To fix the Socceroos, follow the Belgium blueprint

Kyle Stewart Roar Pro

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    Australia is becoming a football-mad country, but our chances of hosting a World Cup are slim. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

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    Although it appears the Socceroos are set to be coached by a local, the way to fix the problems left by the previous regime is to look at how Belgium became one of the most highly rated and promising sides in the world.

    Belgium’s most recent World Cup was in 2002, but Romelu Lukaku’s double in their most recent qualifier has earned the Belgians a ticket to Rio. They favour as a nice roughie, but at No. 6 in the world rankings they can hardly be considered outsiders.

    So what can Australia learn from Belgium?

    Firstly, players need to be playing in top leagues.

    The biggest issue many fans have of the current national team is that players are plying their trade in sub-par Middle Eastern leagues with little more than dollar signs on their mind.

    If you look at the Belgium national side they have their players at top clubs across the world: Napoli, Chelsea, Everton, Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Tottenham, Bayern Munich, Zenit, Arsenal and both Manchester sides.

    The problem with Australia is that one struggles to name five regular Socceroos consistently playing in a top European league.

    But to get these players in quality clubs, the Belgians needed to first produce quality players.

    The way Belgium produced these players was quite unique. The Belgian FA went to two of its biggest clubs, Standard Liege and Anderlecht, and convinced them to play a 4-3-3 setup across all their youth set-ups.

    As a result, they were able to produce quality players.

    The willingness of the two clubs allowed for the success of the system and Belgium went from having no wingers to four quality wingers.

    The problem we face in Australia is that the youth set-up is not strong enough. We don’t have systems where players are consistently being produced from as young as 15 or 16 for the sole purpose of the national team.

    The final part to the system is playing youth in the national side. Georges Leekens gave the players produced from the Belgian youth systems their debut.

    The majority of the players were handed their debuts as a way of increasing their experience and getting them used to the system. Lukaku is just 20 years old and has 23 caps for his country, Eden Hazard has 39 caps and he is only 22, while Jan Vertonghen has an astounding 51 caps at just 26years of age.

    This is where the Socceroos have failed in recent years – there has been zero focus on youth in the national team.

    To make matters worse the current captain, Lucas Neil, is out talking about a lack of hunger among youth while Luke Wilkshire is saying the youth aren’t up to standard just after we were spanked 6-0 by the French.

    The Belgians weren’t great at the start either, but they blooded their youth and are now poised to give Rio 2014 a good shake.

    If Australia were to implement the Belgium blueprint, we may miss the next one or two World Cups.

    But if we implement the system right, who knows? We might be in a similar position to Belgium and we might actually be able to set a higher goal than just getting out of the group stage.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • October 16th 2013 @ 7:44am
      whiskeymac said | October 16th 2013 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      There’s more to it than just having two clubs play 433. It’s an investment and faith in youth. Then again if hazard was Ozzie he’d be in the team too.

      • October 16th 2013 @ 9:15am
        vinnie said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:15am | ! Report

        i know ayyy where do these publishers come up with this nonsense.

        first we should have played like spain, and barcelona, now we should copy beligum, oh dear.

        Playing and forcing this entire youth generation to play 4-3-3 has been the biggest problem, you forgot to teach them individual skill and technique before introducing them into the system.

        the aleague has also contributed to the lack of qualities juniors, just look at our past 3 U20’s and U17’s teams

      • October 16th 2013 @ 8:43pm
        Kyle Stewart said | October 16th 2013 @ 8:43pm | ! Report

        I never said it should be just two clubs feeding the national team. What I said was that we need to strengthen the youth structure and have them develop the skills that will help them master a structure. It doesn’t have to be 4-3-3, I just pointed out that Belgium had a clear outline of a structure.

    • October 16th 2013 @ 8:10am
      Vic said | October 16th 2013 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      What do you mean by the ‘previous regime?’

      Frank Lowy is the architect of the previous regime and everything that has gone wrong since 2006 and he is still in total control of Australian Football’s destiny.

    • October 16th 2013 @ 8:42am
      Franko said | October 16th 2013 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      There is no silver bullet for the success of this Belgian team but as pointed out, if we had a Hazard or Lakuku we’d play them young (as we did Kewell).

      As a side note, can you believe Tony Abbott wants to stop the boats:

      Christian Benteke – was born in Kinshasa
      Kevin Mirallas – Spanish parents
      Romelu Lukaku – father played for Zaire
      Nacer Chadli – A dual citizen of Belgium and Morocco
      Mousa Dembélé – Father from Mali
      Marouane Fellaini – Was born to Moroccan parents
      Vincent Kompany – father, Pierre, is a Congolese immigrant to Belgium

      • October 16th 2013 @ 9:19am
        vinnie said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        who cares mate they are all belgian products, its not like they went to play football there in their 20’s and decided to play for belgium.

        Marconi Sydney Utd Melbourne Knights produced a facotry line of exports to the European leagues, this aleague has been praised for quality but is a joke, the only players shining and looking good is the imports

        • October 16th 2013 @ 9:25am
          Franko said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:25am | ! Report

          Most of our immigrants these days come from Asia and the Middle East, not the football factories of the European NSL days.

          Could this be a factor?

        • October 16th 2013 @ 9:48am
          Jon Stevens said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

          Get back to the days when all our national team were 1/3 players of Croatian heritage. Then we’ll flourish again. I’m Anglo but can see the diff those boys made

        • October 16th 2013 @ 10:16am
          Punter said | October 16th 2013 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          Outside of Viduka, who exactly????

          • October 16th 2013 @ 3:16pm
            Alex said | October 16th 2013 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

            Every socceroo with a surname ending with ‘ic’…there’s a few to choose from

          • October 16th 2013 @ 9:12pm
            nachos supreme said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:12pm | ! Report

            Are you serious? Heard of Ned Zelic? just for a start?

    • Roar Guru

      October 16th 2013 @ 8:44am
      Mike said | October 16th 2013 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      I do like the Belgian football world they have set up: pro team, pro league, pro players across Europe. And they only have a population half the size of ours. I’m already putting my money on Belgium to do some damage at the WC.

      I think the FFA knows that they need to put a large focus on the youth, which is one of the main reasons for the NPL. Their original blueprint says that the ‘Best of the best’ go to the A-League, and the ‘Elite’ will go to the NYL. It’s only early days, but I’m really hoping that we’ll have some quality youth flooding in over the coming years. A-League expansion will also give some more opportunities for the youngsters to get a shot. If they can play in the A-League in their late teens and then go to Europe at around age 20, then I think they’ll be a good investment for the Socceroos. It worked for Lukaku, and it’s working for Rogic now.

      I’m confident the Socceroos can qualify for the upcoming WC’s, but I’m not really expecting anything miraculous in the group stages, at least not until we have some youth players that are as good as the Belgian 20 year olds.

      • Roar Guru

        October 20th 2013 @ 11:09pm
        Patrick Hargreaves said | October 20th 2013 @ 11:09pm | ! Report

        Agree totally, unlike Beligum, we only have to beat minnows to qualify. No matter how much youth we lpay in qualifiers, we’re better than every team except South Korea or Japan, so it’s not as much of a risk. Plus, like the hey days of Brazil, A League players are unknown to the rest of the world, if the team is developed in the A League, farmed in Europe, we’d become a surprise package. Socceroos future is more exciting than we realise.

    • October 16th 2013 @ 9:16am
      nickoldschool said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      Whether its rugby or football, its true that Australia struggles to get good structures from youth leagues to top domestic ones. The size of the country doesn’t help but am sure we can do better especially in football ( have lost hope in the aru).

      When it comes to Belgium, they have always had a very decent national team and even at club level they were more than ok until the early 90s. No one wanted to play Belgium or Anderlecht in the 80s. But like many euro countries their size (Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden etc) they go through cycles and cant be at the top with every generation. Their strong ties with the African continent and numerous youth academies there don’t hurt either. happy to have them back.

      • October 16th 2013 @ 9:42am
        Franko said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:42am | ! Report

        Great post nick, you are spot on.

        I remember that Belgian side with Scifo and Van Der Elst in mid with Luc Nilis up front, was a good team. They also had a keeper who was pretty good, big mop of hair he had.

        The Danes with the Laudrup boys and Schmeichel.

        Good times, I too am pleased to see them back. Perhaps with Eriksen, Denmark will begin a mini revival also.

        • October 16th 2013 @ 12:39pm
          Jukes said | October 16th 2013 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

          Franko the goalkeeper you are referring to is none other than Michel Preud’homme. Right now he is the coach of one Matt Ryan at Club Brugge. Michel Preud’homme is one of the most amazing keepers I ever saw.

          • October 16th 2013 @ 3:57pm
            nickoldschool said | October 16th 2013 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            I thought Franko was referring to Jean Marie Pfaff (because of the hair comment) but could be Preud’homme too. Both great GK.

      • October 16th 2013 @ 11:19pm
        Stephen Martin said | October 16th 2013 @ 11:19pm | ! Report

        Anderlecht’s ability to bribe refs helped their results too. Ask a Nottingham Forest fan.

    • October 16th 2013 @ 10:35am
      Brendo said | October 16th 2013 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      Another ridiculous article comparing the Australian situation to Europe. Although we can take away a little of the Belgium story and implement it here overall they are poles apart from our situation. People keep talking about 4-3-3 and whether it is the right way to go but when head this way in the discussion we miss the real reason why our players are not good enough. We just are not producing enough technically proficent players. The 4-4-3 system does help to produce these types of players (plenty of countries have shown this) the issues we face go beyond youth structure.

      1. Cultural
      In Belgium every boys aspires to play football (well 95%) and in the school yards across the country the playgrounds are full of ad hoc matches. Children live and breathe the game. Turn on TV and news & sport is full of football highlights. Compare that to Australia where in a school of 500 there is lucky to be 10 boys playing a game at lunchtime in most of the country (West Sydney excepted). The majority of our children are lucky to kick a ball for 4 hours per week, compared to 10-15 hours in Belgium.

      2. Distance
      Our elite youth leagues are locked into Intra-city comps with very little cross comp competetion. We rely on national campionships to test the best of the best and this happens for maybe three games per year. In Belgium because it is a very small country the best of the best are playing against each other constantly, honing their skills. Belgium although a small country are very close to England, Spain, Germany. Three of the biggest leagues in the world and are a natural feeder league to them.

      3. Coaching
      The fact is our level of coach education is hopeless, yes hopeless! Countries like Belgium have experienced and educated coaches down to Under 5-6 level. here is Australia our general Under 11 teams are being coached by parents who are just as likely never kicked a competitive ball in their life and have attended a 1 day workshop at best.

      4. Infrastructure
      In Belgium there are soccer pitches everywhere, in Australia we are busting at the seams and there is very little room to grow. In addition a lot of the pitches are very sub-par (which isn’t a huge deal but does add to the issues). We need to open up the schools and leverage the playgrounds and pitches there for growth.

      The facts are the countries we most have in common are the USA & Canada. We should also be looking at Russia and China (how are they solving the distance problems)

      But the most important issue are coach education (We need thousands of C level coaches not hundreds), elite competition (NPL is a step int he right direction) and cultural (we need our kids with the ball at their feet a LOT more)

      • October 16th 2013 @ 8:51pm
        Kyle Stewart said | October 16th 2013 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

        Are you kidding yourself?
        “Countries like Belgium have experienced and educated coaches down to Under 5-6 level”
        At an under 5-6 levels? Pull the other one.

        And you can compare Australia to Belgium they are the two most urbanised countries in the world. Secondly that is garbage what you said about Belgium being a feeder club to clubs in Spain, England & Germany. If you develop quality players quality teams will sign them its as simple as that, you only have to look at Rojas last year (I know he is a kiwi but still) he was playing quality football and as a result teams like liverpool and Juventus were looking at signing him.

        • October 16th 2013 @ 9:37pm
          brendo said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

          To coach in Belgium the basic level is the Initiator C Certificate which is a 60 hour course. On top of that they run mentorship courses where senior coaches will come to the club and mentor new coaches during the training session.

          The recommended level for youth coaching is the Certificate B which is an additional 60 hours on top of that.

          They have a target of 2000 per year coaches going through a C Certificate.

          The fact is we have dumbed down our coach education here in Australia because it was felt the general coach for 5-11 year olds would not go for having to do the the C Licence and at a $1000 they are right.

        • October 16th 2013 @ 9:48pm
          brendo said | October 16th 2013 @ 9:48pm | ! Report

          If you take a look at the basic Belgian curriculum it is very very similar to what we have implemented here.

          5 v 5 for 5,6,7,8 year olds

          8v8 for 9, 10 year olds

          11 v 11 for 11 and above

          They implement a 4-3-3 once the kids get to 11v11. They even use the same learning phases (Exploration moving to Skill Acquisition and then Tactical). The curriculum is not the issue

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