Friday, 2 May 2008

Where now for the AIS Football program?

The Weekender is an article written by anyone with an interest in any level of football. It's aim is to ensure Canberrans can wake up to some coverage of Australian/Canberra football on their weekend.

This weeks is written by myself.
Where now for the Australian Institute of Sport Football program?

When Ange Postecoglou fronted SBS The World Game after the perceived failure by the Australian Under 17 side at the last World Cup, football commentator Craig Foster asked Postecoglou if he was going to resign.

The pressure on Australian Coaches is increasing as the football public and media demand more success.

This is what the current job description for the AIS Head Coaching position states:
The AIS/National Men’s Under 20 program has the dual aims of; (1) qualifying for the World Youth Cup through AFC and a minimum of a top 8 finish at the Youth World Cup; and (2) fast track the individual development of athletes to Olyroos (Under 23) and Socceroos (Open) selection.

But with the changing face of Australian Youth development can we really expect the Australian Under 20 side to finish at in the top 8 at the World Cup, and if so what will be done to assist him?


In years gone by the AIS developed players for the Young Socceroos (Under 20), to school them and prepare them for professional football, and hopefully see them make the step up to the National team later in their careers.

In the good old days previous coaches, Ron Smith or Steve O’Connor, had the players 24/7 for two years preparing them for Oceania and World Cup tournaments.

It is easier, surely, to shape a side if you control the players’ diet, fitness, coaching, and match performance day in day out.

And it is no coincidence that most of our World Cup squad of 2006 were schooled at the AIS. The 2006 World Cup team included Mark Viduka, Marco Bresciano, Vince Grella, Brett Emerton, Josip Skoko, Craig Moore, Luke Wilkshire and Jason Culina to name a few who were graduates of the AIS.

But today many players are gone long before their two year apprenticeship is up.

Youth structural change

The growth of the A-League and now the Youth league is great for Australian football fans, but is it any good for player development?

“’Have you got a fast player,’ that’s all the A-League Coaches ask me,” said former AIS Coach Steve O’Connor recently.

The A-League has already taken James Holland, Sebastian Ryall, James Hoffman, Andrew Redmayne and Matthew Mullen from the AIS.

Jason Naidovski’s signing for the Newcastle Jets is expected to be followed by the rest of the current squad being whisked to A-League Youth clubs come the middle of May.

So where does leave the AIS program, our Young Socceroos squad and indeed its hopes.
The current depleted squad play in the Foxtel Cup in the Victorian league each week. And they are being sent to Hong Kong to play in a five-a-side tournament on large fields in May. How will that assist player and tactical development?

The New Coach

Over 100 applications have been received for the $200,000 position.
But how will the new Coach, arriving in August, prepare for a November Asian Cup in Saudi Arabia, when all of his players are playing across the country? An Asian Cup, take note, which acts as World Cup Qualifiers.
Will players be withdrawn for games and international travel?

Will a few weekly camps, where/if players are released by their A-League clubs, be enough to match the efforts of previous Under 20 teams?

AIS Scholarships

The new Coach will, of course, have the next Scholarship holders to train.
The current Scholarship group all come from the same year. In terms of player physical development this makes sense.

But the new Scholarship holders will now span two years. The AIS will take 12 boys born in 1991 and 15 born in 1992. So a future Young Socceroos side will be built around many boys who will be 19 not 20 come World Cup time.

Anyone who has worked in Young player development will know that one or two exceptional talents can step up, but ten or more is unlikely.

The changing face of Youth development in Australia is a great thing, but the future of the AIS needs to be outlined.

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