Geelong has always been a football city. On Saturday, fans from the city in Victoria’s south can see one of the most skilful players of his generation go around.
Youth. It’s a word that divides football fans and officials from the Premier League to Victorian State League Four.
Does a club focus on the here and now and push for trophies, or does it invest in youth and look to the future, and the potential trophies and transfer fees that may await? It’s largely one or the other.
Very infrequently does a young side like Fergie’s fledglings come along and claim all before them like Manchester United did in the 1990s.
In the A-League, the focus all too often is on the push for trophies. Sure, the Central Coast Mariners side early in the decade managed to produce the likes of Tom Rogic and Mat Ryan, and still manage to win a Championship, but look at the club now.
Those transfer fees reinvested in international journeymen looking for one last sojourn, and players dumped by other A-League clubs.
The consistent recycling of players in this league is unprecedented in world football. The likes of Liam Reddy and Isaka Cernak almost have jerseys from every club, while Jack Clisby and Iacopo La Rocca are among several players who have appeared for three different clubs without becoming an important member of a starting XI.
Why do clubs persist with signing such mediocre players when they have youth waiting in the wings? Surely it would be beneficial for both the club and country if Young Socceroos were getting games week after week?
Young players who have been given consistent opportunities often make the most of it.
While Warren Joyce’s failings at Melbourne City are obvious, the former Manchester United youth coach has blooded Nathaniel Atkinson and Daniel Arzani, who both cemented their spot in the starting side.
City fans will argue that the likes of Dylan Pierias, Ruon Tongyik, and Ramy Najjarine should have played many more games than they have, however. Tongyik is now at his third A-League club at only 22 years of age. Denis Genreau also left the club on loan to gain more game time, and until recently, was receiving regular minutes at PEC Zwolle in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Pierias was named by The Guardian as one of the top 60 best young talents in world football. Frustrated at the lack of game time, Pierias has signed with expansion side Western United for next season, along with other young talents Seb Pasquali and Apostolos Stamatelopolous.
The latter has played just six matches for Adelaide United this season. The much-hyped Pasquali departed Melbourne Victory for Ajax in 2016 following an impressive International Champions Cup campaign against Juventus. Following three years of development at Ajax, the 19-year-old was told his contract won’t be renewed and decided to return home.
The discussion about young players leaving the A-League too early and subsequently returning home soon after has been done to death. Western United will be hoping Pasquali can be more like Aaron Mooy and less like previous wunderkids Terry Antonis and Daniel De Silva, who have yet to kick on after returning home.
United’s current list of signings seems to indicate a commitment to youth. Along with the aforementioned group, 23-year old Aaron Calver and 24-year old Connor Chapman have signed on. The appointment of former Bentleigh Greens manager John Anastasiadis also adds weight to the idea that the club will look outside the A-League’s recycle bin.
It won’t be the first time a club entering the league have made youth a priority.
Melbourne Heart infamously tried to build their club identity on accelerating the development of the best Australian youth, promising to put young players first. The club unearthed the likes of Aziz Behich, Eli Babalj, Brendan Hamill, Craig Goodwin, and Curtis Good, but only made finals once before the City Football Group took over. Behich is the only player who has consistently appeared for the Socceroos.
Western United have the opportunity to shift list management in the A-League. They can break this recycling system by investing in youth from the start and giving the best NPL players their break.
Just last week the club signed 24-year old Valentino Yuel from Bentleigh Greens, one of the many NPL players Anastasiadis would have had his eyes on. It’s a mystery why A-League clubs largely don’t give opportunities to NPL talent.
One of the few shining lights this season for Central Coast has been the form of former South Melbourne defender Matt Millar. Dylan Wenzel-Halls has also been impressive for Brisbane Roar. There are plenty of players at that level who are screaming out for a chance, and hopefully Western United will acknowledge them.
With the rumoured acquisition of Mark Rudan as head coach and a few key Wellington players said to be following him to Tarneit, United are putting together a strong squad. Add to that Socceroo Josh Risdon and Panagiotis Kone, who is extremely young in relation to the typical A-League marquee, and there’s a real chance United will be up the top end of the table.
Other A-League clubs need to look harder and do better. Youth is the way to go.