We can date professional football in Australia back 40 years when there was 41 clubs involved across Australia. Today however, professional football in Australia puts the National Soccer League to shame with nine professional football clubs:
- Sydney FC
- Western Sydney Wanderers
- Adelaide United
- Newcastle Jets
- Central Coast Mariners
- Melbourne Victory
- Melbourne City
- Perth Glory
- Brisbane Roar
What amazes me though is the number of kids playing football whether it be semi-professional or starting out, outweighs the number of clubs and possibilities available.
A few weeks ago I spoke with Australasian Football Academy Head Coach Tony Basha and got his views on the current situation facing young talents who believe they will not get a shot here in Australia or in the A-League.
Tony’s work at the Academy is to work with kids starting from a young age and hone their skills to one day have them play professional football in Australia or overseas.
Tony believes the number of professional football clubs in Australia, “is quite disappointing” and one day hopes to see, “at least 20,” don’t we all.
Our league is only 11 years old but the comparisons of the La Liga system or the Serie A still come up: “I’ve just returned from Italy and Spain and in Italy in one town there are about 10 different clubs, look in a way we’re growing but I’m hoping things can change quick,” he said.
I then posed this question: How important is it for kids playing football in Australia to grow up and have a league of 20 teams?
“It would be great, we have a huge number of talent and a lot of players do miss out because of the spaces available and it’s really important we work fast and promotion relegation is something to look into”.
That debate is long gone…sadly. Some have written we will not be seeing promotion/relegation until 2034 with the recent A-League licenses and the broadcast deals so we can rule that out.
The dreams of these young footballers playing in Australia’s A-League are in a way on pause which is where Tony’s academy comes into the fold. Tony works a lot with his network of overseas clubs ranging from Europe through to Asia to give kids the opportunity to pursue their talents overseas.
In this football (system) “a lot of kids miss out, I don’t know how or why but they do” says Tony but in moving their talent overseas “a few of them make a career for themselves which is good to see”.
Debut’s in the A-League come and go, but clubs like Newcastle do their part in promoting their young bloods from their youth ranks and also the Central Coast Mariners, Sydney FC to an extent, WSW do their part also for a club only four years old, both Melbourne clubs do their part strongly also but in the end we can do a heck of a lot more.
Now, I have never sat in the coaches’ box nor made a decision whether or not to play the young guy (only on FIFA) but for a league where our youth is the future and the 30+ midfielder, goal keeper, defender or striker’s time is over, we should be promoting our youth to play in his position. The pressure on coaches’ today is immense as results drive everything but I think we can overlook a player’s ‘experience’/age and open a new chapter to a young guy to begin what he was born to do.
I asked if there was talent for the next five to 10 years to which Tony responded, “there definitely is,” the players the Australasian Football Academy have produced speaks for itself, the youngest debuting at the Western Sydney Wanderers, Alusine Fofanah, CCM striker and Socceroo Mitchell Duke, CCM forward Kwabena Appiah Kubi.
The statement that hit home was, “I’m hoping they (kids) don’t hit a brick wall,” he continued, “which is why I travel the world a create links with big clubs and send kids over there to trial”. We cannot argue with that, meaning, ‘if my kid doesn’t make it here then I’ll take him overseas and try my luck there, what’s there to lose’, a father said.
Interesting statement yes, but this is where the age of our league debate comes into play. Tony believes “we’re (A-League) 10 years behind and they’ve been doing it for years and it’s a more professional environment”.
‘Time’ is a funny word in the football world, it can sack a manager or in a matter of moments a player’s career could end so the question is, does our A-League have time to grow? Are we just restless because we expected more after 11 years? Or are we settling right now?
We have achieved so much by having this conversation today and watching it get louder and louder. We are talking and they are hearing us.
We need to give the league time, time is on our side but as football fans we are not patient, we are hungry for our league to reach higher heights as it has on the National Team level. We have achieved so much and we need to balance our successes at National Team level with our domestic competition.