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Is It Back To The Future For Australian Football?

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back to the future

It has long been popular opinion in Australian football discussions that we need to “give the kids a go”. Ever since the retirement and lack of competitive game time for much of the famous 2006 crop of Socceroos – which took us to Germany and the World Cup for the first time in 32 years – the squad has been in need of regeneration.

Albeit rather overdue, with the next World Cup just over two months away, at last some substantial changes have taken place. A few weeks ago, some friends of mine watched the Socceroos play fellow World Cup qualifiers Ecuador in London, and they were intrigued by what they saw. Historically we have played these mid-season exhibition games in London because it was more convenient for our bigger names (such as Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka or Mark Schwarzer), who all plied their trade in Europe. These days, with those same names having paved the way, there are Australians playing all over the continent.

Apart from the fact that one no longer has to be an exceptional talent to make it on the other side of the world as an Australian, the reason many back home had never heard of several of the recently-picked players is because we have barely caught a glimpse of them before. Well, we have now. And despite suffering an early second-half double whammy of a penalty and red card to the newly introduced goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak, and going on to lose the game 4-3 (having led 3-0 at half-time), there were some seriously encouraging signs for the future. However, not to take anything away from the superb job of new coach Ange Postecoglou, it has to be said that this is more by luck than judgement.

Luck in the sense that these players were belatedly thrown together and yet managed to perform to a decent standard, and more importantly with a specific style, built primarily on controlling possession of the ball. From Hungary’s ‘Golden Team’ of the 1950s to the current Spain side, which has been dominant over the last six years, great teams throughout history have been made up of players who all adhered to a particular tactical ideology.

Something that makes this process easier is introducing it systemically, so that from a young age players are aware of the various roles of each position. Spain is the perfect example of this, with their team largely consisting of graduates of the now famous La Masia (The Farmhouse) academy of FC Barcelona.

Unfortunately here in Australia, not only does no such footballing education exist, it is simply too expensive to play the game. Most local clubs can’t afford to employ good coaches. This has allowed an increasing number of private academies – which unlike La Masia are entirely disconnected from the professional side of the game – to charge a lot of money for what is still a technically deficient product. This is not a matter of playing the blame game, as these coaches are perfectly entitled to be paid for the work they put in – coaching licenses themselves are far too expensive. Rather, the FFA (Football Federation Australia) must come to terms with the fact that our grassroots system is broken.

We are taking one huge step in the right direction; by following in the traditions of the world’s oldest professional football competition, England’s FA Cup. Our own FFA Cup will kick-off on July 29. But as is the beauty of tournaments in this vein, its preliminary rounds are already underway. This is because it encompasses the currently running cups of each of the states and the ACT, with the Northern Territory to be included from 2015. From these, 22 clubs will join the ten from the A-league.

Hopefully, not only will this expose more players to a higher standard than they’re used to, but it will generate revenue for the more successful clubs to invest in the future. This, in turn, will make it cheaper to play the game. One such club where I certainly hope this is the case is our very own University of Queensland Football Club. That’s right, UQFC vs Brisbane Roar down at the lakes … a chance to dream!