Former Socceroos midfielder Josip Skoko - a valuable member of Australia's 'golden generation' - claims A-League players are in a comfort zone and lack the hunger to follow in the footsteps of the greats.
By
Dave Lewis

17 Mar 2017 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2017 - 3:21 PM

The era of Australian exports like Skoko, Harry Kewell , Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and company adorning Europe's elite leagues is long over.

And Skoko, 41, doesn't believe many of the latest generation have the desire or drive to emulate them.

Skoko, who remains a favorite son at Wigan Athletic for whom he starred between 2005-2008, believes transitioning from the Nation Soccer League (NSL) to the A-League as the top tier domestic competition has dulled the passion in the game.

He said A-League has also eliminated the the cut-throat nature the sport had when he was developing.

"We were a lot more passionate about the sport. We followed teams from our heritages and in Australia now with the A-League the heritages have been taken away," he said.

"New clubs were formed and the passion can never be anywhere near what it was when we were growing up.

"That will automatically take you down a few levels.

"When we were coming through you had to become a champion by yourself.

"The A-League has done many good things and has it's strong points, but it has also stunted the growth of a lot of professionals.

"Where we went overseas and toughed it out at times, players get comfortable in the A-League and sometimes get stuck in there and don't strive to get to the next level.

"And that, in its self, brings you down a few levels."

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Skoko, who is hoping to see the Geelong-based Victorian Patriots A-League bid prove successful, says that the golden generation's "passion and determination" to succeed against all odds was in part due to the lack of a 'plan B' to turn to when adversity hit in Europe.

"We had a burning desire to be the best we could and that's been taken away, which is disappointing," he added.

"We knew that if we wanted to make it as professionals we couldn't do it here... it just wasn't an option.

"We didn't have the luxury after maybe not getting paid, or having a bad season, to come home and earn a good living.

"That gave us a mental edge... if you talk to that generation (including the likes of Lucas Neill, Vince Grella, Stan Lazaridis, Mark Schwarzer and Brett Emerton) they all have similar stories.

"They started in tough places and really had to grind it out. Once they got through that they went on to big things."

Now a juniors coach with North Geelong Warriors NPL side, Skoko believes the A-League should be geared as more of a feeder competition to groom players for greater challenges overseas.

"That is maybe more what the competition was meant for, rather than just keeping them here and having a great local league," he said.

"The league is good... can it be better? It certainly can. The more younger players get the chance at an early age the more it will improve."

Skoko, who had a taste of the A-League at Melbourne Heart at the tail end of his career, is strongly in favour of turning the hot topic of promotion/relegation into a reality.

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"It's a joke when they don't have it," he said. "I can understand why it hasn't happened overnight but it's a long time now and people have to understand relegation battles are just as good as promotion and title battles.

"I saw a few in my time at Wigan and it was an amazing experience.

"It keeps everything interesting. We talk about having a finals series in Australia but if you have promotion and relegation you have one every week for the last six weeks.

"Then you have playoffs to get up. Promotion and relegation has to come in at some stage.

"It's time for the country to move on and get in line with the rest of the world.

"The A-League has to change... things are in place but you have to keep moving to where you want it to be. We are not there yet and everyone knows that."