FFA’s head of national performance Luke Casserly has admitted “we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and expect a different outcome” in the wake of Australia’s failure to qualify for a third successive FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Whilst signposting a “different approach” for the team led by Ante Milicic, Casserly absolved the coach of culpability for Australia’s last-eight exit at the hands of eventual champions Saudi Arabia last week at the AFC Under-19 Championship in Indonesia.
Instead, he painted a multi-faceted picture of circumstances weighing against success for a group of players who went into the tournament under-done and under-funded, with predictable results.
“In simple terms, we have to review what we’re doing,” he said. “We can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing over the last few years and expect a different outcome.
“For one thing, we need greater preparation, more matches going into these tournaments.
“As Ante Milicic said the other day, the players just didn’t have the miles in the legs.
“Playing a South Korea or a Saudi Arabia at the championships was the first time our players had ever tackled a tier-one Asian nation.
“They hadn’t been exposed to that sort of quality before.”
With the bulk of the squad mainly on the bench for the A-League clubs, at best, and out of season with their NPL teams, Casserly also pointed towards the sizeable investment from other nations in Asia giving them an edge and leaving Milicic with his hands all but tied.
“In the simple terms, we (the game in Australia) don’t generate enough revenue to do everything we want to do,” he added.
“If our priorities are for our teams to succeed and go to the World Cup then we need to make a firm decision and then invest in it.
“There are other things in the football ecosystem which at times take precedence in terms of funding, which is understandable but makes it difficult to expect us to compete with the top teams in Asia.
“Many of the nations we come up against have the elite structures to support the players and are playing 15 to 20 international matches per year.”
Casserly is adamant that while the support structures may be lacking there is no chasm in quality amongst either Australia’s players or its coaches.
“When I look at our players individually I have enormous belief in Australian football and the same applies to our coaches,” he declared.
“I’ve been around the Asian competitions for a long time, and without sounding arrogant, I believe our coaches are as good if not better than anybody.”
Addressing possible fixes to the dilemma facing Australian players in the under-19 age group, Casserly added: “Things like A-League expansion will help to give these players an opportunity.
“I played for the Young Socceroos myself and back then we had a 16-team elite competition - and we were all playing regular first team football.
“Not one of the current crop is doing that. Back then, if we did well we’d potentially get an offer to join an overseas club.
“Two of our best players, Daniel Arzani and Denis Genreau are already overseas and they don’t get released for the tournament.
“The likes of Saudi Arabia were together for six weeks straight going into the championship.
“We’re not going to be able to do those things because we have different circumstances and different resources.
“With the Young Socceroos you have players trying to break through into first teams and they train with first teams.
“To be successful internationally again, we need to come up with a plan which everybody buys into.
“If qualifying for World Cups is an absolute priority for the FFA and the clubs, and is considered beneficial in player development, then we need to back it to the hilt.
“The flipside for clubs is taking players away at such a crucial time in preparation for the A-League season might have a negative impact on their progress with their clubs which is something we don’t want to see.
“We need it to be a positive experience for everybody. It’s a balance that’s not easy to get with this age group.
“There are a whole myriad of difficulties we need to work through.
“This is our most difficult age group. The Joeys, for example, successfully qualified for the World Cup and most of those players participated in their NPL competitions, competing against older players.
“That somewhat prepared them for international competition in the under-16 age group.
“But the same thing doesn’t apply when you go up a couple of years. There’s a big difference there between NPL and international level.”