Thursday, September 02, 2010


Underage Overseas

Another timely and interesting article in this week's edition of Goal! Weekly, this time concerning the infamous Article 19 of FIFA's transfer regulations. The article has appeared online as well, on the website of Australia's de facto player union.

The article's author, James Johnson, is a former professional player and now a lawyer in the employ of the PFA. With that in mind, the sentiments that he expresses are understandable enough. However, sometimes it's difficult to work out which side of the issue he stands on, viz:

While it is noble for FIFA to try to protect minors, the practical operation of Article 19 is counterproductive to young Australian players by severely limiting their football development opportunities.

In the very next paragraph:

Professional Footballers Australia (“PFA”) research has showed that, as a general rule of thumb, it is in a player’s best interest to exhaust the Australian system before moving overseas as many international transfers can go wrong.

The problem with this whole issue is, of course, that it is such a fertile ground for both emotions and ambition. The story of the unjustly ignored youngster at the mercy of mediocre local coaches, cruelly prevented from furthering his development overseas, is familiar to any long-term follower of Australian football. One such story even found its way to a commercial current affairs program recently, in which the theme of youthful dreams being shattered (that is, parental dreams being shattered) was hammered home with all the subtlety of a Roger Milla goal celebration.

The reality, of course, is that in 99% of cases the child in question would indeed be better served by staying in Australia initially. The recent cases of Danny Vukovic and especially Shane Smeltz have shown how treacherous overseas transfers can be; if twentysomethings have trouble getting things right, how are teenagers to cope?

In my view, the effect of Article 19 (first introduced nearly a decade ago) has been almost uniformly positive. The horror stories of young South Americans left high and dry in Europe by nefarious agents have dried up, and starry-eyed youngsters in more affluent countries, including Australia, are less likely to be induced by the promises of glory on the part of fly-by-night "academies" with tenuous links to the clubs they purport to represent.

To deal with Johnson's main point: yes, it is a pity that youngsters from within the European Union have greater freedom of movement than Antipodeans. But the same is true in the senior game, when foreign player quotas have often made it hard for Australians without European ancestry to settle in Europe. The PFA seems to be tilting at windmills here.

Then there is the issue of whether certain players simply "can't learn any more" in Australia. At age 16, I simply don't believe this to be true. Our level of coaching may be well behind that of Europe, but the popular view that all Australian coaches are simply British-tinged hacks only interested in physical power and speed is, from what I've seen, a myth. Again, many commentators (not to mention ambitious parents) are inclined to confuse the A-League, in which they have seen physicality to the fore in recent years, with Australian football as a whole.

There are good coaches out there...and kids who are ambitious and open-minded enough will eventually find them.

The problem is FFA implementation of FIFA regulations. FFA seem to be trying to protect the A-League. But their over all strategy is unclear in that it is not clear what they are trying to achieve.

Another point is that the difference between soccer and the other codes is that elite players can set themselves up for life and prove their skill on the world stage.

The AFL with its strategies that channel talent (and steal talent from other codes including soccer at youth level) via monopoly strategies. How is FFA responding? Limiting the world stage opportunity.

Ask the players that have come back what the overseas experience was really like - Pim led us a merry dance on this and Ricky Herbert showed how wrong he was...
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