Monday, October 16, 2006


Department of Youth

On yesterday's instalment of The World Game program, Les Murray, pushing one of his favourite barrows, decried the lack of a youth league to complement the A-League. Clearly feeling he was making a telling point, he made the observation that "if Graham Arnold wanted to form an Olympic (Under 23) squad from the current A-League, he couldn't do it!".

At which point Nick Theodorakopoulos, after politely pointing out that this assertion was plain wrong (as indeed it is), assured Murray that the coaches were aware of the eventual need for a youth competition, but that the problem was financial in nature.

It is a simple point which the youth league tirade merchants always contrive to ignore.

More on that in a moment, but first let's deal with that Olympic question. Murray's claim was not only inaccurate, but extremely misleading, given that Australia's last Olympic team was made up very largely of players who had already departed for Europe.

So, a youth league. Why not?

Well, basically because it would involve costs similar to (if not quite commensurate with) those occasioned by senior A-League sides, without any of the associated revenue streams to offset them. Teams would still have to be kitted out, trained (presumably by a coach of sufficient quality to command a reasonable package), flown across the continent, and, of course, paid. And don't forget stadium hire.

Yet there would be little or no television or advertising revenue, and pitiful gate takings. Football tragics like myself would often come to games (yes, folks, I really would), but the vast majority of those who turn up to support the A-League sides would consider it a sideshow at best. This may sound pessimistic, but the story is the same all over the world.

Club first teams must be in a position to support professional youth teams before the latter can be seriously considered.

Hopefully, in a few years' time, it will be feasible; I don't think there's any doubt that it would be beneficial for Australian football. But patience is required.

Poor SBS are getting a little desparate to keep hold of the football.

But did Les Murray see Dario and his goal or the week before Burns and his? And how many saw classic goals from Ante, Carl and Bobby before Foxtel and A-League? if they are good enough they will get in, old or young. The standard is the key. This year is so much higher than last. The crowd will come to quality and winning teams.

And what about the crowds. Football is growing where the growth potential is --- Melbourne (32,000 this week) and Brisbane (47,000 for the socceroos). Sydney needs to lift its game. But even Adelaide, Newcastle, Central Coast and Perth winning are not going to break records.
Very true. Any youth teams will need to be sustained out of the profits that the senior team brings in. So its a little further away.

That said, an increase in the squad size and a raising of the minimum number of youth players might be handy.
...That said, an increase in the squad size and a raising of the minimum number of youth players might be handy....

As the salary cap continues to rise (as it will every year, if all goes according to plan), that sort of thing can begin to happen.
Hey Mikey, here's a (perhaps naive) suggestion...

How about playing youth league games immediately before senior A-League games? This is what has been done by rugby league for many years and they have very good youth development. (Note though that there is talk of merging the reserves with the youth teams.)

It still leaves the question of coaches and travel costs, but the stadium hire (how much does that cost?) problem would be solved. Fox could show highlights of these games either before or after each senior game. And I'm sure there are many fans who might get to a game a little earlier to see the teams.
In a youth (or 2nd division or amateur or reserve or whatever you want to call it.. jersey flegg?) league system I would envisage that the coach of the youth team is the assistant coach of the senior team. All (or some) players may be amateur/semi-professional and the games are played as a curtain call to the main senior game meaning only an extra 15 or so on the plane and for accomadation.

This is similar to the AFL (reserves) model. HOWEVER, even AFL does not have a nationwide "2nd division". The reserves play in local competitions - Melbourne teams play in the VFL, Sydney plays in the ACTFL etc etc to cut down on travel costs (which creates its own obvious problems). Since the state leagues play during winter this is not really feasible either.

I don't think the idea of a youth league is the best idea, but having a reserves league where young players can get game time and develop, where senior players can get fitness back etc might be a better option, but again, is probably not needed.
What about a club in the local league which is essentially a feeder club? So you could have your young guys out getting neccessary, competitive football.

Its a shame when we have to have young players in the squad, but they dont get used. Oostendorp at Sydney, Van Boogard at Central Coast, the Simpson Twins, Ben Griffin...the list goes on. These guys need competitive games to go with their professional training. If we cant afford a fully professional youth league then they should play the off season in the state league or something similar.
...If we cant afford a fully professional youth league then they should play the off season in the state league or something similar....

Many of them do already. In this year's NSW State League, for instance, there were the following 2005/06 A-Leaguers keeping in trim, among others: Tarek Elrich (Olympic), Mark Bridge (Olympic), Zenon Caravella (Olympic), Mark Milligan (Sutho), Tolgay Ozbey (Blacktown), Wade Oostendorp (Marconi I think), Justin Pasfield (Syd. United) - and that's just the ones I remember. And they were all getting good game time.
Did Elrich or Ozbey have contracts with A-League clubs last season? I cant remember.

Perhaps the best thing would be an official partnership with a state league club?

In this scenario the A-League club would have a way for their players to be playing competitive football and would be able to have a larger talent pool to select players from. If you had an official relationship with a local club who was the only club you could get short term domestic players from, it would almost be the same as having a reserve or youth squad. You could have guys like Bingley playing there and still being available for you as a short term player. Or if Miron decides that Ben Griffin could use some match fitness then he could send him to their affiliate club.

It benefits the state league clubs because they get some quality players in on a loan type situation and it benefits the a-league guys because it gives their peripheral squad players a chance to compete without the financial stresses of having a youth or reserve league.

It could also benefit A-League clubs that don’t have a club home with all the additional revenue like the bar and pokies. And the State League clubs get more traffic to their clubhouses.

One problem however, is that the state leagues and A-League don’t run at the same time of the year. At least they don’t in Brisbane.
...Perhaps the best thing would be an official partnership with a state league club?...

Yeah, it's a sound idea in principle and it's been mooted often. But you've put your finger on the major problem:

...One problem however, is that the state leagues and A-League don’t run at the same time of the year. At least they don’t in Brisbane....

They don't in NSW either, and that's one of the downsides of having the A-League in summer.
Update, El-P:

Check this interview with Soccer NSW's Tom Doumanis, about sixteen minutes in. Covers the feeder club issue, more or less:
Interesting that Nick Theo brought this up, in our interview with him (same place as the Tom Doumanis one) he told us that at a recent A-League coaches conference that the FFA had costed a youth league at $1m per team per season on average.

Thats more than most clubs could handle right now.
dollars are going to be the problem. It is a shame to see so much wasted Australian sporting talent going into AFL. 100,000 at some matches but international TV audience of zero. We have some incredible indigenous talent that would knock the socks off the world market if playing a world game.
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