Viduka's right, Australia out of step with top Asian nations


The debate over Australian football and the reinstatement of Football Federation Australia's AIS facility has been circulating once more, with Mark Viduka among those extolling the benefits of passing through elite development institutions.

"The AIS basically made me as a player," Viduka told Optus Sport last week.

"It was sort of like being in an academy in England. We had so much intense football in that two years and I came out of the AIS a different player than I did coming in.

"Those guys who were there taught us how to play; how to play our specific positions.”

Australia is moving in an opposite direction to a number of other top nations in the Asian Football Confederation.

China is busy trying to follow the example set by South Korea and especially Japan which is seen as the model template in the world’s biggest continent.

There is a lot of talk across the continent of identity.

In Asian football, it could be argued that only Japan - perhaps South Korea to a lesser extent - have a clear and definable footballing identity.

If you watch a Japanese national team of any age and gender play, it becomes quickly apparent that you are watching a Japanese team. 

It is no coincidence that the Land of the Rising Sun is also widely held to produce the best young players in Asia though, again, Korea, so impressive in winning the AFC U-23 Championships in January, would have something to say about that.

The local, regional and national structures in Japan are all geared towards producing the best players all attuned to a certain philosophy.

As well as the extensive academies and youth teams that J.League teams have to operate, each of the country’s 47 prefectures have a training centre that the best players attend.

The best players then attend a regional training centre and a national elite centre thereafter.

It is this what China and nations in Southeast Asia are aiming to achieve as soon as possible, as the only way to achieve consistent results. 

“There was a period in which Japan was imitating world class countries and had to play copying opponents' characteristics, but in this way, it is impossible to become one of the world's top 10 teams,” the Japan FA said in an outline of its player development system.

“In order to make Japan reach and overtake the world's top class countries, we must continue observing and learning world football's trends of development and, instead of imitating other strong countries, we should pursue and establish Japan's own football, making the best use of the qualities of Japanese players.

“Making efforts to compensate deficiencies, developing strong points of Japanese players and playing in Japan's own style making the best use of these qualities, this is Japan's Way.

"These words do not only indicate specific team and game tactics, but they are representing the thinking of aiming to a football which makes the best use of Japanese qualities.”

South Korea has been expanding the use of its National Football Center (NFC), which is located a goal kick away from the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula. 

Originally opened in 2001 and used in its early years mainly as a place for the senior national team to train and rest ahead of important games, the NFC, with its seven full-sized pitches and accommodation for over 100 people, has grown into a place for youth teams to train with the best coaches in the country and to come up through the ranks together.

It may be a relatively soulless spot but it is, according to the Korea FA, “a place where the future of Korean football will grow and be nurtured.”

Coupled with the growth in academies at K League teams, Korea is following Japan in moving away from a past youth development reliance on high schools and universities.

It is not just about producing top players but finding a identity. Australia should take note.