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Nothing new in youth proposals

Nothing new in youth proposals

November 18, 2009
By John Iannantuono

I've often scratched my head and wondered if Australia has been fair dinkum about developing quality players and coaches that would hopefully, one day, lead the country to World Cup success. Or close to it.

Harry Kewell
GettyImagesPim Verbeek would hope to have more natural talents like Harry Kewell

There has been a lot of tokenism in this area of Australian football; people have often declared they have a player's best interests at heart, but essentially, all they are interested in is winning trophies and boosting their own profile. And when I say people, I mean coaches and the clubs they represent - including their State federations.

Football Federation Australia launched its National Football Development Plan back in 2007, with plenty of big words like 'tactical and technical development', however at the time there was very little in the way of how, who, and when.

When the FFA announced its National Football Curriculum earlier this year in May, this time the FFA did make mention of who was responsible for rolling it out, when it would happen, and how it would be implemented. Good. Some transparency - and initiative - at last.

Football NSW are also in the act of developing players with the introduction of their newly-created elite player development initiative, Project22. Under the program, players from the ages of 9-15 will be placed into an intensive technical program consisting of four sessions a week, 40 weeks of the year, in addition to playing in the newly formed Project22 competition.

The emphasis will be on technical and tactical development in the hope these graduates will form the backbone of Australia's 2022 World Cup squad, a tournament the nation wishes to host. From an outsider's point of view, it's seemingly a step in the right direction.

As both programs begin gaining momentum for their respective 'launches' in 2010, I find it staggering that we have had someone in this country bang on about these models for over 25 years, yet his concept has constantly been swept under the carpet. That man is esteemed coach, Richard Alagich.

Flick through his model, dubbed the Australian Academy of Football, and there are glaring similarities to both Football NSW's Project 22, and that of the FFA.

I've been familiar with Richard's work since 2003, when I was the then editor of Soccer International magazine. Still to this day, Richard is a contributor to the magazine, offering advice and training session tips to those charged with the responsibility of developing our future stars.

Richard's coaching credentials are second to none in this country. In fact, he could very well be the most knowledgeable youth development coach in Australia.

Schooled at the University of Zagreb, Richard boasts a coaching career spanning 35 years. Shortly after completing his studies in Zagreb, Richard was offered a coaching role with Croatian heavyweights, Dinamo Zagreb. Richard, however, turned down the offer and returned to Australia with the dream of creating a world-class development system that would produce world-class players en masse.

He created Australian football's first Apprenticeship Scheme with former Socceroos coach, Frank Arok, and is the only Australian coach to have coaching books officially endorsed by FIFA. At State level, Richard has served as REP program director at Football NSW and until recently was the technical director of Umbro Soccer Camps and Academy in Australia.

He has also coached in Japan and organised coaching clinics for Pelé, Harry Kewell and Alan Shearer. Not a bad CV.

Over the years, we have spoken at length on the phone on several occasions, often about the dire state of the game's development system. And he often spoke about his elite development pathway model. In simple terms, the system would establish a formal school of football programs for young players that will lead to players of a recognised world standard.

"[The objective of the academy is] to produce world-class players," he told me in 2005. "In the program, I've got the nine-to-ten-year-olds doing up to three-to-five sessions a week and the 14-year-olds training up to eight sessions a week. That really gives us that volume that's going to compete with what kids are doing around the world... the Japanese, for example - their kids are training six days a week."

Tim Cahill
GettyImagesTim Cahill is one of an ageing crop of Socceroos stars

At the end of it, approximately 180 boys and 180 girls, all aged 16 years, would graduate from the academy after having eight years of intense quality coaching. And by doing so, the comprehensive scheme would put Australia ahead of - not behind - its international counterparts. This curriculum would be the first systematically controlled program for players aged 6-17+ years in Australia.

As Richard often tells me, "All you have to do is look at what the best in the world are doing and do it better, it's that easy." Yet for some reason, it has proved unbelievably difficult to get everyone passing in the same direction in this country.

In 2005, the state of Australia's development system was farcical to say the least. So, we decided to publish Richard's model in the magazine in an attempt to generate some debate on the topic.

Not surprisingly, the model was well received by many in the Australian football world. We received many emails and phone calls, while Richard was approached many times by those who had nothing but praise for his vision.

So here we are, some 25 years on since Richard first promoted the model, embracing the fantastic concept the FFA and Football NSW will begin rolling out in 2010. Talk about comedy central.

Richard often says we have to keep chipping away. So chip away we do, in the hope that, one day, a path is laid for an elite player development system free of politics and self-interest.