Standard of Australian football 'pathetic', says youth football guru

Renowned youth development coach, Tom Byer, has predicted a grim future for Australian football, slamming the current state of the sport and calling the standard of the A-League "pathetic".


Western Sydney Wanderers' midfielder Mitch Nichols reacts after the ACL loss to China's Shanghai SIPG Source: AFP

Last week's results in the AFC Champions League with Brisbane, Western Sydney and Adelaide all suffering humiliating losses, have been labelled among the "darkest days" of Australian club football.

But Byer predicts that the dismal ACL results are far from just a one-off and will not only continue but look set to get worse.

The American, who was the architect behind Japan’s technical revolution through grassroots programs, is now working with the Chinese government to drive youth development for their millions of young players.

He says while several issues in the sport are currently being debated, youth development is the area that most needs to be addressed.

Australian club football is currently in a state of unrest with Football Federation Australia (FFA) restructuring the ownership and operating model of the A-League.

Many have pointed to issues like the salary cap and poor scheduling, even the lack of A-League expansion, as the underlying reason behind the ACL thrashings this year at the hands of Korean, Japanese and Chinese sides.

But Byer, believes these are just side issues that miss the key point that Australia’s development structures are in deep trouble and that the country is no longer producing highly-talented players like in the past,

He told The World Game that the gap between Australia and the best of Asia will only get wider.

“You look at all of the Australian junior national teams, the dismal results,” Byer said.

“And now you see all the club teams too. You connect those dots and it’s a reflection.

"The A-League was supposed to help in some way start the change in Australian football and the level of the players is pathetic.”

Results at under-17, under-20 and under-23 level have experienced a slide in recent years.

The Olyroos have failed to qualify for an Olympics since 2008 while the Joeys were recently eliminated early from the AFC Under-16 Championships. Last October the Young Socceroos failed to book a spot in next year’s Under-20 World Cup after they were bundled out of the AFC Under-19 Championships.

In the 1990s the green and gold national youth teams were reaching the finals, semi-finals and quarter-finals of these tournaments.

The FFA are currently reviewing plans to close the youth development program at the Centre Of Excellence in favour of focussing on A-League club academies and establishing strong football programs in schools.

Byer believes unless grassroots football in Australia changes, with a special focus on technique at a very young age, these results won’t alter.

The American says that parents must be educated to help their children develop, along with an overall change in the national curriculum.

“Football starts at home,” Byer said.

“The five-year olds, they’re the future now. You can’t win the World Cup without addressing the three, four, five, six-year olds.

“They’re all thinking you can’t teach three, four, five, six-year olds. But I think I have dispelled that, you can.

“A lot of federations get too much criticism when things go bad, and they get too much credit when things go well. There has to be that good balance.

"People love to think that things are more complicated than what they are.”

Byer said it is not only Australia but many countries, including his own native United States, that are getting player development wrong.

“These countries are on an endless treadmill going nowhere,” he said.

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4 min read
Published 7 March 2017 at 1:56pm
By John Davidson