Markus Babbel has warned ex-Barcelona kingpin Ernesto Valverde of the pitfalls of the A-League, as the Spaniard surprisingly contemplates bringing his clipboard to Australia in a journey into the unknown.
Having exited Western Sydney Wanderers three weeks ago after a fruitless 18-month stint, the German offered Valverde - should he care to take note - several stinging insights into nose-diving “quality of the competition”, its over-reliance on recycled “soft” journeymen and the physical “deficits” of A-League players.
The players he encountered, added Babbel, are a far cry “in terms of mentality” from stars like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton, whom he faced during his Premier League playing days at Liverpool.
He also bemoaned the conundrum of trying to shoe-horn ill-prepared youngsters into A-League line-ups.
“If Ernesto Valverde decides he would like to come and coach in Australia, then I would say it’s fantastic for the league,” Babbel told The World Game.
“But I’m not sure about it in the sense that he was always working with top-class players￼, and whether he could bring the way he wants to play to Australia.
“I can’t say for a coach like Valverde if it is right or wrong ... everybody has to decide for themselves.
“The point is that it is not so easy because, yes you have talent here but you don’t have so many talents here.
“You have to work very hard with the young ones to bring them up to the level. That was the biggest surprise I noticed here.”
Valverde, 56, shocked the audience at Thursday’s Bilbao International Football Summit when he said: “People ask me sometimes ‘How about the Premier League?' and I say 'Well actually I'd like to go to Australia'.”
Sacked by Barcelona last month after winning two La Liga titles, Valverde added: “A career in football does not last forever and sometimes you think you have to take the opportunity to live in strange places.”
Babbel felt a similar wonder lust, and while he has “no regrets” he has plenty of sage observations to pass along.
“For me, when I was playing against Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka￼￼, they had a different mentality to the guys now,” he pointed out.
“When I came to Australia I was thinking maybe tactically not so good, maybe technically not so good but I believed they would be strong fellas who would give everything they had.
“But this was not the truth - maybe things have changed here in Australia. This was a big surprise to me.
“Yes, they are technically quite good and tactically they are alright but physically they have so many deficits.
“You have to make so many hours working on the physical side to get them stronger so they can play 90 minutes.
“Even now at the Wanderers there are a couple players who can’t play a full game. For me, this is madness.”
Babbel also highlighted the issue of Australians returning from Europe, after struggling to make the grade there, well short of match fitness.
“For me; it’s very simple,” he added. “if you are an Australian player with the talent the biggest dream is to go to Europe
“But 60 or 70 per cent of them fail there. They’re not playing and are not even sometimes in the squad ... not playing for maybe one or two years because they are not good enough.
“So they are coming back for sometimes a better wage because they have to be good because they’ve been in Europe.
“But the issue is these players are sometimes soft because there isn’t the competition here.
“Next year Macarthur is coming into the league and they have to look to mainly Australian guys because you’re only allowed five foreigners.
“So where do you get these players?
“The problem is you can’t bring the good players back - only the ones who’ve failed (or are past their best for Europe and Asia).“
Babbel sympathizes with the plight of youngsters making the jump to A-League level.
“Here it’s very difficult to win the league with young guys in the team, so it’s very hard for them to get minutes into their legs,” he said.
“Normally Australia should be a perfect league for young players but the step from the U21s the first team is too big.
“At WSW the young guys played in NPL 2, where the quality is not the best.
“It’s a big jump from there to the A-League. At Wanderers, we were one of the teams to bring young players in but then you can be struggling to qualify for playoffs.”
The churn of players seemingly unwilling to scrap for first-team spots is another bugbear for Babbel.
“We had players who at the age at 22 have already had four clubs - but they are soft,” he added.
“They move on to another club, where maybe it’s easier and they get better money. This is also is madness.
“They never bite and say ‘I have to take my elbows out and fight for my spot’.
“They know if they don’t fight for a place they can go onto to the next club where they’ve been promised regular football.
“There are examples of this across the league, and for me it’s the wrong way.
“The quality has dropped in the competition. Sydney FC are the only team that consistently shows quality.
“Even Melbourne Victory were far better last year than this year.”