Newcastle Jets coach Carl Robinson believes Australia has all the ingredients to create another ‘golden generation’ of elite players, but the football community needs to be completely aligned and working together.
Welshman Robinson was appointed coach of the Jets in February, replacing Ernie Merrick, but before arriving in the A-League, the 43-year-old spent 12 years as a professional playing in England for the likes of Wolverhampton, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Norwich City.
At Wolves he played alongside Steve Corica and Kevin Muscat, and at Pompey his teammates included Hayden Foxe. The midfielder came up against many of Australia’s best products in English football such as Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Mark Schwarzer.
Robinson feels now, with the coronavirus-created pause in global sport, Australia can use this time as a chance to reset and refocus on developing great talent again through collaboration and togetherness.
“I’ve listened to a lot recently with really experienced players who have an understanding of Australian football and the A-League, not just male but female,” Robinson told The World Game.
“You’ve got really, really bright minds in Australia who know how it works. What needs to happen, I believe, is just get on the same page. Everyone work together toward the same goal.
“The amount of kids playing football and they pay their registration fees, and your fee goes where? That’s the first thing.
“Are the fees too high or too low? And they should be fed back into grassroots and more into development, because what happens if you’ve got a player – and I say this in Canada and North America – if he can’t afford to play because he’s from a single parent home?
“You can’t afford to lose players that have got talent and that opportunity because of financial circumstances. You’ve got to give everyone an opportunity to play.
“That only comes with the more numbers you have, the better coaches you have but then there needs to be pathways. There needs to be a conduit between level one and the academies, the academies need to be playing against the best teams, but also NPL needs to be pushing players into academies – they all need to be working on the same page and not against each other.
“I’ve seen it for too long. I hope now with all the clever, smart minds you have in Australian football that if you all get on the same and work towards one goal, which is developing players.
“It’s not about anyone else now, it’s about talented players coming through the system in four years, six years, 10 years who can go on to be the next Mark Viduka. That has to be the goal for everyone, and I firmly believe if everyone is on the same page then it can happen.”
Robinson points to the rise of Welsh football as an example Australia can learn from. Until 2016, Wales had not qualified for a European Championship or a FIFA World Cup for four decades and was in the doldrums.
In 2011 the Dragons were beaten 2-1 by the Socceroos in a friendly and were ranked 117th in the world by FIFA. But four years ago Wales reached the semi-finals of the Euros and has qualified for this year’s tournament, led by its own golden generation of players that includes Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ben Davies.
Currently Wales has a number of talented youngsters at big European clubs, such as Rabbi Matondo at Schalke, Daniel James and Dylan Levitt at Manchester United, and Ethan Ampadu at RB Leipzig, and the national team is now ranked 23rd in the world.
Robinson says Australian and Welsh football have lots of similarities.
“Football’s about players coming through,” he said. “As Harry and Mark will tell you, they’re in the game for 10, 15 years and then they’re gone.
"That’s it. Who’s next? If there is no one next coming through then that needs to be re-evaluated.
“I’m from Wales, I’m very lucky, very proud to be Welsh like all the Australians who are very proud to be Australian. The mentality of the Aussies is that they fight and they never give in. They never go under, the same as Wales.
“Wales developed a plan many, many years ago with Osian Roberts who’s now the technical director of Morroco. His plan back then was working with under-13 and under-14 players in the Welsh team and trying to get them through.
“Well the late Gary Speed saw the early fruition of it, then Chris Coleman saw it and now Ryan Giggs is seeing it. But it was eight years ago that he set up this plan.
“The Aaron Ramseys, the Gareth Bales were all coming through and then you had the Ethan Ampadus, the Harry Wilsons, the David Brooks, so I saw the plan eight years ago.
“I knew when these kids were under-14 and I was keeping an eye on their development all the way through. So that can happen.
“Australia have got as many players playing as Wales, so it can happen, all it needs is for everyone to be on the same page, one person to be in charge of it and everything else filters up through.
“But all the decision-makers have to be on the same page to get to the goal, which is developing kids. It can happen, but if they’re on the different pages it’s not going to happen.
“Tactically, Australian players are very, very smart. The mentality they’ve got is top notch.
“It is exactly like the British – they’re good, honest, hard-working people and they’ve got talent. And the other thing, which sticks out to me a lot, is they want to be coached.
“They want you to tell them and help them and guide them and coach them. Now it’s just a case of how can we all get on the same page, with all the stuff that’s happened, the unfortunate circumstances.
“And how to get the next generation of these top level Aussie players, because I believe they genuinely are out there. But you need to find pathways for them to play, whether that’s through the A-League or teams in Europe.”