Australia’s National Youth league was supposed to be a pathway for young talent to step up and play full time professional football, and it has indeed unearthed some gifted players that have been able to make that transition.
But how is it currently travelling?
Not too well, it would appear.
At some clubs the program has been more successful than others, primarily because of the attitude of the coaches and owners. But the numbers of players coming through the youth system into the A-League do not make it the most economically viable option.
With nine Australian based teams in the A-League and each squad having 22 players, there are 198 places in A-League squads available.
A possible 40 of those 198 places is taken up with overseas or marquee players.
Then there are seasoned professionals in the A-League, players who are unlikely to play overseas, but do a more than adequate job in Australia, and their careers are likely to span anywhere between eight and 10 years. If each club has three of these types of players at various points in their careers, then there go another 27 places in the league.
That leaves 131 places across nine teams, or 14 places per team.
Most clubs may give two or possibly three players the opportunity to stake their claim, and have historically given them a one or two year contract, but this is where few make that next step. Many are on the outer of the first team squad, and then find themselves in a no man’s land; still playing in the Youth League and only training with his team mates once or twice a week.
The issue is compounded when first team coaches have as many as eight of their senior squad members turn out for the youth team in the National Youth League, four of whom are over age, as happened this weekend just gone. Three over age players on the park at any one time is the permitted number. This would appear to be a misuse of the Youth League and what it is designed to achieve.
The sad thing is it would appear very few care. Visit many of the A-League websites, all of which are supposed to be better than the previous incarnations, and you will find that most clubs have not paid this league any attention.
The Mariners’ youth team is not even featured, Victory have only eight youth league players listed while Glory have seven plus four of their W-League team.
They are not alone in this, as the Jets have three of their youth team strikers listed as forwards for their W-League side. So too do Sydney FC – which might explain how they achieved the result against Perth Glory.
Match reports have become a thing of the past on the Youth League, and should you wish to find out more about the young talent at your club, click on their profile pictures. You end up being directed to an irrelevant page…
Is this the way to treat our next generation of footballers?
If the Youth League is too much of a burden on the clubs owners, then let us look at an apprentice system at each club. Increase the squads to 25 with each club having seven players who are classified as apprentices.
These players should train with the first team but also carry on external studies or apprenticeships. They should also be kept back a few sessions a week to work on areas of their game that need improvement.
Too many players who have been given contracts with A-League clubs have had no extra coaching to make them better players and have left the A-League worse players than when they joined it, their confidence in tatters.
There still needs to be some form of competition, and once a month over five months all the sides can fly to one state for four days and play two games. Each month the host city is different.
In the final round after the first game the league standings will be determined and the top two teams in their second game would play off for the title, while third plays fourth, fifth plays sixth, etcetera. Another benefit is the national coaches can all be in attendance to see all players at one time.
This format would save the owners and the FFA money compared to current costs, and would enable clubs to draft in players who they think may be able to take the next step. In addition there may be some leeway for senior players returning from injury, but not just to give them game time.
The National Youth League must not be allowed to die. But it desperately needs resuscitation, as too many clubs are simply paying it lip-service.