The mounting speculation surrounding the future of Melbourne Victory’s Robbie Kruse, 22, has raised discussion as to whether Australian footballers are leaving prematurely in an attempt to ply a successful career overseas.
One must ask the question, can Australia’s better talent reside in the A-League whilst forging a successful career for the Socceroos?
Will the maturity of our domestic competition entice players to stay, for a longer period anyhow?
Undoubtedly on the pitch the A-League is at the pinnacle of its powers since its formal inception in 2005. A superior influx of imports and Australian players are participating in the competition, a surplus of fixtures (30 excluding finals this season from 21 in 2005) and midweek games has assisted in building the intensity and fitness levels.
A strengthened and superior football culture domestically and abroad, in addition Australia’s move into Asia, has helped grow our brand as a football nation.
From a financial perspective the A-League salary cap currently stands at $2.35 million, a decisive boost from the modest $1.5 million in the inaugural season in 2005/06. In addition, with the availability of the Australian marquee, international marquee and also the youth marquee ($150,000 is exempt from the salary cap for one to three players from 23 years of age or under), there has never been this amount of money spent on Australian football player wages.
Presently, the average wage for A-League players sits at approximately $125,000 (excluding the marquee wages).
With such optimism surrounding the overall standard of play and player wages, footballers have got much more of an incentive to ply their trade in a respectable A-League competition as opposed to struggling for games abroad, or playing in the lower divisions of Europe.
A prime example of a footballer utilising his skills on the domestic scale is United States star Landon Donovan.
Donovan, 28, has been vastly successful at international level, so far winning 128 caps for the United States and scoring a reputable 48 goals in the process.
This is all happening in the process of playing the majority of his career in his homeland – the Major League Soccer competition. From 2001 to 2004 he represented San Jose Earthquakes, and from 2005 to now he has been playing for LA Galaxy.
Donovan is a fine illustration of how the lures of European football doesn’t always equal to success. His domestic contribution towards United States football has been further enhanced with his remarkable record at international level. He has proven that the temptation of European football is not essential for an exceptional football career.
Amid the MLS having parallel similarities towards the A-League – from a market perspective and also from a technical viewpoint – Australian players can learn much from the Donovan experience.
Recently, Australian footballers have been notorious for moving abroad prematurely. Consequently, this has resulted in a lack of game-time, confidence and is seemingly having a detrimental effect on their potential development. We only need to look at players like Bruce Djite, Mark Milligan, Dario Vidosic, Nathan Burns and Michael Zullo.
One must wonder whether their relatively premature exit from the A-League is or has had a damaging effect on their football development. It’s all good playing in creditable overseas leagues, however if players are not experiencing regular game-time, then surely they will be at an advantage and enhance their technical development by playing regular football in Australia.
The attraction of playing abroad is one that will ceaselessly provide goosebumps to many aspiring footballers. If the time is right and the player is ready for the journey overseas, then it must be encouraged. The appeal of large sums of money and playing in a European football culture will always be the dream.
Pim Verbeek, the former Socceroos coach, contained the philosophy of ignoring A-League players regardless of their form – the odd exception being Jason Culina and Craig Moore.
Verbeek boasted that it was better training in Europe than playing competitive matches in the A-League.
This attitude was undoubtedly disrespectful towards Australian football. It doesn’t make any footballer more superior because they are with a European club. Playing competitive football in Australia will further enhance a player’s development in contrast to warming the pine overseas. Nothing can replicate match-day action.
Conversely, if we are able to learn anything from the Landon Donovan chronicle, playing overseas is not a requirement to forge a successful career.
Australian footballers must realise that it is possible to partake in the improving A-League competition, while simultaneously embodying the Socceroos jersey in a successful manner.
Holger Osieck, the new Socceroos coach, is an advocate of the A-League.
His understanding and optimistic perception of our domestic league will hopefully give players the belief that playing overseas isn’t a necessary requirement for representing their nation in a triumphant manner.