Focus on ‘refining’ individual players, not developing teams
The football ecosystem should work together to focus on refining individual players and that starts with getting away from the 'us v them' mentality26 July 2018 | Matthew Galea
They say knowledge is power and when it comes to the development of the next generation of Socceroos and Matildas, there can never be enough sharing of knowledge.
Not that Brunswick City FC General Manager of Football and NPL Technical Director Riccardo Marchioli believes that development is the right word.
Marchioli is one of Australia's youngest senior A-license candidates and has been involved in a number of Victorian state team programs. He says Australian football has to get away from the idea that a program alone can produce world-class players.
"The one message I can continue to repeat is that there is no such thing as a program or a club that develops players," he told Football Today.
"We love to read the narrative of Barcelona developing a player or Manchester United developing a player or a specific program or national structure developing players.
"What a program or club does is refine a player who is already good."
So, how do Australia's young players become 'already good'?
According to Marchioli, it comes down in large part to developing a football culture.
"The best players have a genuine, burning desire and love of the game," he explained.
"They watch the game live whenever they can, they play at home or they learned to play at home and they’ve started earlier. Maybe they play futsal or street football on the side.
"They might even play other sports which improve their movement patterns.
"They do all of this stuff outside of regular organised training.
"The regular organised training or program gives them refinement but it doesn’t develop a player alone."
Marchioli said that he believes the us versus them mentality in Australian football does not help the development of the country's football culture.
The rift between NPL clubs and their A-League counterparts is particularly damaging, particularly with A-League academies set to begin competing with NPL clubs in Victoria from under-13s up in the near future.
But Marchioli believes that the entrance of A-League academies will do little to change the important role of NPL clubs in helping to shape the next generation of Australian footballers.
"At the end of the day, us and all the A-League clubs are working together to hopefully help produce players for the top end of Australian football so that when we watch World Cups like we have this past month, we can all say that we had a hand in developing that player, that player, or that player," he said.
"At the moment, I think a lot of us tend to sort of look after our own interests.
"Yes, we play each other in competition and that's important because it's necessary for players to have that competition to grow and become better players.
"Yes, the A-League clubs might look at our best players, but for us at least, if a player is good enough to go elsewhere, represent the state or to be called up by an A-League club, we're more than happy to let them go.
"That's why we're here. I think that should be a proud moment for any club."
In the most recent Joeys squad announcement, six players were called up from NPL clubs or their state NTC squads, which Marchioli said proved the ongoing importance of the NPL clubs and system to the national cause.
"Even the kids in the Joeys squad that have been called up from A-League academies were at NPL clubs in the last few years," he said.
"So the NPL can help produce players of that calibre. Can we still do it better? Yes.
"Hopefully in the future, there's a more even spread from A-League clubs and NPL clubs so if NPL clubs we can step up.
"There's always going to be that factor of the better players at the time going into A-League academies, but if there can be a more even spread then we know as NPL clubs we're doing a fantastic job"
Marchioli agreed that the current state of player compensation was a big issue and would need to be addressed in the future.
He also said that there were issues with the perceived hoarding of young, talented players by A-League clubs, making the creation of more and higher quality opportunities crucial to Australia's football goals.
Marchioli says they are only achievable if everyone supports the A-League.
"This us v them mentality doesn't really help anyone. We copped a bit of flack for this [at Brunswick] last season, but if there's an important A-League game like a Melbourne derby or a Melbourne v Sydney, or a Socceroos game like a qualifier that clashes with a training night, our kids won't train," Marchioli said.
"They'll be allowed to have a night off to actually watch the game and they'll actually be encouraged to attend the game physically, rather than watching on TV.
"Number one they get to watch the highest level available to them in a live sense; number two it allows them to support our domestic game because if we don't go and support the domestic game as a football community then we can't expect it grow.
"We can sit here and complain for the next 20 or 30 years that the A-League isn't good enough, but if we don’t go and support it, there won't be any expansion, there won't be any opportunities for NPL clubs to be in a second division and there won't be opportunities for our younger players to come up through a more highly competitive league.
"So it's up to us to support it now while it's still relatively in its infancy."
But that support has to go both ways and Marchioli said Australian clubs should pay attention to knowledge sharing trends in England and Spain, where academies and clubs share knowledge and information to work together to help produce a better end result for their clubs and countries.
"We've seen the fruits of England's overhaul from a few years ago. They’ve just won the under-17 and under-20 World Cups and their senior team with a young squad has performed so admirably in Russian.
"What they've been doing recently, I've been told, is at Premier League level, so this is Category 1, 2 and 3 academies, they have their training topics for the week and what they'll do is they'll actually contact each other beforehand during the week to discuss their goals for their team.
"They'll say we're working on this, we're still going to compete against each other but can you put these conditions in place so that we can work on this and we'll put these conditions in place so that you can work on that.
"For example, we might be working on dealing with long balls, so we'll ask their team to ping a few extra long balls into the box so our players can practice dealing with those in a real match scenario and we'll make sure we do something that allows them to work on what they need.
"So they're still competing, in the classic sense, but they've tailored or conditioned the game so that each team is getting the outcome that they're trying to achieve. They're working collaboratively to achieve a better outcome for all."
Marchioli said this would allow coaches and clubs to tailor their programs as a whole down to the individual needs of players.
"This is where we have it wrong at the moment," he said.
"At the moment, we cater for teams, whereas we should be catering for individual players within teams."
football development, npl