Three years after captaining the Joeys at the FIFA Under-17s World Cup, Brisbane Roar’s rejection this week of midfielder Joe Caletti has been denounced as the latest example of Australia’s “broken” youth development system.
The 20-year-old is one of 14 players exiting the club, effectively “thrown on the scrapheap” after being supplanted this season by imports, Thomas Kristensen and Alex Lopez - both of whom have also been released.
The case of Caletti - who last year was being lauded for his performances - is symptomatic of a wider malaise, according PFA chief John Didulica and respected player agent Buddy Farah.
With Australia’s next generation of players starved for A-League action by risk-averse coaches - albeit with some notable exceptions like Melbourne City and Newcastle Jets - Didulica told The World Game: “For me, it’s heartbreaking to see so many young players moved on, year on year.
“The fragility of the career path, and the churn we see season on season, impacts on the players and the game in such a negative way.
“It underlines the importance of two things, firstly, the work being done to holistically support players at all points of their football journey and, secondly, the broader need to grow our professional footprint so that clubs can genuinely invest in the futures of the players - and vice versa."
Former NSL player Farah, who has placed a number of players in Europe including Socceroos Mark Milligan, Awer Mabil, Mustafa Amini and Jimmy Jeggo, is aghast at the treatment dished out to youngsters as he seeks to find a bemused Caletti a new club.
“We are meant to be a development league but at the moment we’re not because most of the kids we’re meant to be developing are getting totally lost and thrown on the scrapheap,” Farah said.
“Kids like Joe are questioning themselves, saying ‘what have I done wrong?’
“Last year he was playing in midfield with Maty McKay and Thomas Kristensen.
“This year he become a bit-part player and was then told at the end of the season he’s not good enough to be a part of the squad going forward.
“How does he become a bad player overnight?
“For me, it doesn’t make any sense. This is a worry because he isn’t the only one this had happened to.
“Many more have come before him. The reality is the system in Australia for these young boys is totally broken.”
Youngsters being usurped by sub-par visa players is endemic across the A-League, with the lack of opportunities seriously impacting the replenishment of the national teams.
“What is the purpose of halting a kid’s development and giving a foreigner a spot knowing that that foreigner will not be retained anyhow?” Farah said.
“This would never happen in countries like Belgium, Denmark, Holland or Germany where they have a big focus on their international youth players.
“They are protected and looked after and have first preference over the signing of the foreign players.
“When we bring in foreigners (each club is currently allotted five visa spots) they should make a contribution, not only to results but also to give something back to some of these younger boys.”
Newcastle Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna is a long-time youth advocate, with the likes of Olyroos Joey Champness, Angus Thurgate and John Koutroumbis breaking through this season, and hot prospects of Patrick Langlois, Jack Simmons and Kosta Petratos on the brink of breakthroughs.
And he has pledged to continue to offer opportunities to the local contingent, with South Americans Jair and Ronald Vargas among six players released this week.
“Filling up visa spots for us is not a big thing at all,” McKinna said.
“They have to come here and do better than what we’ve got - if they don’t do that then we’re not really interested.
“It’s important our youth (level) gets top level experience with clubs - it also helps keep the budget down and adds depth to our young national teams who’ve been struggling to qualify for World Cups for quite a few years now.”
McKinna likes what he sees from within his own ranks, and said: “A player like Jack Simmons is an outstanding prospect in an attacking midfielder role. He’s already with the Joeys and has big potential.
“He’s great on the ball and has good vision. He’s been training with the first team since he was 15.
“I think (fellow midfielder) Angus Thurgate will have a big season next year and Patrick Langlois has such signed a first team contract.
“Kosta Patratos (younger brother of Socceroo Dimi) is also showing a lot of promise.
“We have a lot of youngsters coming through the academy now, in both the boys and girls ranks.”