Broadening the Scope

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The story told regarding the Socceroos is one with differing narratives depending on which end of the pendulum you swing. Some say there’s a deep rooted issue in the whole system, others say Australia’s youngsters are simply “not good enough” to borrow a phrase from senior National team player Luke Wilkshire.

I don’t disagree there’s a problem with the talent pool, but it’s been an issue pre-dating 2013. Those were the reasons the National Curriculum was introduced, and I’m not here to discuss the success or lack thereof of the scheme.

A question many fans, journalists and anyone interested in the Socceroos should ask is in regards to the lack of experimentation in the national teams across the board. Where was the call for Jason Davidson or Shane Lowry to be given opportunities at left-back?  Instead hopes were pinned on naturalising a player a year out of a World Cup, who was ineligible to play for Australia.

The issue runs deeper, and the youth sides are at the heart of them. The selection process seems from the outside one of convenience oppose to talent. Cases of Brad Inman and Shane Lowry are indicative of the lack of experimentation. Both have never been capped for any of the youth national teams. The A-League’s growth is positive and I’ll be the first to say there are plenty of talented youngsters, but when a National Youth League player is picked over overseas players who’ve played at higher levels eyebrows should start to be raised.

The powers that be have shown elements of a lax approach and lack of resourcefulness, and the failure of the Socceroos from a senior level is systematic of this. Holger Osieck and the senior players are only part of the overall problem. We’ve not utilised our talent pool. Plain and simple. Australia has young players playing at elite level clubs being groomed by some of the best youth coaches in world football.

Australia are simply not good enough, isn’t a good enough excuse. Tell that to Chris Ikonomidis who’s moved to Lazio in the off-season, Brad Smith at Liverpool who conveniently plays at left-back a problem position for the Socceroos, Peter Skapetis scoring goals for fun with Queens Park Rangers development side or Giancarlo Gallifuoco who’s been given assurances by Andre Villas Boas about his position at Tottenham.

There are more players. Bailey Wright’s another, he’s recently been dubbed “the best player” at Preston North End by Coach Simon Grayson has only represented Australia three times at u17 level. Also, the likes of Ikonomidis, Skapetis and Gallifuoco have only a handful of u20 caps to their name.

David Magrone, the head of Tottenham Hotspur’s European scouting network, echoed the sentiments of the lack of scouting for young Australian players. Magrone said, “For me, it looks as though the selection process for all age groups is flawed,” when referencing the lack of overseas players picked to participate in the under-20 World Cup. Magrone took particular offence to the fact certain players weren’t picked, “Take the example, Massimo [Luongo]. He’s good enough to play in the Socceroos midfield now…It’s a no brainer. He’s been in one camp for his country since he has been in Europe,” he said.

Luongo has since left Tottenham and has cemented a place with League One side Swindon Town, where he’s been impressing in recent weeks. However, he’s only represented Australia at u20 level three times, whereas players playing fringe roles at A-League sides have gone onto tournaments.

Magrone touches on the preference of local talent, “I have been in England many years now and for the Australia hierarchy to look mainly at local players is wrong,” he said. The example of a virtual unknown to fans in Australia before his move to Adelaide United was Tomi Juric, who since his return home has gone on to represent Australia.

One Australian scout revealed he’d been tracking Juric’s career for some time, and he said, “I don’t believe there is an effective scouting network in place – and if there is one there the information they are giving is not being used as it should be.”

If the likes of Juric are propping up in smaller and obscure European leagues why isn’t Football Federation Australia (FFA) tracking their progression?  The state of the game locally is still up for dispute but the narrative of players not being there and not being good enough is lazy. It’s a get out of jail free card to any future Socceroo coach, the established old guard, and more importantly the red tape controlling the game from above.

The current success of the A-League’s great for football in Australia, but as Magrone said, “If you tell me coming up through the A-League youth levels is better than coming to Europe and playing under-18s and under-21s and having a proper pre-season and playing international tournaments and being exposed to different football cultures and philosophies, they are kidding themselves.”

Finding a happy medium to promoting the local game, but also acknowledging the success of players plying their trade abroad is important. No longer must the football hierarchy look for the convenient option but the most talented.

Ahmed Yussuf

ahmed mag pic Ahmed is a Melbourne-based writer, and one of the founders of Football Central. He's written in football culture magazine Thin White Line and others, and along with writing puff pieces, he hosts and produces podcasts in association with Football Central.  You can follow him on Twitter: @ahmedyussuf10

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