It’s hard to believe a controversial penalty was all that sat between the Socceroos and eventual champions Italy at the 2006 World Cup. Incredible, really.
That team had the likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill and a young Tim Cahill, all of whom were plying their trade in top leagues across Europe. In fact most of the team were at the top of their game, playing week in and out in European top-flight divisions.
Many of these guys were the product of the old NSL system, whereby teams couldn’t afford marquee players on bigger bucks. Youth development was the lifeblood of these clubs. Fast-forward to 2020 and Mat Ryan – and Matt Leckie when he’s fit – are now the only two players who appear in one of Europe’s top five leagues, those being England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Other than their famous 2015 Asia Cup triumph on home soil, the Socceroos have largely regressed and are a shadow of their former 2006 selves.
It begs the question: was the 2006 team merely a fluke, whereby chance gave us a golden generation, or have we genuinely regressed and is the A-League failing to develop players as it should?
I hate pessimism because success in sport is built on hope, but we need to look at how we’re developing our youth. Who will be the next Kewell or Viduka and where can we find them?
Young players in the A-League are pushed to the pine as older recycled players turning up for their fourth or fifth A-League side are handed starting positions. The way the domestic competition is producing players isn’t sustainable.
The A-League will never be of the same ilk as the top five European competition, and nor should it be. It should be the lifeblood of our national team, the perfect environment to allow youth to thrive before they set off abroad. Look at Belgium, the Netherlands or even (sigh) the USA, all of which use their domestic leagues as feeders for their national side. This is what we should aspire to be like.
Instead of mocking and deriding our domestic competition for its ‘peak A-League’ moments we should be supporting the league and encouraging youth to prosper.
In France key talent scouts have identified the age of 10 to 13 as the critical range for developing technical skills and footballing nous. This is how they managed to uncover Kylian Mbappe, the crown jewel of the French conveyer belt of talent.
In Australia many kids of this age are deterred from football due to exorbitantly high fees, politics and poor junior governance. I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but this age group is critical and must be properly harnessed if we are to be successful as a nation.
The last thing we want is to miss out on another golden generation. The key will be our domestic league and encouraging youth to play our sport.
What do you think, Roarers?