the A-League,” McCrann said.

“There are over 2 million Australians out there who watch high quality football competitions, such as the English Premier League, who are yet to become fans of the A-League. This at-hand market of 2 million Australians is a significant market for the A-League to target during the recovery from Covid-19.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the new body running the professional game in this country, have continually emphasised in their messaging that they want to target football fans of all types to engage with the local elite competition.

The organisation’s investment in a $30 million digital hub is set to play a big part in converting these fans into A-League supporters.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football,” Danny Townsend, Managing Director at the APL, recently told FNR.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need.

“Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that – they’ll keep coming back.

“You put great content in there, you serve it, and you will continue to understand that fan and all of their preferences.”

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