Lost: player exodus hampers development
The loss of players to overseas leagues hampers their development if they're not playing, and also does nothing for the Socceroos24 January 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Australian football isn’t, and may never be, in the position to dictate terms and push its weight around.
The international game is truly that and the metaphor of the very small fish in a rather gigantic footballing pond has never been more apt than when discussing football in the Australian context.
The eclectic nature of the stars that come to the A-League competition is testament to that diversity. 2017-18 saw one of the most youthful and talented cohorts land on our shores and from far and wide they came.
Whilst seasoned and recognised pros such as Oriol Riera and Adrian Mierzejewski arrived, and subsequently displayed their credentials for all to see, a litany of lesser known signings reflected the truly cosmopolitan nature of the world game.
Goran Paracki left Croatia on the back of the desire for a new adventure, Dutchmen Wout Brama and Tom Hiariej must have had little idea as to what to expect in their new digs and Eric Bautheac might have questioned whether he would ever lace a boot for the Roar, such was the elongated journey he undertook before eventually arriving.
However, the one thing all of the above have in common is the fact that they were well and truly aware of their importance to the teams they would join. There was never any doubt that their experience, skill and value to the squad would be recognised immediately and their instant impact expected.
This fuels the mythology of players stepping ‘down’ from international leagues to come to Australia and compete in a respected, yet lower level of football.
Upon arrival, almost to a man, they express their surprise as to the quality and this should always warm the cockles of A-League fan’s hearts; desperate to feel that our competition continues to improve in terms of international respect.
Sadly for Australian players, things often pan out differently when they venture overseas. For every Aaron Mooy, Tim Cahill or Harry Kewell who go abroad and strike consistent and sustained success, there are a multitude of others who leave our shores and experience less desirable outcomes.
Australian footballers head overseas with high hopes and a dream. Whilst a proven A-League record might convince us of their quality, the reality is that Europe needs to see more and the time period to show that quality is limited.
Our players dream of success with their new club, an enhanced reputation when it comes to potential Socceroo selection and consistent game time that allows them to improve as a player against quality opposition.
Unfortunately, the tales of Australians coming back home with their tail between their legs are all too frequent. No slight on the players themselves; quality they are.
However, the number of times we have heard the dreaded words, ‘he returns to the A-League after a difficult time in ...’, ensures that we all realise just how tough things are in the international market compared with the little fishbowl that is the A-League.
The recent news around Jamie Maclaren’s move from Darmstadt after seven bench appearances, enunciates the issues and challenge for our young boys looking for opportunities. The fact that his club was performing poorly, as well as the deceptive promises designed to lure him there, add weight to the disappointment.
His latest move to Hibernian will hopefully provide the opportunity he needs to return to the goal-scoring form he showed with Brisbane Roar.
Nobody would begrudge Maclaren’s move to Germany, however the irreparable damage it has done to both player and Australian football can never be underestimated.
I use the word irreparable intentionally and with a clear purpose. Footballers have a limited time in the game. Most are not the same player they once were by the time they hit thirty-five and few are in the elite class before they reach twenty-five.
Careers are time-poor and Maclaren has had a significant chunk eliminated from his resume. In short, it was essentially a waste of time; for Maclaren, the A-League and the Socceroos.
We are beggars and can’t be choosers. As a one off, it is just a disappointment for a promising young player, however the raft of players experiencing something similar has littered our recent history after home grown talent has shown their skills in the A-League.
Such an issue it became for the nation, that former Socceroo mentor, Ange Postecoglou enunciated clearly that players would only be selected if they were playing regular football.
Subsequently, much criticism surrounded the selection of Brad Smith throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign yet the manager lay his trust in his warrior, who deserves no criticism for his willing and courageous effort.
So many of our boys languish in the seconds and warm the pine for the firsts; all at the expense of their development.
Players such as Awer Mabil, James Jeggo and Dylan McGowan are further examples of men who will only develop with competitive minutes, so often denied our boys overseas.
The loss of quality A-League players hurts the local product, yet to our credit, we wave them farewell with our blessing and barrack for them passionately.
There are three or four A-League youngsters who will at this very minute be on the radar of Asian scouts.
Their loss will hamper the development of the Socceroos, as we watch our next generation battle for game time around the world, often treading water whilst we wait for them to take the next developmental step.
It makes the Socceroos Manager’s job a nightmare and despite a realistic awareness of the commercial realities of international football, I hate it.
Unfortunately, we will continue to be beggars for a little while longer. Hopefully, one day, as the potential of Australian football is fully released, our foreign imports might be forced to sit on A-League benches a little more often, whilst our boys get more game time overseas.
aussies abroad, socceroos