With A-League clubs moving closer to establishing fully-fledged youth academies the development pathway will be dramatically strengthened but a key question will have to be answered, how much freedom will clubs have to develop players the way they wish?
Or will Football Federation Australia remain as the leading driver of youth development with clubs working under its instruction?
The success of a nation’s football team is determined by the strength of its youth development program. This has been highlighted by both Spain and Germany who have prospered from huge investment in youth development, whilst England has neglected it and has struggled as a result.
In establishing Australia’s youth development pathway the FFA has made significant improvements with the creation of the National Curriculum, which outlines both the type of player they endeavour to produce and the means of doing so. Having worked hard to develop the National Curriculum the governing body has been aided in implementing it by the fact that the current model, where institute programs such as the Australian Institute of Sport deliver elite youth development are very much under their control. With the establishment of A-League academies the balance will shift with clubs playing a large role in the Nation’s youth program. This will bring diversity into Australia’s youth development pathway, which many will argue is a good thing but it could also lead to problems.
England is a prime example of how contrasting philosophies, or a lack of one, can undermine youth development. Many top clubs have shown a disregard for youth development and have not equipped their young players with the necessary technical ability and tactical awareness to become top class players. The English FA is now desperately trying to regain control of youth development but the power of the Premier League Clubs is making it extremely difficult to do so. This is not to say that a lack of control from the governing body is wholly responsible for England’s poor recent record rather that the FA’s lack of power has left it powerless to correct deficiencies and influence clubs to change their ways when it would benefit the country to do so.
In other countries such as Spain clubs also have considerable power, however, the governing body has been able to influence youth development and in turn be influenced by successful clubs such as Barcelona. This I would argue has been possible through the considerable amount of qualified coaches in the country who were trained by the Spanish governing body. In 2008 Spain had more than double the number of UEFA A and Pro Licence coaches than any other country in Europe. This has enabled the country to develop a clear football philosophy by having as many coaches as possible going out and working in accordance with it; the results speak for themselves.
Perhaps this is the best way the FFA can ensure they remain the overriding power in youth development. If Australia has as many highly trained coaches as possible who have been exposed consistently to the virtues of applying the FFA’s development philosophy the governing body will continue shaping the development of the country’s best young players, without having to impose restrictions on clubs. This is not to say that there should be no room for A-League clubs to put their own stamp on their young players, rather that the key elements such as developing technically gifted players must be the overriding aim of all academies.
The emergence of young technically proficient players such as Mustafa Amini show the FFA is on the right track. If youth academies adapt the same philosophy players as exciting as Amini will light up both the A-League and Socceroos for years to come.
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