Han Berger interview: producing Socceroos
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Football Federation Australia technical director Han Berger believes that Australia’s development pathways are improving and that there is too much emphasis on results when it comes to our junior national teams.
The 62-year-old Dutchman has been in charge of identifying and developing players, as well as overseeing Australian national youth teams, since 2009.
It has been a tough year when it comes to our youth representative teams. The Olyroos failed to reach the London Olympics and didn’t score a goal in qualifying.
The Joeys have just missed out on the under-17 World Cup next year and the spotlight is currently on the Young Socceroos who are trying to qualify for the 2013 under-20 World Cup in Turkey.
At the same time the Socceroos are in desperate need of new blood but few young players are currently starring in Europe’s top leagues. And our neighbours in Asia are spending more and more on development in a bid to breach the technical gap.
However, Berger says that while obviously there is still work to be done, he is convinced that big strides have been made in Australia.
Coaching licenses have been overhauled, the Skillaroos program has been installed and the AIS has been reformed.
“Huge changes have taken place, and are taking place, in the fields of Coach Education and Youth Development. Unfortunately this is still very poorly understood, probably because we haven’t communicated the messages very well,” Berger says.
“The main problems for our youth National teams are:
· The lack of year round football in Australia
· The lack of quality International Competition
· Not enough playing time for young Australian players the A-League (too many visa players that do not really add anything to the level of the A0League)
· The ongoing exodus of players to overseas clubs at too young an age
· The reluctance of overseas clubs to release players for our youth National Teams
· The limited number of Australian players who are starters in strong International competitions.”
Berger has a point, well, several, in my eyes.
The ridiculously short size of the A-League season is hurting the sport in general. Our players are simply not getting enough football. The off-season is way, way too long and 26 rounds, compared with other competitions around the world, is a joke.
The release of overseas-based players by clubs for junior national team duty remains a problem, as it has been for years. Little seems to change in that area.
Getting playing time for our kids in the A-League is another important issue. I think this has improved in recent years, with the introduction of the National Youth League a big plus, but some clubs still insist on bringing in second-rate foreigners.
Credit to the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne for largely investing in youth in a big way, but there remains several questionable signings around the competition.
Fox example, how much does Tiago bring to the A-League? I’d rather see former Joey and current Young Socceroo Connor Chapman or another talented Aussie getting an opportunity and playing at the back for the Jets.
And what about Dong-Hyun and Takahashi at the Roar? Sure they are both talented kids, but shouldn’t we help develop young Australian footballers not Koreans and Japanese? Both these nations don’t need any extra help in development at the moment.
This is not a diatribe against foreign players as there are a countless number both in the past and now who have improved our league greatly and given back to Australian football – like Berisha, Zwaanswijk, Flores, Hernandez, Fred, Yorke and others, not to mention the current marquee brigade of Heskey, Ono and Del Piero.
But perhaps we need to limit the visa spots and aim higher when it comes to the qualities of possible overseas signings. A maximum of four or three visa spots may be the answer.
Thankfully the A-League has already improved greatly from its early days of Brian Deane and his ilk.
When it comes to the junior national teams, Berger believes we shouldn’t get hung up on results. As Australia had a fantastic ran back in the 1990s with our Joeys and Young Socceroos reps, reaching semi-finals and finals of World Cups, a fair level of expectation surrounds these teams.
According to Berger: “In 1999 the Joeys reached the final of the U/17 World Cup but what is the value of that if currently, now these players are 29/30 years old, not one was playing for the Socceroos against Iraq?”
In his eyes, while of course it is better if our teams do better at these tournaments, it is all about the end result – producing players for the Socceroos.
Of that 1999 Joeys squad that lost in the final on penalties to Brazil, only Josh Kennedy, Jade North and Scott McDonald have become regular Socceroos. Currently, McDonald has been cast out due to a lack of goal-scoring, North is more of a back-up and Kennedy is in the wilderness because of injury. None of those three played in the recent 2-1 win over Iraq.
Again, Berger makes a fair point.
What is the point of qualifying and winning/doing well in junior tournaments if our senior teams and our national league don’t see the benefit?
You can look at the 2000 Olyroo squad – packed with talent, but a failure after losing all three games at the Sydney Olympics. We didn’t have to qualify as hosts and our team boasted Bresciano, Lazaridis, Neill, Viduka, Skoko, Grella, Culina, Emerton and still we couldn’t get a point. But you could argue that the core of that team later went on to great success at the 2006 World Cup.
It is a conundrum – the junior teams need more games and to reach tournaments to improve, and the only way to get more games is results, but to get results they may have to play a more basic or direct style of football.
Looking at the Joeys sides in the past 13 years since that 1999 squad and there hasn’t been many that have produced Socceroos.
In 2001 it was Brett Holman, Carl Valeri and Nathan Coe. In 2003 it was Kristian Sarkies and Erik Paartalu. In 2005 it was Matt Spiranovic, Robbie Kruse and Nathan Burns. It 2007 it was Aaron Mooy and Brent McGrath, and in 2009 you could say the pick of the litter was probably Eli Babalj, Ben Kantarovski and Brendan Hamill.
We are currently reaping what we sowed in terms of our development structure from the start of the 21st century to the advent of the A-League.
Of course, not every talented kid at the age of 15 or 16 will continue to develop and progress to become a senior national team player. This is common sense and happens in every sport.
But we do want our national teams to produce the best talent possible and for the likes of the Joeys to help develop as many future Socceroos as they can. You would think three to five players from a Joeys squad could progress up the ranks.
So, overall, how is Australian football’s development progressing and are we improving as a football nation?
Realistically we won’t get a clear and exact picture of that for another five to ten years.
Changing a nation’s football culture takes time and patience, two things that are never in abundance.