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Musti: Follow the path of the Jedi

by Michael Huguenin on Jun 19, 2011

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One Olyroos player that is almost impossible to miss is 18-year-old Mustafa Amini. The attacking midfielder with the bright red afro has quickly become a cult figure and will most likely play some sort of role against Yemen.

Amini has quickly taken over from Tommy Oar and Matthew Leckie as the player with the hopes of Australia on his shoulders. A creative midfielder who can truly play in behind the strikers, Amini could possibly revolutionise the way the Socceroos play in the future. He’s the type of player that Australia has rarely produced. A true number ten.

As such, the Australian football community is very interested in ‘Musti’s’ career choices. Everyone wants the Central Coast-based youngster to achieve as much as possible. And right now there are two main schools of thought on what he should do.

After the A-League finished in March, Musti travelled to Europe for a successful trial with Borussia Dortmund, resulting in a reported figure AU$135,000 transfer.

Now whether or not that amount is enough for a player of Amini’s potential isn’t something I’m interested in arguing right now (for the record I don’t think it is). I think it’s more interesting to discuss where is better for the kids development right now: in a Bundesliga youth squad or in an A-League senior side.

And in the context of this blog, it's interesting to now note that media reports have outlined that Amini will indeed go to Dortmund and be loaned back to the Mariners. Is this the right outcome? Read on.

The “pro-Europe” camp (as I’ve dubbed them) believes that being involved in a system like that of Dortmund is always better than being in Australia. Even if Musti is only playing youth or reserve team football, being around Dortmund’s stars and coaching staff will help the young Aussie develop his talent away from the agricultural defenders of the A-League.

The “pro-Australia” camp (again my term) is concerned that Musti could get lost in the European system, which chews up and spits out thousands of young footballers every year. They believe that another strong season in the A-League would provide a stronger foundation for the youngster’scareer and maybe give him the chance of moving to a club in Europe where he would slot straight into a first team squad rather than work his way up.

More and more I’m leaning towards the “pro-Australia” camp and I believe that the perfect example for Musti of how to make a successful transition from the A-League to Europe (and eventually the Socceroos) already exists. Ironically, he’s a former Mariner.

Musti, the path of the Jedi is calling you.

Mile Jedinak, I believe, is the most successful A-League product in the short history of the league, at least in terms of making an impact on the Socceroos. Jedinak is now a regular in national squads and, under Holger Osieck, a regular starter too.

Jedinak is a perfect example of how staying a bit longer in Australia doesn’t hinder development in Europe (the “pro-Europe” camp regularly argues that youngsters risk stagnating if they stay home) and in fact might even be an advantage. Jedinak played around two and a half seasons in the A-League between 2006 and 2009. In that time he racked up 45 games for Central Coast and in his final season was the Mariners’ key player. Since the defensive midfielder signed for Genclerbirligi in Turkey, he has played 77 matches (including 36 on loan at Atalyaspor) in three seasons, and scored 12 goals.

An average of 25.67 matches per season is not earth shattering, but it’s a solid performance by the 26-year-old and much better than many other Australians plying their trade in Europe. A look at two Aussies that went to Europe at a younger age, and with less A-League experience, shows the tougher side of European football.

Dario Vidosic signed for FC Nuremberg as a 20-year-old after only 17 matches in Brisbane Roar colours. He has since played only 30 games for Nuremberg in the four years he’s been in Germany, plus 26 games over two loan periods in the past two seasons. That’s 14 games per season. Now Vidosic is apparently looking for a new club.

James Holland’s story is an even bigger warning to young Aussies. At 19, the former Newcastle player left Australia with plenty of good reviews. He’d played 23 matches for the Jets. Holland signed for AZ Alkmaar but has yet to play a single senior match for the Dutch club in two seasons. The midfielder spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Sparta Rotterdam where he played 14 games.

I was in Alkmaar late last year and spoke to some journalists who follow AZ every week. They were unanimous in their belief that Holland needed to break through to the senior team soon or leave the club. Being in the youth/reserves ranks for so long was never a good look in their eyes.

This is where Musti must be careful and it’s why I believe he should follow Jedinak’s path. The little schemer with Afghani and Nicaraguan heritage has played 23 matches in the A-League and 12 of them were off the bench. He is only 18 and has hardly tasted senior football. More and more in Australia, as we research the best ways to develop our talent, we’re told that young players should be playing all the time and not necessarily in youth football. If Musti goes to Dortmund his chances of playing first team football in the first two seasons are slim to none.

But in the A-League at least one more season could make a huge difference. Musti’s main rival to the attacking midfielder position, Patricio Perez, has left the Mariners. Coach Graham Arnold has already said he expects Musti to step into the first 11 next season. A full compliment of games will bump him to around 50 senior caps, and it seems that the half-century is a key number to make it abroad.

Jedinak had 45. But if we scroll a bit further back in Australian football history we’ll see two of our recent stars cracked the half-ton in Australia before successful careers in Europe.

Brett Emerton (94) and Mark Viduka (53) both did so. While many will try and tell you that Australia’s golden generation were all products of leaving Australia early (i.e. Harry Kewell), Emmo and Dukes were both key players for their clubs and had performed regularly at NSL. Both became solid first team players at their first European clubs quite quickly and both moved on to bigger and better leagues. Compare that to the hundreds of young Aussies that have signed with big clubs and then, slowly, but surely, drifted down to lower divisions, leagues and clubs. It’s maybe a sign that more experience at senior level in Australia prepares players better to slot into European football.

Mustafa Amini has the potential to become one of Australia’s finest exports, but his next move might be the most critical in what we hope is a long and successful career.