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With the new European season already underway, its sad to see that there are very few Australians starting for big clubs across the top leagues around the world, which is alarming for football in this country going forward.
We have to face reality and accept that the youth systems in academies across the country are not well run compared to previous eras.
The era that I am particularly referring to is our 2006 ‘golden generation’, which comprised many stars that were playing at the highest level for some of the biggest clubs across Europe’s top five leagues.
It’s actually quite unbelievable to compare that generation to the current one we have at our disposal.
The likes of Harry Kewell winning the Champions League with Liverpool, Tim Cahill playing an important role at Everton, Mark Viduka steamrolling the Premier League with Leeds and Newcastle, Mark Schwarzer maintaining a starting spot at Middlesborough, and Lucas Neill and Craig Moore playing key roles for Blackburn and Newcastle were all playing regular football in England.
Scott Chipperfield was starring for FC Basel, John Aloisi played in Spain, midfielders Vince Grella and Mark Bresciano made names for themselves in Italy and Jason Culina was instrumental in Holland for PSV Eindhoven.
They all gave the Socceroos hope of achieving the impossible.
These players are not just names that were added to club team sheets to fill the numbers; they all played consistent football and performed at their best with the help of great coaching.
Interestingly, only three players out of the 23-man shortlist in 2006 were playing in the A-League. If we compare that to the upcoming World Cup, around 8 tot 10 A-League players have a chance of making the squad.
This is the main problem I have with this current group of players. The A-League should be a stepping stone to develop young players, giving them some experience to then challenge themselves at some of the world’s biggest clubs. There are too many players who are staying in Australia for too long, which is harming their growth.
To be fair to some players, they are putting themselves out there and wanting to test themselves among the best – the only problem is that they aren’t playing football on a regular basis. Brad Smith, Mitchell Langerak, Trent Sainsbury, Chris Ikonomidis and Terry Antonis are examples of this.
The two players who can be compared to the ‘golden generation’ are Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy. Rogic has performed exceptionally well under Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic and has cemented a starting spot. Going forward he is going to be playing Champions League football. The latter will carry Huddersfield Town in England’s top flight, as he was their best player on their way to promotion.
Australia needs to produce more players like this, but on the other side of the coin they must be careful how they nurture them – as Daniel De Silva will tell you, that development takes time and patience.
In 2010, before World cup selection, former coach Pim Verbeek put a rule in place that meant no player would be selected unless they played football overseas rather than in the A-League. Although I disagreed with it to a degree, I understood his thought process in trying to get players to the level of the likes of Kewell and Cahill.
It would make them only stronger as players – but that doesn’t mean I think the A-League isn’t important for developing the younger players.
I should add that the explosion of money in China is not helping the development of Australians. Players like as Robbie Kruse, Ryan McGowan and Trent Sainsbury might be doing more for their bank accounts than their football, which is also a big concern.
If Australia wants to win a World Cup down the line, producing top players and moving them on to the best leagues in Europe is the main priority. This will only happen through strong investments in grassroots programs and coaches in the A-League giving youth a chance.
This country is capable of so much success, but the time is now to create our new golden generation.