Young Socceroos coach Gary van Egmond has added his voice to the chorus of calls for a revamp of Australia’s player pathways to stave off the prospect of another lost generation of young talent.
Frustrated by the roadblocks encountered by action-starved kids at their A-League clubs, van Egmond saw first hand the disparity in development structures at last month’s U-20s development identification camp in the Netherlands, where his rookies played youth selections from Utrecht, Ajax and FC Twente.
Around 50 per cent of the 22 players at the camp have returned to Australia - where in addition to the paltry eight NYL games they play each season - lies the dead end of National Premier league Division Three.
“The way the A-League is structured has a major impact on youth development,” said van Egmond, who also works with the Olyroos when Graham Arnold is otherwise engaged with the Socceroos.
“It’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully.
“You currently have a situation where some of the best young talent at the likes of Melbourne Victory and Melbourne city are going to be playing in NPL3.
“With all due respect to NPL3, having our brightest young players at that level of competition will not enhance their development.
“If you play NPL3 and then go up against Ajax, well it’s a massive difference.
“Playing a few NYL games and NPL3 isn’t the answer (to bringing out the best in emerging talent).”
With new FFA CEO James Johnson - a former Australia youth international himself - looking at ways to enhance Australia’s dysfunctional and poorly resourced development structures, van Egmond said the setting up of a national second division to underpin the A-League - a much discussed option - is one possible way to give teenage talent the minutes then crave.
Either that or, in the shorter term, clubs might look to loan them out to NPL1 clubs.
“You look at it from the national team's point of view and something has to be a done a bit differently,” he added.
“The A-League’s competition structure isn’t geared to help these players progress.
“It’s not necessary the clubs’ fault. They’re trying to do as much as they can from a professional point of view.
“But we have to think a bit smarter. Maybe it’s a case of identifying players at A-League clubs and loaning them to top tier NPL teams.
“Or you start looking at a national second division - and if that’s the case you need the co-operation of FFA and the state federations.
Van Egmond said the three match program in Europe - a 1-0 win over Utrecht, a 4-0 loss to Ajax and 4-3 win over FC Twente might have been a “light bulb moment” for many of his squad.
“The camp gave the players a good opportunity, not only in the perspective of showing what they can do but also understanding the level,” he said.
“Sometimes you just don’t know. You might be a big fish in a small pond and then all of a sudden you get exposed to this.
“They can go home and tell everybody what the standard is and how everybody has to try and come up to that standard.
“We had a chance to assess European-based players, six or seven of whom I hadn’t seen in the flesh before.
“By having these camps you create an awareness that we’re here.
“We’re now in a better position to monitor the European-based players and be in constant contact with them. That’s fantastic.
“We’ve definitely found some players here - it’s been so important for us to be able to do this.
“We need to keep on looking at our processes and thinking of how we can do things better in regards to casting the net as wide as possible."