Whether the fiery debate between former Socceroos Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater on the issue of foreign players in the A-League was planned, staged or merely vigorous football discussion is irrelevant.
Their views on just how many overseas players should be permitted on the books of each A-League club were interesting, diametrically opposed, created some passionate debate and led to a little bit of blue language from Slater.
Bosnich promoted the idea of increasing the permitted number of foreign players from five to seven, citing the global nature of the game and the need to bring in the best talent available, regardless of where it comes from.
Slater responded by expressing his utter disbelief. He was personally respectful towards his Fox Sports ally yet astonished that anyone could support such an increase in foreign talent, considering the damage he believes it would do to Australia’s already troubled youth development systems.
However, in some ways, both are right in their thinking. Hence, the best move forward for the domestic league becomes something of a challenging path to identify and one potentially even more difficult to tread.
Why Bosnich is right
As Asian football powers ahead and A-League clubs continue to struggle year on year in the Asian Champions League, the former Aston Villa, Manchester United and Chelsea goalkeeper is on the money when he expresses a view that the local standard must improve.
However, without a host of gifted and world-class juniors ready to remain on Australian/ New Zealand shores and the money to keep them here, that improvement seems unlikely to occur in the current climate on the back of the development of home-grown players.
Bosnich’s comments display a keen awareness of that fact and promote a situation where clubs source the best talent available from across the globe “no matter where they’re from”. His thinking is that the growth of the league is the number one priority moving forward, and if permitting additional foreigners achieves that, then it is indeed the right direction to head.
The 47-year-old points to the recent stagnation of the A-League and also claims that, “Any league that’s exponentially exceeded expectations or has improved their standards has allowed as many foreigners as they possibly can.”
Interestingly, Bosnich believes that by keeping the doors open for foreign players to join the A-League, the same opportunities will then be more likely afforded to our best and brightest youngsters as they seek to travel abroad and further their careers.
Why Slater is right
In short, Slater called BS on Bosnich. Literally.
Irking him was the fact that a number of A-League foreigners, outside the top two or three at each club, spend more time on the pine than on the pitch.
The 2018/19 season does indeed support that view, with a host of international recruits struggling throughout and often playing low minutes off the bench. For the 54-year-old, the idea of adding another pair of potential B-grade foreigners to each squad would merely add international weight to benches at the expense of young domestic players in desperate need of development and opportunity.
Slater also believes that systemic issues continue to hamper youth development in Australia and would only worsen with an increase in the number of foreign players.
“This is a country that has a failed system as a curriculum and we’re still teaching it to our children – the Han Berger one,” Slater said.
The issue of parents investing substantially in their children’s footballing future while being hamstrung at the same time by institutionalised problems is a real concern for the former attacker.
His view is that Australia’s failure to qualify for recent Olympic competitions and the limited number of men excelling in major leagues around the world is clear evidence of a flawed system of development – a system that will benefit not one iota from the arrival of a few new foreigners at A-League clubs.
He also has grave concerns for the Socceroos once the more senior men depart the national team after the next World Cup, should we qualify, and it comes time for the next wave to take the reins.
Both men hold strong views. Bosnich believes that domestic development occurs via continued growth of the league and improvement in the quality of play, thanks to the inclusion of the best talent available from around the globe.
Slater differs vastly, citing a potential false league full of ageing overseas players and even fewer opportunities for domestic talent, which already has its back up against the wall considering the flawed football education it is receiving in Australia.
They both make some valid points.