How the FFA got youth development so wrong

Athos Sirianos Roar Guru

By Athos Sirianos, Athos Sirianos is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger


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    Australia’s group atage exit from the FIFA World Cup amplifies what has been the code’s biggest problem for the last ten years.

    Youth development.

    Two words which have been the catalyst to debates among fans for the last ten years, and rightly so, for the gap between football at a professional and grassroots level continues to grow without a bridge allowing promising players to take the next step.

    This bridge was called the AIS and put some of Australia’s greatest Socceroos on the right path but has since been burnt through FFA interference.

    Since it’s implementation in 1981, the philosophy of the program was around developing individuals and preparing them for football at a professional level.

    The AIS would select players eligible to play at a U20s level and those coaching the program were not involved in selecting the national youth team.

    Instead, their responsibility was selecting young players across Australia to develop into future professionals who were then selected for national youth teams and beyond.

    Mark Rudan nailed it when he referred to the program as the golden ticket for helping youth transition from a semi-professional standard to a professional one.

    The players in Australia’s ‘golden generation’ were dubbed as such through receiving the proper development which allowed them to make the transition into professional football.

    In 2009, with the A-League having got off the ground, the FFA sparked into action by taking over the program which became known as the FFA Centre of Excellence.

    With the A-League expected at the time to grow, the FFA anticipated clubs would set up academies for players to feed through instead of going through the AIS.

    With this in mind, the governing body altered the centre’s philosophy, lowering the age intake and changing the way players were developed.

    All of a sudden, it felt as though the centre’s main priority was moulding and selecting players for youth World Cups instead of taking the time to prepare these individuals for the professional game.

    The AIS was about the bigger picture, something the FFA failed to acknowledge in their takeover.

    Mark Viduka, one of Australia’s most prolific strikers, was a product of the AIS.

    Viduka was developed in the program and within two years by his 18th birthday, he was a starter in the NSL for Melbourne Croatia before moving on to Europe.

    No player’s career path is the same, but at least the AIS provided structure and a starting point for many, who like Viduka, would go on to great things.

    Ten years on and the FFA Centre of Excellence has shut down with the justification being A-League clubs would create academies for youth to filter through.

    But did the centre have to close down so soon?

    Creating such academies is not something A-League clubs can do overnight and keeping the centre up and running would at least ensure some kind of professional developmental program for players.

    For a nation which has qualified for the last four World Cups, one would have thought youth development would be something the nation excels in, but they are instead falling behind.

    Tom Rogic

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    It is not as though there is a lack of players, football is the most participated sport in the country but the players who want to take the sport seriously are let down by a lack of structure.

    Putting the onus on the A-League, W-League and NPL clubs to develop players so soon is not suffice. These clubs are out to win silverware and should not be obliged to have youth feature in their team for the sake of it, especially when these players might not be ready for professional football.

    In an ideal world, all clubs would have these academies which would see hundreds of players across the country receiving professional treatment, but the country nor the teams are ready for this yet.

    While closing the Centre of Excellence has upset many, questions should be raised as to why the FFA interfered with the program in the first place.

    Even before the ‘golden generation’ Australia were producing multiple stars who were playing at a high level in Europe, most of whom were products of the old AIS philosophy driven by coaches like Ron Smith.

    It was said the stream of talent had dried up with fewer graduates from the centre going on to professional careers post FFA takeover, but one must wonder whether this would have been the case if the FFA had not intervened.

    Australia is falling behind in this area, especially considering how far Japan has come as well as there being significant progression in southeast Asia.

    Eventually, clubs will create these academies, but until then it feels as though the nation’s job is to keep digging to find those diamonds in the rough landscape which is Australian football.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • June 29th 2018 @ 7:18pm
      Barca4life said | June 29th 2018 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

      It’s become a problem no doubt, the biggest disappointment is why FFA are cutting costs down on youth development schemes like our youth teams to getting rid of the FFA COE.

      If this isn’t the wake up for the FFA to act then I don’t know what would.

      • June 29th 2018 @ 7:57pm
        AusSokkah said | June 29th 2018 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

        As pointed out above, the FFA COE wasn’t a development scheme, it was initially run under the AIS Soccer Program by Ron Smith and developed players for the Young Socceroos (u20s), so players entering it were generally already fully developed and it was essentially a finishing school for talented youth players. This program was funded by the Australian Sports Commission and given access to all AIS resources.

        Later football was demoted in category within the Australian Sports Commission and funding was cut along with access to the AIS resources, players were no longer residing at the AIS and had to be bilited out to familes it was also at this time that it changed to focus on u17s rather than as a finishing school (which is what the likes of Viduka, Bresciano, Grella Aloisi all came through.

        So it’s incorrect to say that the FFA were cutting costs, or that we have lost the progam that produced the golden generation, because we’d already lost that when funding was cut by the Australian Sports Commission.

        • June 30th 2018 @ 12:11am
          Barca4life said | June 30th 2018 @ 12:11am | ! Report

          For example the youth teams, the u17s and u20s have barely practiced and played no games this year prior to there AFC Youth Championships later this year and are expected to qualify for there world cups? It’s no wonder our youth don’t do well like they used to.
          All the other countries in the AFC have invested in youth and have done much better than us and we haven’t even qualified for a youth World Cup since 2015.

          But the FFA should never cut costs on a important part on our development of players so something like the FFA COE should have kept in part for players that are not in a-league clubs.

          As they say, if you don’t invest in youth then you don’t have much of a future and the FFA have put youth development on the back burner and now we are paying the price at Socceroo level.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 30th 2018 @ 7:41am
      Waz said | June 30th 2018 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      The AIS could graduate about 15 players per year.

      The 9 new A League Acadamies will graduate about 135 young players per year.

      Add two extra teams through expansion and that’s 165/year. That’s much better.

      Can you imagine Europe having only ONE Academy in it as Australia did for decades – how many talented kids didn’t make it in to the AIS each year …. 100? 200?

      The model being followed in Australia is now the same as the rest of the football world – when will we learn in this country that we can’t act like we are “unique” … what we need to do has already been tried and tested, best practice is there for us to follow and AIS was not best practice.

      The moment the A League were allowed to open their own academies, which only occurred this year, the best young kids would opt to go there and not to the AIS which was then, as a consequence, dead in the water.

      • June 30th 2018 @ 9:15am
        jbinnie said | June 30th 2018 @ 9:15am | ! Report

        Waz – I would hold fire on your assumption that “A-League academies” will produce the “finished articles”.
        There is much evidence in existence that just having an “academy” is no guarantee to producing a production line of A-League standard players.
        Glasgow Rangers are a good example of this ,under Dick Advocaat they established a multi million dollar (some say $25 millions) establishment in one of Glasgow’s elite suburbs and to the best of my knowledge in it’s 17 year history has produced only 4 players whose names you may recognise, the goalkeeper McGregor, (Hull City) the full back Hutton (Spurs and Aston Villa), a winger called Chris Burke (Cardiff City) and of course Charlie Adam.(Liverpool and Stoke).
        By selling these players to southern clubs it could be said the “income” would have helped clear the overall cost ,but I think you would agree that 4 “notables” in 17 years is not a high return.
        The other disturbing factor is that over those 17 years the number of coaches employed almost matches the number of players to “graduate”. Cheers jb.

        • Roar Rookie

          June 30th 2018 @ 11:57am
          Waz said | June 30th 2018 @ 11:57am | ! Report


          One AIS Academy (or “finishing school” as someone more correctly called it) is not going to be as good as 9 Acadamies. Not least because the AIS has only a couple of years with each student whereas the HAL Acadamies will have them from U12 (in Roars case U6) through until U21.

          So that is better a better volume of kids getting attention and over a longer period of time.

          The closure of the AIS is an irrelevance in this debate imo.

          You then go on to broaden the debate to the quality of the Academies, a very valid point. The same arguments exist the world over and apply equally to AIS as they do A League Acadamies. It’s to be hoped that someone (the FFA) is paying close attention to quality. .

          • June 30th 2018 @ 12:53pm
            jbinnie said | June 30th 2018 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

            Waz – Numerically your discussion is indisputable but when you add in your final sentence to the equation the whole spectrum changes.
            Quality is an excellent use of a word when it applies to coaching of youngsters,and it is in this area of our vast numbers of kids that some sort of “policing” is going to have to take place, and the ability to gain a certificate from the internet is certainly not the way to go about it.
            In my journeying around junior fields I still see far too many “coaches” trying to emulate those “dancing dervishes” we all see on TV, shouting and gesticulating to their charges,guys they have paid millions of dollars for, assuming that they were procured because they could play the game.

            You say the FFA are going to have to supervise and assess the performance of the academies but is this the same FFA that employed 2 Directors of Coaching who reportedly wrote and re-wrote our new curriculum and then walked away from their efforts leaving the facilitations of their purported ideas to others to implement.
            You have much more faith than I do on this subject. Cheers jb.

    • June 30th 2018 @ 12:13pm
      ausjm said | June 30th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

      I am amazed at the lack of people who cannot define the problem with football in Australia (which i am sure if you research) will point to a rather simple solution to why our youth programs are falling behind. Not to many years ago we were the envy of many of footballing nations (Japan included) on the AIS developing and creating forward plans for our talented youth.
      Like many of you I was involved in Junior football and through the years had hope for the thousands of talented footballers being given a chance.
      Bring in Geoff Gallop (WHO?) – he was and is a rugby league man through his own admission he had noting to do with football (soccer) and since his appointment has created such a division in Football that is easily seen. The other football? codes in Australia vowed not to let Football (Soccer as they know it) take over Australian sport as it was by 25- 1 registrations per month.
      FFA took over AIS to strangle development (duh) since he has had the power this was done very quickly, the AIS was working to a degree and needed tweeking not putting out to clubs who were trying to establish themselves in front of the biased and limited sponserships available to them, at the time the A league clubs were fighting all other codes, to be recognised and generate capital to enable them to run development programs.
      The AIS was essentially a starting model (if it s not broke don t fix it) the FFA (Gallop) identified this and took control which ultimately failed.
      The FFA who control licences in this country then tried to compact the league teams by denying Wellington a renewal of there licence – who intervened after much public anger – FIFA
      There are many instances of interference by this man and his team at the head of FFA to try and disrupt football in this country and is winning. Many years ago the football community got over there ethnic differences and moved on.
      Since Gallop and his Plan, Football has gone backwards
      Why is this not looked into and fixed. The Australian Rugby Football league, Australian Rules Football are behind this man why are we so blind.