The Rise of Glory’s Youth Revolution

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Perth Glory in the past have not been renowned for their youthful exuberance and have in fact quite tarnished their image in this regard. Managers have come and gone and all promised the same thing – to give the young local talent a go, but 10-15 minutes every so often is not exactly giving the youngsters a chance to develop.

The likes of WA players Jesse Makarounas (Melbourne Victory), Eli Babalj (AZ Alkmaar), Scott Galloway (Melbourne Victory), Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), Trent Sainsbury (Central Coast) and Scott Neville (Newcastle Jets), just to name a few, all fell victim of lack of first team football while at Perth Glory and are now taking the league by storm – but not for their home team Perth. After being forced to seek regular first team football elsewhere in the league, the likes of Victory, Newcastle and Central Coast all gave the youngsters a chance and now look at how they are progressing – Babalj, Taggart, Birighitti and Sainsbury have all been called into the Socceroos squads’ in the past 12 months.

Alistair Edwards however seems to be well on track to staying true to the blueprint he has instilled at the club since taking over the reigns from Ian Ferguson back in March last season. He got to work quickly at restoring a pathway for WA youngsters to develop by signing eight local WA young guns in Daniel De Silva, Riley Woodcock, Matthew Davies, Brandon O’Neill, Ryan Edwards (1 year loan from Reading FC), Cameron Edwards, Dean Evans (injury replacement) and Harry O’Brien. Keeping with the philosophy of developing Australia’s best up and coming players, he also signed Jamie Maclaren from a four year stint with EPL giants Blackburn Rovers. Originally a Melbourne boy, Maclaren (20) said a big reason for signing for Perth was Alistair Edwards. Perhaps a vote of confidence shown towards the club and Edwards. Already they are attracting young Western Australian and Australian players to return to Australia and to play for Perth Glory, a club that in the past, young players have probably avoided.

The right balance of youth and experience is starting to really work well for the Glory. Promising performances in the first eight rounds of the season shows good signs within the club. A fluent possession-based attacking style of football is proving to suit the players at Edwards’s disposal. A solid spine of Danny Vukovic, Michael Thwaite, William Gallas, Jacob Burns, Steve McGarry and Shane Smeltz will give the young players around them the best platform to mature and progress as footballers. Young guns Ryan Edwards and Jamie Maclaren have impressed so far this season after being picked as the best young talent coming through the A-League in a Fox Sports column by Mark Rudan. Both have already been in the top three (Alex Tobin Award) players for three games this season, while an impressive debut for Matt Davies earned himself a point in his game against Melbourne Heart and Cameron Edwards earned 1 point (judged by SBS David Basheer) for his 60 minute performance against Central Coast Mariners.

Of course the two Edwards boys Cameron and Ryan have added pressure on themselves as Alistair is their father, after the McMahon debacle of nepotism at the Glory in the first few seasons of the A-League. The difference is – these boys are good enough, and are showing it. Don’t forget they are also Australian youth internationals. The fans are already commenting about the quality they possess.

Ryan has shown his ability to change games in a second with defence splitting through balls, tireless work rate contributing highly to the team’s defensive work and being a continuous threat whenever he has the ball at his feet. While Cameron has sublime technique and passing range that not many players in the league possess and the Glory seem to play better when he is in the midfield spreading those passes and linking with the team. Alistair believes he doesn’t want to create a disadvantage to Cameron and Ryan just because they are his sons. If they are performing well, they will play, simple as that. Same as every other player in the squad.

With the announcement of the departure of Steve Pantelidis yesterday who has signed for Selangor FC in the Malaysian Super League, this will open up a centre back position for another youngster (most probably Jack Clisby) to fulfil as William Gallas is likely to miss their next game against Wellington at home due to a calf injury. You can slowly see the changing of the guard happening at Perth as there is only six or seven experienced heads left in the squad, as opposed to last season’s 11-12.

Speaking to Edwards, he is quite happy with the way things are going at the club.

“What the fans are witnessing now is what the club’s strategic objectives are. It takes courage to do what we’re doing. It takes courage to play a 15 year old when we are fighting for a position in the finals.” Edwards said.

“It’s so easy to say one thing and do the opposite. I want to make sure our coaching department is doing what’s in the best interest of this football club. What everyone is seeing unfolding is what everyone has been crying out for for many years.”

“It’s so easy to go and get injury replacement players to add experience to this squad, which I think is a short term fix. But we’re not going to do that, because we are staying true to our strategic objectives of giving our young players an opportunity to play and develop in the A-League.”

“There is no point having the best young players in the country and sitting them in their suits in the stands. The likes of Eli Babalj, Adam Taggart, Mark Birighitti, Trent Sainsbury, Scott Galloway and Scott Neville have all left WA and were given opportunities at other clubs and are now stars or the A-League and overseas, and that should never happen (to let young WA players slip through the cracks).”

With captain Jacob Burns out for one more game due to suspension, this can possibly give an opportunity for another youngster to step up in midfield. Either way, this week Perth will have it’s youngest ever back four in the history of the club in the A-League. My guess, is that it will be Matt Davies at right back (18), Michael Thwaite (30), Jack Clisby (21) and Riley Woodcock (18).

There will most likely be seven WA players in the squad for this week, and possibly five or six in the starting line up – a huge step for the club showing the direction it is heading for youth development and providing a pathway for young WA players to aspire to. Glory fans should be relishing the opportunity to be able to watch seven home-grown talents in this week’s Friday night home game against Wellington Phoenix.

Perth have been playing well and all they need now is the results to go their way.

After suffering yet another injury blow with it being announced today that marquee striker Shane Smeltz will miss up to four weeks with torn ligaments in his ankle. Smeltz will join Scott Jamieson, Josh Risdon and William Gallas on the ‘regulars’ injury list. With Smeltz missing, it will give Maclaren and Chris Harold (21) more opportunities in that central striker role. People also forget that Ryo Nagai is still only 22 years old and Glory could potentially set out a team against the Nix with an average age of just 23.

Alistair Edwards is more than confident that his ‘Glory Youth Brigade’ mixed with his quality experienced heads can get the job done and get the results along with the performances – the ultimate goal for every team.

The only surprise appears to be that the club has finally got a coaching department that are doing what they said they would, which I’m sure is music to the ears of every Perth Glory fan.

Ella Mastrantonio

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