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FFA looks to close AIS-based Centre of Excellence
Football Federation Australia has announced changes to its player development programs that will bring to an end the Australian Institute of Sport based program that produced former Socceroos including Ned Zelic, Craig Moore, Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill, Mark Viduka, John Aloisi, Mark Bresciano and Joshua Kennedy and current stars such as Trent Sainsbury, Robbie Kruse, Matt Mckay and Nathan Burns.
Looking to save the $1 million a year cost of the Canberra Centre of Excellence, Football Federation Australia (FFA)’s Board of Directors have given in principle approval to a raft of changes that will see youth player development focussed on A-League club academies and establishing strong football programs in schools.
These initiatives, which the FFA say are designed to help achieve the objectives outlined in its four year strategy and Whole of Football Plan, will be confirmed and announced in detail following the completion over the coming weeks of the annual Budget process, an internal review of expenditure and funding model outcomes for the Hyundai A-League/Westfield W-League and Member Federations.
However, it appears the A-League clubs, still in dispute with the FFA over its stalling on governance reform, are not financially equipped to deal with an expansion of their youth development programs.
Currently, Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers’ youth academies are in their second season of operation while Central Coast Mariners’ academy has operated since 2012 under many guises until 2016 when the Mariners took back control and were granted entry into the NSW National Premier League competition.
In Melbourne, with City and Victory, and in Adelaide, A-League club academies don’t have a competition to play in – with rival clubs blocking their entry into local NPL youth competitions.
Only in December 2016 did Brisbane Roar appoint a technical director to begin establishing their academy, while Newcastle Jets will only take over the running of the Emerging Jets academy program from their state federation later in 2017.
Of the A-League clubs, Perth Glory’s academy is the most established, competing in the Western Australian NPL since 2014. Players who entered the Perth Glory academy pathway when it was established would currently be playing in under-15s.
Running since 1981 (when it was known as the Australian Institute of Sport football program), the Centre of Excellence program has changed in recent years.
It is also no-longer a program where players reside at the AIS, as it was in the past. When football was demoted from a Category B sport to a Category C sport by the Australian Sports Commission, government funding was cut, as was access to AIS resource such as sports science, physiotherapy and nutrition.
To maintain its full-time status, the Centre of Excellence introduced house-stays, to ensure players could relocate from around the country.
Speaking In March about reports that the program was to be axed, Centre of Excellence coach Tony Vidmar stated “(I) agree with the A-League clubs having their academies and providing the player pathway but at this point in time it’s not ready and some have not even started and that’s the frustrating thing.
“In five years’ time perhaps, see how the A-League academies are progressing and then review things and decide if it’s time to phase out the program.
“But if they just throw it all out now then I think youth development in this country is finished.
“One thing for sure is that you’ll lose a generation of players. We’ll definitely go backwards.”
Last October the Young Socceroos failed to qualify for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea after being bundled out in the group stage of the AFC U-19 Championship following losses to China, Uzbekistan and a draw with Tajikistan.
Images: The Young Socceroos failed to qualify for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup (top) and former Australian Institute of Sport football program graduate Mark Viduka (below).
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