A-League clubs drop the ball on youth development

FFA Technical Director Eric Abrams said he was shocked when he learnt that not all A-League clubs had a youth academy structure.

Abrams has been in Australia for almost 14 months and is responsible for coach education and elite player development.

The 57-year-old was youth coach at KRC Genk before developing the current golden generation of Vincent Kompany, Christian Benteke, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens as Belgium's U15 – U17 coach.

“Coming out of a European football environment I was very disappointed we have an A-League competition and these A-league clubs have no youth structure,” Abrams said.

“We have to establish this. The state institute is still there, and we also have out NTC programs in the states.”

While not all A-league clubs have a youth structure there have been some positive steps recently. Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Central Coast Mariners, Perth Glory and the Newcastle Jets are starting up academies.

Tony Vidmar the current coach of the U17 national youth team, the Joeys, believes a focus on youth will see a better production line of local players.

“When I was a young player we had local junior teams and selection was through the state team and eventually to the Australian Institute of Sport,” he said.

“If you didn’t follow that pathway there were NSL teams who had youth teams from U10 to U18. Currently that doesn’t exist with A League clubs but this is something all A League clubs should invest in as it is the future of all clubs.

“Putting money towards having the best coaches and best development programs will grow the quality of the A League and have a lot more quality Australian players playing.”

Les Scheinflug, Australia’s most successful national youth team coach said that not enough respect is given to young players

“I agree with Tony Vidmar one million per cent there,” Scheinflug said.

“The best players would go to the institute and stay there for 18 months to two years - but only for one year if the clubs grabbed them because they were full time and they became fitter, faster and more skilful.

“When John O’Neill came into power he got rid of the youth competition for two years and now the youth competition is nothing either. You know why? They don’t play in front of anybody, no coaches are watching them and there is no atmosphere.

“It’s like one day you play in front of nobody and suddenly you go to a World Cup and you play in front of 110,000 people like we did (1991 Youth World Cup). Now how do you cope with that if you never experienced it before?”

Abrams said that players in the U14 to U17 age group in Belgium train in the morning and evening and at least 12-14 hours a week. He believes that for Australia to compete with the rest of the world it is imperative that Australian youngsters emulate that European training structure.

“If all the A-League clubs have established this kind of academy structure there is the opportunity,” he said.

“Because that is one thing I want to really stress is we have the ambition in 10 years to compete with the best in the world.  So there is no secret you have to practice, and you have to practice in the best environment with the better players.

“But if you have your academies that are well established with the quality of coaches that Tony Vidmar is referring to, and you have quality coaching in the Centre of Excellence School – and it’s more focused there on individual player development and not forming a team – then you have the opportunity to educate the better players.”

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.