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Mind The Gap

by Ashley Morrison on Aug 01, 2011

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Before heading back to Australia from the Women’s World Cup I ventured over to England and took in a pre-season game with a Football League side. It was interesting to spend the second half in conversation with the Youth team coach, and hear how things operate over there and compare them to Australia.

The conclusion I formed may well be different from many but I think it raises serious questions about the current structure of the National Youth League.

In England the Academy players are signed on a one or two year basis. Their salaries in the lower divisions are GBP70- 80 per week. If they get a second year they receive the higher salary. At the same time they are required to attend schooling which will hopefully give them a qualification should they fail to make the grade in football.

The coach in question advised that he spends at least three hours per day doing paperwork for Sport England so that they continue to receive their GBP 180,000 per year.

The players in the academy are not expected to have to sweep dressing rooms or clean boots as their apprentice predecessors used to have to do, but at this particular club, they still do. As according to the coach “they need to know their place in the scheme of things.”

A valid point, and in these days of over inflated egos and salaries it is good to see a club sticking to old values.

What was worrying was hearing how Premier league Academy players earn GBP120 per week going up to 140 per week in the second year. Yet should they be signed up for a full time contract their earnings leap from this meager sum to GBP 7-8000 per week. This is totally ridiculous and it is no surprise that many young players with talent fail to make the next step. Such a jump in income is a guarantee that some players egos are going to get ahead of their talent.

Youth league players in Australia earn a pittance by comparison. However by being linked with an A-League side, receiving all of the gear and staying at four and five star hotels, many young players acquire an air of arrogance that ensures that they never make the next step, for they already believe they have arrived.

The youth league has a place in Australian football, but it needs to be linked to the parent club far more than it is. Fifty to sixty percent of these players should be signed as apprentices and be allowed to attend college when not training with the first team. They need to learn the hierarchy, and carry out menial tasks for the senior players such as cleaning boots etcetera, to ensure that they do not get ahead of themselves. They need to aspire to the five star hotels and the first team trimmings, not be given the keys to the castle before they have achieved anything.

Sadly, since the birth of the youth league, we have witnessed some players believing that by simply obtaining a National Youth League contract they have ‘arrived.’ Others when they have failed to obtain a first team contract have claimed they are too good to play in the state leagues.

The current structure has its good points as well as its bad. By offering an apprenticeship with education linked, this will encourage more players to stay in Australia and try and make it before heading overseas. Currently what is being offered overseas outweighs any Youth League contract in Australia and the sooner we accept that and work towards closing the gap the better the game will be for it.