McBreen played more than 120 games in the A-League and won a title, the Joe Marston Medal and the Golden Boot in 2013. Three years ago he joined the coaching ranks with the Newcastle Jets and is in charge of the Emerging Jets’ Under 15s.
The 41-year-old has seen first-hand the issues facing player development around the country and he believes sorting out the NYL, which reportedly FFA wanted to shut down, is a priority.
“Our NYL season is eight games, and the FFA were trying to bin it,” he told The World Game.
“You talk to any other country in the world and say our youth teams have a league that goes for eight games, and they will laugh at you. It is laughable.
“We need to get the best versus the best at these age groups in as many games as possible. I heard a rumour recently that Tony Sage said he wants it to go back to playing more NYL games, as many as the first-teams do, because he’s already spending money on these kids and travelling to go and play.
“But why not just spend about 50 grand and invest in more game-time into them and get them into these situations.”
Encouraging kids to play unstructured football, outside of club games and training, is also important McBreen believes.
“I’ve been coaching in youth football now for three years and it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said.
“Number one, do kids go out and play in the yard and the street with each other as much as they used to do, and like they do overseas?
“We’ve got kids overseas who live and die and breathe it, and every moment they can be outside to kick a ball; they’re kicking a ball. Playing in the backyards, in the streets.
“I’ve got kids in our program and you ask them if they’ve kicked a ball outside of training in the last month and some of them will say no they haven’t. They’re losing vital moments, vital hours of just unstructured football.
“You want them to have that unstructured play because you don’t want it always to be structured, you want them to be able to make decisions and think for themselves. The more they do that, the better they’re going to get at it.”
The make-up of the A-League, with only 10 clubs and with clubs limited to rosters of just 23 players, also limits opportunities for young players according to McBreen.
This makes the competition and its coaches risk-adverse in recruitment, and all these factors play a role in combining to affect the production line.
“You’ve got in the A-League now squads of 23,” McBreen said.
“Five of them [squad spots] can be taken up by foreigners. Now look through most of the teams, who do they usually get in as the marquee players? It’s the front guys because they’re the ones who do the business.
“If you’ve got a squad of 23 players already, it’s limited. Clubs overseas can have as many players as they want.
“These young players can come into a squad and be around a first-team training environment from a young age knowing more than likely they are not going to play a game.
“But they’re in that full-time professional environment at all times for years before they break in. We can only have 23 and people are constantly saying there’s players recycled, these players have played for four or five A-League clubs.
“What do you expect from the managers? If they can only have 23 players, why would they take a risk on young players when their job is on the line? There’s no pathway for these kids.
“They’re not getting best v best games at a young age and then also they’re not getting opportunities to break in at training with the first-team.
“So that pathway is pretty much non-existent because you can’t bring five, six kids with potential and have them training with the squad because you can only have a 23-man squad.”