No shame in a feeder league

Joe Gorman Columnist

By Joe Gorman, Joe Gorman is a Roar Expert


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    Central Coast Mariners goal keeper Mark Bosnich fails to stop a direct penalty. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

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    As news broke last week that Central Coast Mariners’ star pair Tom Rogić and Mat Ryan would be moving overseas in the January transfer window, the debate over when is the right time for young players to leave the A-League reignited.

    It now appears that both Ryan and Rogić are destined for Glasgow to trial with Rangers and Celtic respectively, whilst teammate Bernie Ibini-Isei will trial with Belgian outfit Brugge.

    The trio follow a well-worn path set out by Australian footballers who have made the move overseas. Since the rapid globalisation of football in the 1990s, Australia has become a consistent exporter of talent.

    It’s a role that still rankles for some.

    In the days of the National Soccer League, the reasons for young players to look abroad were self-evident. The quality, management and professionalism of the competition hardly gave young Australian footballers an attractive career path, and the NSL was basically invisible in a crowded sports marketplace.

    Securing an overseas contract was the only way to avoid the purgatory of semi-professionalism and obscurity.

    Times have certainly changed. The introduction of the youth league and the growing trend towards young Australian talent has made a career in the A-League an increasingly appealing prospect. This is evident in the fact that many young players, including Aaron Mooy, Mark Milligan and David Williams have all returned to Australia from overseas contracts to ply their trade.

    Still, our best young talent will, at least for the foreseeable future, continue to look abroad for opportunities. And so they should.

    While few Australians enjoy watching their favourite players leave before their prime, the truth is that the A-League remains a stepping stone on the path to more lucrative offers in Europe and Asia.

    Many football fans find the ‘itchy feet’ syndrome of young players frustrating.

    However, there should be no shame in being a feeder league. In fact, it is a role that A-League clubs would be wise to embrace.

    One of the difficulties for football in Australia is that the other codes are untroubled by such issues. Up and coming Australian Rules and rugby league players are rarely poached by overseas clubs, meaning that both codes are able to retain their best talent and build traditions.

    While parochialism may be one of the best ways to market domestic sporting competitions, that the A-League can provide a platform for young Australian sportsmen to expand their horizons is something to be proud of.

    Graham Arnold has already stated his satisfaction in helping five young Mariners make the move abroad. Arnold’s attitude is healthy, logical and necessary.

    With many owners still struggling to balance the books, A-League clubs simply can’t compete with cashed-up European and Asian clubs.

    In fact, the Central Coast Mariners have made it explicitly clear that selling young players is part of their financial strategy.

    It’s hard to argue with that.

    Clubs should only sell players if they receive a healthy offer from the prospective buyer. There is no use in becoming a bargain basement to the financial detriment of the league as a whole.

    Though there are more than just financial reasons for clubs to sell players.

    Properly managed, it can also be a wise decision for the on-field performance of A-League clubs, and for the development of the Australian talent pool as a whole.

    While this may seem strange logic, it is at this stage healthy for clubs to act as a conveyor belt for a line of young players. With squad restrictions and only ten clubs, opportunties for young players remain few and far between.

    The situation in Gosford illustrates the point. As Danny Vukovic, Matt Simon, Mustafa Amini and Alex Wilkinson all left for overseas clubs, opportunities opened up for Mat Ryan, Bernie Ibini-Isei, Tom Rogić and Trent Sainsbury.

    Meanwhile, the alumni (barring Vukovic, whose move to Turkey was aborted at the last minute) benefit enormously from high-intensity training and match experiences overseas, in turn increasing their chances of Socceroo selection.

    Indeed, the Central Coast have seemingly adapted best to the reality of the transfer market, even if the timing is far from ideal. If Rogić, Ryan and Ibini-Isei all leave this month, the Mariners title hopes will be dealt a severe blow.

    There are, of course, several issues at play here. One of these is where, rather than when these players go, and at whose benefit. Player agents, inevitably, are after the best financial deal.

    Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postecoglu commented that moving overseas early can be risky business when financial gain is prioritised over development.

    Too often, we see A-League players squeezed out of the competition for purely financial reasons.

    Commenting upon Rogić’s proposed move to Reading, Paul Johnson queried whether the rough and tumble nature of English football is the best place for a player whose skill set seems better suited to a less physical league.

    In typical fashion, Mark Bosnich candidly questioned whether Mat Ryan is best served by moving to Glasgow Rangers, who languish in the fourth-tier of Scottish football.

    In an ideal world, our young players would leave Australia for development purposes rather than financial reasons, and would only move to clubs that utilise them in their appropriate role.

    The J-League, perhaps, has the balance right in this regard. But whether we like it or not, we are at least a decade behind the Japanese.

    Still, at present, there is very little that club administrators and coaches can do to stem the tide. The salary cap and the long off-season are not conducive to retaining all of our best talent.

    The reality is that the A-League is going to be a development league for many years to come. Get used to it.

    We should work towards guiding young players to make the best career decisions, but let’s not get carried away with illusions of grandeur about the A-League.

    Australian football will be best served by the national competition finding its place in the world game, not trying to quarantine itself from it.

    Joe Gorman
    Joe Gorman

    Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.

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    The Crowd Says (68)

    • January 11th 2013 @ 7:37am
      steven said | January 11th 2013 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      Great article. As you say, Central Coast should be applauded for their player development.
      I believe the short length of the A-League will need to be addressed sooner rather than later, in order to make it an attractive option, not only for young players to stay, but also to keep players such as Nicky Carle, Alex brosque, etc.

      • January 11th 2013 @ 9:16am
        vinie said | January 11th 2013 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        the season is short because theres only 10 team, they play each other 3 times, what should we do have teams play each other 4 or 5 times a season so that we can extend it?

        • January 11th 2013 @ 10:32am
          steven said | January 11th 2013 @ 10:32am | ! Report

          No easy answer, Vinie, but compared to most leagues it is too short. Perhaps 4 rounds – 2 home and away each would also be fairer on the fans, although I recognise the access to stadiums issue.

          • January 11th 2013 @ 11:23am
            Realfootball said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:23am | ! Report

            The Swiss have a similar problem and play 4 round of 2 home and away each. I don’t see why we can’t use that model. It’s not ideal, sure, but better than the alternative – and fairer.

            • Roar Rookie

              January 11th 2013 @ 2:50pm
              Lamby said | January 11th 2013 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

              Yes – but they also have Europa League, Champions League, a League and an FA cup (where they play against lower league teams.) So not only are they playing those 4 rounds, most are playing mid week for a fair chunk of the season. They have reserve teams, junior teams and set up practice games if need be – so even people not getting first team time will still be playing a semi-serious game at least weekly. And the Swiss league (yes, and Rangers in div 4 in Scotland) will be a better stepping stone to a ‘bigger’ club (and more money) than the A-League.

              We need a strong A-League. But probably more importantly, we need good players heading to Europe at a young age if the Socceroos are to compete at the World Cup

        • January 11th 2013 @ 11:16am
          pete4 said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          vinie – the reason is because the quality of the stadium surfaces becomes a huge issue for our game when the rugby codes begin

          • January 11th 2013 @ 11:24am
            Realfootball said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:24am | ! Report

            It is a MAJOR issue at Suncorp, which is a cow paddock by the time the finals roll around. The surface was a disgrace in the last grand final.

            • January 11th 2013 @ 3:43pm
              steven said | January 11th 2013 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

              totally agree about stadium issues, but perhaps we need clubs to not be tied to stadiums so religiously. Can Brisbane consider Ballymore or smaller stadium for certain games, perhaps? Sydney can use Kogarah or Leichhardt etc

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2013 @ 5:48pm
                Joe Gorman said | January 11th 2013 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

                chopping and changing with your home ground can be dangerous business.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 9:21am
      midfielder said | January 11th 2013 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      Joe another fine article accepting we are a feeder league is the key reason for the development of the Coe …. Our chairman announced about five weeks ago we needed to sell some players to develop the Coe ….. The Coe. Is about twelve months from being at a stage were it earns money … His line was we need to suffer some short term pain for long term gains….. Be of no doubt the mariners will always be
      feeder club …. Just the deals will be better…. However loosing, rogic, Ryan,Bernie still sucks..

    • January 11th 2013 @ 9:40am
      midfielder said | January 11th 2013 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      The herald sun is reporting… Hutch, macbreen, olly also going….beam me up Scott we seem to be handing the comp to mv

      • January 11th 2013 @ 10:46am
        Punter said | January 11th 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        McBreen??? Sell him quickly before they realise. In all honesty, he has had a great season & some of his goals have been breathtaking. Graham Arnold take a bow, plus your coaching staff & McBreen himself. But he is 35 years old & this year is the first in all the years McBreen has been in the A-League with CCM, NQF & PG has he remotely looked like a footballer.

      • January 11th 2013 @ 11:25am
        Realfootball said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        All sounds very rumour like, however.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 9:44am
      Adrian said | January 11th 2013 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      I think you hit most things right , on the head…For me, it about when the players leave, to which club those players go to, and for how much money the A-league clubs get

      Ithere talk in the news corp papers that 6 players could be leaving CCM this month…this is not good for A-league

      also, get back to what Simon Hill said about the price the clubs get…$500,000 for australia best number 10 is nothing money

      A-league will always be a feeder league, but 6 players from the A-league top team for about $1.5m WTF

      • January 11th 2013 @ 11:33am
        Fitzy said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:33am | ! Report

        The reason they cannot get any more for Rogic is because he’s got no time left on his contract that’s why they are selling him for that.
        Ryan is in a similar situation with only (as far as I know) a year left on his contract.

        • January 11th 2013 @ 11:58am
          Adrian said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:58am | ! Report


          we all know that…but that happens all the time now in football…

          as Simon Hill said… English league one clubs would be getting a million plus on this type of deal.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 10:01am
      Philip said | January 11th 2013 @ 10:01am | ! Report

      I think most players leave the A-League for financial reasons and personal reasons (travel and experience opportunities) and not for the opportunity to develop their football. It seems logical that if a player is offered 50%, 60% or 100% more to play somewhere else he will give that offer great consideration. It would be interesting to know how much more Mat Ryan will get playing 4th tier Scottish football compared to A-League; how much more will Ibini get to warm the pine at Brugge? We will never stop the player drain completely as some players clearly have talent to take to the world; but I wonder how much the salary cap would need to increase in order to slightly balance the odds in favour of staying in Aust for those players who see it as purely a monetary consideration.

      • Columnist

        January 11th 2013 @ 10:14am
        Joe Gorman said | January 11th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        the salary cap would have to increase enormously. It would be financially ruinous for all clubs to increase it to a competitive level for the forseeable future. Other incentives will have to be found

        • January 11th 2013 @ 11:08am
          Philip said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:08am | ! Report

          Joe, I’m interested in what this “enormous” increase actually is. The PFA should do a study on average player wages in their last A-League season vs the same player wages in their first season overseas. I’m not saying clubs could bridge the gap (esp not in the short term), but let’s see what the gap actually is. It’s impossible to fight something, or find other incentives, when you don’t know what it is your competing against.

      • January 11th 2013 @ 11:17am
        Adrian said | January 11th 2013 @ 11:17am | ! Report


        Ibini get to warm the pine now at CCM , he might get more time at Brugge 🙂 joking

        According to the 2011 Jupiler Pro League Clubs financial statements, a Pro League player earned an average of 210.000 euros a year during the 2010-11 football season

        According to the report, Club Brugge KV Players have received the highest salaries, with an average of 407.000 euros per year. On the other hand, players from the 2011 Pro League champion, KRC Genk have earned on average 269.000 euros per year.

    • January 11th 2013 @ 10:19am
      Bondy. said | January 11th 2013 @ 10:19am | ! Report

      Well written Joe, I hope the opportunity to represent your nation is not seen as just simply go abroad and you’ll become part of the national team “mentality”.

      Football supporters want only one thing a fair an equitable outcome for the player, rushing off anywhere nowadays is not an option and supporters want the players footballing education to come first not some thrilly league with all the bells and whistles,would T Rogic benefit if he went to QPR right now definately not,thats all we want, our players further eductaed not results based football “hit it long son”,but the beauty we have also is that by 25 yrs if your not tied down to something solid in Europe theres always the HAL to come back too and theres no shame or embarrasement in not quite making it either in the game of the world.