The Young Socceroos have just completed a low-key AFC U19 championship qualifier campaign in Malaysia. Finishing a disappointing second in Group F, the young Aussies await other results to learn whether they will progress to the Championships to be held in Myanmar next year. A 5-1 loss to Vietnam has left a lot of people scratching their heads to what went wrong and what does this mean for the next generation.
While still early in a player’s development, the Young Socceroos provides a great opportunity to expose the next generation of Australian footballers to the demands of international football, tournament competition, and the associated challenges such as travel, different cultures, and shortened preparation time.
It can also be useful for coaches, administrators, and fans to gauge the level of player coming through. Performances of the Young Roos and the Joeys over the last ten years has caused much consternation in this regard with what looked such a bright future for Australian football turning into some of the darkest days.
In response to this sudden dip in results at youth level the FFA took the step of employing Rob Baan, then later the incumbent Technical Director Han Berger, to draw up a revolutionary blueprint for future success.
Whether or not the comprehensively written 300 page bible to proactive, possession based football will deliver the prayers of the football flock remains to be seen. Learning from the positives and negatives of the past though is key in order to facilitate any forward movement on the development trail.
Firstly, in order to understand how dire our situation has become recently, it’s important to look at what the state of our youth teams were in since the inception of the international youth tournaments which we can use to measure ourselves. Also the period between 2003-2005 where the football landscape changed in Australia; the FFA was formed and the national club competition was restructured leaving youth development on the back burner. Inaugural A-League clubs initially scrambled together squads with no thought of bringing through the next generation like the previous NSL clubs had been doing for decades.
Prior to the 2003 U17 World Championship in Finland the Joeys had seven appearances in the quarter finals or better from the previous nine tournaments which started from 1985. For the Young Socceroos they had four quarter-final appearances or better (1981, ’91, ’93, ’95) from ten tournaments which also included two second round appearances.
Australia did not participate in the first two U20 World Cups and failed to qualify for 1989 pre-2003. In the ten tournaments they did compete in they accumulated a -11 goal difference compared to the five tournaments from 2003 to 2013 where we’ve only won twice and have a goal difference of -17.
In only one tournament before the 2003 U20 UAE edition did we fail to win a game and that was in ’85 in China. Since the UAE tournament we haven’t won a single game and the only points we’ve got is from four draws.
Results in youth tournaments are not necessarily a barometer of future senior success but the tournaments themselves are an important platform to spot the next generation of senior national team representatives. In the past we can see stand outs like Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Paul Okon, and Lucas Neill who transitioned directly from the Young Socceroos into the Socceroos. This type of promotion to senior ranks can be a mix of rare ability and the needs of a national team at the time.
What is in little doubt is that before the fateful year of 2003, which for many reasons was the turning point of the game in Australia, at youth level Australia was enjoying successful results with pleasing football. It also saw some of the best Australian players ever don the green and gold over those two decades. A match report found on www.ozfootball.net by an unknown author from the 1993 World Youth Cup clash between Australia and Colombia noted;
“The Australians were playing a possession game.”
“Australia with a high work rate on and off the ball and showing great distribution skills.”
The above extracts almost sound like a report put together in the future once the nation’s youth learn to play the correct way under the new National Curriculum. For the record, Australia won the match 2-1 in front of 32,000 fans.
There is though another much overlooked path of transition and that is the Olyroos. Many countries have and continue to use this stage to bring through the core group of future senior players. Australia too have in the past used the Olyroos effectively in integrating players into the Socceroos.
Part Two of the missing link will explore more the use of Olympic squads to transition the next generation and why the numbers being transitioned is dwindling.