The announcement of the Brisbane Roar restructuring their academy and abolishing most underage squads sent shockwaves throughout the Australian footballing community.
With the Roar the only professional football side in Queensland, their academy provided a crucial pathway for aspiring youngsters to move up the ranks and help pursue a career which would see them ascend to the A-Leagues and possibly a move abroad.
Moving away from being a traditional academy for youngsters with the club shutting down all its youth programs until the age of 16, it highlighted a worrying trend in Australia that there is a lack of outlets for Australians to develop.
In the aftermath of their announcement, the CEO of Australia’s player union, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), Beau Busch has raised his concerns.
No stranger to the Australian footballing landscape at at professional, semi-professional and grassroots level, Busch enjoyed a journeyed career. He had put the boots on for the Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC and North Queensland Fury in the A-League in addition to stints with Hamilton Olympic, Broadmeadow Magic and Manly United in the NSW football leagues.
Having ascended the Australian footballing pyramid himself, Busch says Australia needs to push forward with setting up outlets for youngsters to thrive.
“I think ultimately if we step back, any Australian football fan or anyone that cares about the game would recognise the fact that we need to have more high performance environments for players to be able to develop than less,” Busch told Kick360.
“So when we look at that, in the context of Brisbane, we want to make sure that actual all young kids in the region of Queensland have access to the best possible development pathway because that’s what the game needs to be international and competitive.”
Having grown up in the NSL era in Newcastle, Busch says their local NSL club Newcastle Breakers was an extension of the community. Having played his youth football for their youth squad, Busch says he had a connection with the club that youngsters won’t have in Queensland with the Brisbane Roar.
“We’re not just after players, we’re also after fans, and academies present an ideal opportunity for young kids to build a deep connection with a football club,” he said.
“From my own experience, I grew up in Newcastle…back in the NSL era there was the Newcastle Breakers. And the Newcastle Breakers took over our junior development pathway, which used to be called the Adamstown Rosebuds.
“And that changed when we went into the breakers that were in NSL team at that time, as a young kid you could actually see your pathway into the first time you felt more connected to that club, you’re actually part of that club. So I think that’s really important.
“And when we look at the decision around what’s happened here with the Roar, potentially they’ve lost a little bit of that.”
The top footballing nations across the world, the common denominator which makes them so great, has enabled them to be footballing powerhouses for long periods of time has been their brilliant youth development.
The likes of Brazil, Germany, Argentina, England, France and Spain have been footballing juggernauts off the back of being able to continually produce a new wave of talent.
Lacking environments for young footballers to develop and pursue a career as a professional footballer, Busch says that Australian football will only see improvements if football development starts getting some attention.
“And we need to stay the course long term with that. Because we know that ultimately, if we have more kids playing in more high performance environments, getting better coaching and better development, we’re gonna be better as a football nation,” he said.
“But also as well, if we have more kids being positively impacted by professional sporting clubs in this country, we’re gonna have more fans, we’re gonna have more administrators, we’re gonna have more coaches as well, too. So I think it’s absolutely pivotal.
“I don’t know a huge amount about the rationale that went behind that
decision as well…there’s not a whole heap of detailed facts out there about what why they did it.
Given that a criticism of the A-Leagues is that its clubs lack an identity and feel more like a franchise than a football club, Busch says the decision for the Roar to stray away from their academy plays into this, believing the club in turn loses a bit of their identity.
“In general all around the world, every club stands for something. They [all] have a different philosophy, different values,” he said.
“I remember being at Southampton’s Academy, and the values of the of that club ran through the whole Academy.
“And it was everyday, it was almost like you’re being educated on a daily basis about what the club was really about and what they expected from you from the age of seven probably all the way to the U21’S squad.
“I guess now, the problem with a club like Brisbane in this situation is now you lose that identity a little bit, because you haven’t got the young players coming in walking through the door anymore.
“[There’s no more youth players] looking at the first team players going I want to want to play for them one day. So where where do we go from here?”
Busch also touched on the lack of continuity of football development in Australia, believing it has played a role in preventing young talent making waves and taking the next step in their career.
Traditionally the top young footballing talent came through the Australian Institute of Sport program which was later rebranded to the FFA Centre of Excellence. It’s establishment had one clear aim ‘to identify and develop players for the national under-20 youth team and to develop coaches through the Scholarship Coaching.
The program would prove to be successful proving to be a revolving door of young talent coming and fording successful career and becoming key members of the Socceroos. Some of its notable alumni including Adam Federici, Brett Emerton, Craig Moore, John Aloisi, Josip Skoko, Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Mark Milligan, Mark Viduka, Milos Degenek, Robbie Kruse and Vince Grella.
12 Socceroos who represented Australia at the 2006 World Cup in Germany which is now revered as the nation’s ‘Golden Generation’ came through the ranks of the Centre of Excellence. And have an array of players who came through the program represent the country at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup.
Though despite having a proven track record over 36 years, come the end of 2017 the FFA Centre of Excellence would close its doors due to costs to run the program.
It’d begin a shift to the academy model in which now the A-Leagues clubs are developing talent and tasked with bringing its young brigade from youth to senior level.
The shift thus far has been hit and miss, many have spoken out slamming the decision to shut down the Centre of Excellence, with former Socceroo marksman Viduka in recent years being one of the most critical, citing its capacity to bring together the country’s best players and coaches as a benefit of its existence.
Though there’s an obvious need for an outlet to make a return, Busch believes it doesn’t immediately solve the problem of football development in Australia.
“What happens now…do we have to look at the AIS again and bring the AIS back into play? Where do we go from here,” he said.
“I think it speaks to that broader point of the concern…if we’re sort of lurching from an institute model to then we shift to a club academy model, then back to an institute model, that doesn’t really speak to a coherent plan at all.”
Not only lacking a consistent pathway, another problem Busch feels is facing Australian football is a lack of identity. Questioning what Football Australia and what the sport stands for in 2022, Busch feels a sense of belonging is the only way football can grow in this country, and academies play a huge part in that for young players.
“I think the key part we need to anchor this discussion in is ultimately what is Australian football? What does it stand for? What are the values associated with the game?” he said.
“And then how does it build an identity around that, we’re not just talking about football because people can relate to football in a variety of ways.
“They [anyone] can watch the Premier League, if they’ve really focused in and they have a deep connection because their dad supports Liverpool. Or they have a Spanish background and they connect with La Liga.
“So the question becomes around all Australian clubs and Australian football in general around what is its identity?
“And what does Australian football stand for? So why are people in the community going to care deeply about that sport as well, too? Or about their club? And how do we build generational fandom as well, too?
“So I think that’s, that’s really important. And we look at academies academies present a way to show impact on the community.”