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Oct 16, 2013

Ex-AIS soccer head calls for Dutch rethink

Football Federation Australia's decision to go Dutch after qualifying for the 2006 World Cup isn't producing players good enough to play for the Socceroos, says former Australian Institute of Sport soccer program chief Steve O'Connor.

O'Connor oversaw the development of the likes of Lucas Neill, Mark Viduka, Luke Wilkshire, Brett Emerton, Josh Kennedy, Mark Bresciano, and Craig Moore.

That group made up the bulk of the sides that have qualified for the last three World Cups and came through during his 15 years in the role in Canberra.

The AIS program was effectively ended when the FFA decided to follow the Dutch model to produce young players, with highly-regarded Han Berger hired in 2008 as national technical director and overseeing development of the country's best youngsters.

"I am fan of the way the Dutch play football and I am a big fan of the way they do certain things," O'Connor told AAP.

"But I don't think you can import systems wholesale from one country to another and expect it to work.

"There are the ways the Dutch do things, the Germans, the French and they have been very successful.

"But there are all different reasons for that. The size of population, country and the fact it is easier to get players to play against top-class opponents.

"In Australia we are not a football country, but we have always produced good players who have had great international careers and played for big European clubs.

"We are not seeing those types of players coming through unfortunately. Players who are good not just physically but technically."

O'Connor, who was entered into Australian football's Hall of Fame in 2003, fell out with the FFA and left the AIS in 2008 after he and other home-bred coaches were marginalised for questioning some decisions that were being made.

He now works as the technical director of the Hong Kong FA after leaving his job as the Sydney FC youth team coach in 2011.

He watched in dismay as the Young Socceroos were thumped 5-1 by Vietnam at the AFC U-19 Championships in Malaysia earlier this month.

Last year, the Joeys lost 5-1 to Iran in the AFC U16 tournament, ruling them out of the U-17 World Cup.

That was followed by the Olyroos failure to qualify for the London Olympics.

O'Connor believes a refusal by Berger and his coaching team to recognise the need for a physical presence has seen football in the country go backwards.

"The recent Vietnam game, they were just so much better than us," he said.

"They weren't bigger than us, but they were stronger, faster, and more physical than the Australian boys and we were hammered.

"It's been seven or eight years since they took over but we are yet to see any real signs that we are getting stronger and looking ahead that is a concern."

The FFA announced last month that Berger will leave his role when his contract expires in July next year, with former Socceroo Luke Casserly appointed to a new position as head of national performance.

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