NSW clubs overhaul youth systems

It did not take long for Phil Moss to realise that Central Coast Mariners’ youth development and talent identification needed an overhaul.

Just two months after replacing Graham Arnold as Central Coast’s coach last term, Moss waved goodbye to Michael McGlinchey and Trent Sainsbury in the January transfer window, leaving him without seven key players from the Hyundai A-League championship-winning side of the season before.

While Bernie Ibini returned on loan from Shanghai SIPG, the Central Coast’s squad desperately needed an injection of experience and quality.

Moss signed Eddy Bosnar and Kim Seung-yong but when he looked at the Mariners’ Foxtel National Youth League (NYL) team, he realised the cupboard was bare in Gosford.

“And that’s when I sat back and had a good hard look at it and thought, ‘well, if we are a development club and openly honest about giving young Australian players a chance, then we really have to get our own backyard in order’,” Moss told Goal.

“It’s not just about the first-team squad, it’s about building for the future and progression, planning.

“We’re a club that’s only had three coaches in 10 years and three CEOs and two owners. So we’ve got to make sure that there’s always a progression plan in place for the players as well.”

Despite the Gosford-based club having set up the Central Coast Mariners Academy (CCMA) in 2012, Moss was not satisfied with the young players on offer and was not convinced they were ready for senior football.

Instead he signed Hyundai A-League journeyman Isaka Cernak, plus Matt Sim and Glen Trifiro from the NSW PS4 NPL, but also made a note to improve the Mariners’ talent identification and youth development processes.

In July, Stu Jacobs joined the Mariners as their new Head of Youth Football, while earlier this month Central Coast unveiled the first official scouting network in the history of the Hyundai A-League.

Five scouts will cover New South Wales for the Mariners, looking to identify the best young talent to join the CCMA and Central Coast’s Foxtel NYL squad.

“I think the first tangible benefit of the scouting network was at our National Youth League squad trials and there was a huge, huge shift in quality from what we saw last year to what we saw this year,” Moss said.

Moss believes that talent identification and youth development don’t just make sense on the field but off the field as well.

“If you look at the World Cup squad, you know, there was five or six Mariners in that squad,” he said.

“If you look at the [Socceroos’] game against Belgium, you had Maty Ryan, Trent Sainsbury and Alex Wilkinson all developed by the Mariners as the back three for Australia.

“Things like that really show what this club’s all about and that’s our goal.

“When Graham Arnold was in charge here, we saw something like $4.5million worth of playing talent leave the club and that’s obviously contributed big time to our sustainability as a football club.”

For Sydney FC’s new academy director Kelly Cross, the financial benefits of youth development are secondary to the on-field stability it brings.

In nine seasons in the Hyundai A-League, the Sky Blues have had nine head coaches, including Steve Corica in a caretaker role and incumbent Graham Arnold.

Cross wants to change Sydney from a ‘coach-centred model’ to a ‘club-centred model’ – a club that is consistent despite who is in charge of the first team.

“The teams who seem to be consistently successful [around the world] are those with a club-centred model, where there’s a club philosophy and it’s a long-term vision that is safeguarded by the key members of the club,” Cross told Goal.

“So from a football point of view, it makes sense that if you’re developing players in a certain way and you have a consistent playing style, then you have more chance at success with the senior team.

“Then if you look at the business side of it, you might have to buy fewer players.”

In a salary-capped league with restrictions on foreign players, youth development and talent identification can make or break a team.

As more Hyundai A-League clubs begin to develop academy structures ahead of 2016 – when each club’s NYL and junior sides are expected to compete in their respective state-based competitions during the Australian winter – having the right pathways and processes in place will be critical.

But for Moss it boils down to one simple concept: “The whole thing is geared towards making sure before a youth team player comes into the first-team environment, they know exactly what’s expected of them as a footballer and as a person.”