Sunday, 5 February 2012

Our youth system is not working

So, the news coming out of Lakeside is that experienced VPL goalkeeper Peter Gavalas - most recently of Bentleigh Greens - is training and has probably signed with us for 2012. That he has been training with us is true, as I've seen him at one such session at Lakeside. It does raise issues from this correspondent's end, however.

Peter Gavalas would not move across to South, or any other VPL club for that matter, if he didn't think he was a shoe in for the first choice keeper's position. And that would entirely be his right, seeing as he has done the hard yards and built himself a solid reputation.

But where does that leave Zaim Zeneli, last year's eventual first choice goalkeeper? After winning the three way battle between himself, Stefaan Sardelic and Abdelhadi Deroune last year, including his double penalty save heroics against Heidelberg, the Sydney native looked to be a good thing to keep his place, with an opportunity for long time under 21s goalkeeper George Malliaras to get one step closer to fulfilling his dream of playing for the blue and white.

But this no longer appears to be the case. And logically then, one of Zeneli's and Malliaras' tenure must be close to an end. It brings into question the problems of bringing in players from interstate, but also of the fate of promising or what one may call 'project players' from the youth system. One could rattle off the names of several young players who, for whatever reason have departed the club in recent times.

In some cases it may be out down to impatience, lack of skill or family connections at other clubs. But for the sake of topicality, let's name two recent apparent departures: Jake Vandermey and Josh Colosimo. Unlike several of their under 21s teammates, they did not move on in mid last year, but rather spent a large portion of it playing with Hobart Olympia. They started every week, and were credited by  several southern Tasmanian observers with being integral to Olympia's turnaround in form.

As part of the deal for playing for Olympia, Vandermey and Colosimo would have been promised and expected to have been given a genuine shot at senior football in 2012. Now of course it's a coach's prerogative to select and seek to recruit players of his choosing, within the budget allocated to them by the football committee. But at the same time, let's not pretend that the football sub-committee does not have any influence in the general direction the club's recruiting may head.

After all, it's quite well known now that the football sub-committee ignored the preference of new senior coach Peter Tsolakis in the hiring of the new under 21s coach. Added to this, despite the shambles at the end of last year after the external academy affiliated personnel in our system upped and left, we're now involved with a partnership with another academy in our junior system, with a group and individual whose reputation at best could be described as controversial.

The football sub-committee, in its various forms, is also responsible for the selection of our senior coach. The previous two choices have been, well, catastrophic. Firstly in the way that they have destabilised and worn down the morale of the senior squad, and secondly with their ethos of playing favourites and ignoring other players, whomever they may be.

If one was to point to an on field ethic or raison d'etre at South, historically it would have been, ignore our own youth system, purchase quality veteran and/or up and coming players from other clubs, and play some decent football. It was arrogant, short term thinking, but it was at least consistent. Almost no player or coach was safe from being sacked, and while that created a lot of bitterness in the ranks of our ex-players - put Paul Wade's departure right at the top of that list - it was no secret how the club operated.

Now there's no longer any sense of a coherent on field direction. In contrast to the off field direction, which has been mostly people pulling in the same direction, and seemingly getting real close to securing the future of the club in a prosperous, self-sufficient state, on field it's a mess. And now that there's a bit more money floating around, the club can afford to splash out on some of the more 'professional' players running around the league.

Of course, like most players in this league, they do enjoy playing the game, but they seem to enjoy it more when and where they get more money for doing so. Most clubs with ambitions of success would rather deal with this sort of 'proven' talent then take even a reasonable risk on players they have in their own backyard, and have seen (if the coaching staff is even interested in watching the reserves, but that's another story) for a number of years.

This is not of course a problem that only South faces - Green Gully and Oakleigh are just two of the other VPL clubs that routinely cop a beating on the forums for the lack of players they source from their own ranks. But if young players are coming and then staying at South with the expectation or promise - sometimes explicit, sometimes not - that they are a genuine and realistic chance at being considered for senior football, and then continually find themselves on the scrapheap, then perhaps the club should be more honest about its senior football recruiting ethos, and make it so obvious that no one can be in any doubt as to what it is.

Of course, there are a legion of parents out there who think little Johnny is the next big thing. Sometimes it's the clubs that foster this belief, other times the parents are deluding themselves. And admittedly, the VPL's under 21s is not the greatest standard of competition. Neither is Tasmania's Southern Premier League. But in the case of our 21s competition, it is the most likely place a half-talented player of that age will get noticed by A-League scouts.

Certain people will tell you that it is better as an 18 year old, to ditch the VPL under 21s competition and play regular senior football - if they're good enough, they'll be back soon enough. And if they're not, well, it just goes to show that they weren't really all that good in the first place. It's a valid position to take, but it's not one that will work for all players. Danny Radojicic, often acknowledged as a promising midfielder with a powerful long range shot, dropped out to play for lower league teams, and has been through half the clubs in the state league system. A good striker or promising young defender saddled with a sub-par midfield can cause myriad issues.

While initially being in agreement with the concept of an under 21s competition for the VPL, I've since come around to the position that in the long run, this does not help young players. They would benefit more from playing in a high standard competition with older players, who know more tricks of the trade. In addition, there are only so many places on a senior list - how many players does one expect to graduate from a sub-par competition like the VPL under 21s? At best you may have one or two genuine prospects in a given year - the problem for South is, do we even see those one or two come through?

One wonders what the future is for young striker Nicky Jacobs. He is still training with the club, and may very well have to fight for his place in the pre-season February and March schedule - but reports are also that Gianni De Nittis has found his way back into the Lakeside fold. And what of all the other promising young players in our system? Is it worthwhile playing beyond a certain age in the South Melbourne youth system?


  1. absolutely true great artivle

  2. Is a Football sub-commitee really warranted at this level especially when headed by Laki and Koukoula?? LOL

  3. What happened to the one club policy? Why sharing facilities, coaches etc with the piranhas.

  4. It may be part of their plan to set up South affiliated branches in different parts of Melbourne.

  5. why dont south give youth a go?

  6. Probably because like a lot of clubs, they don't want to take that risk when there are established players available, even if those 'name' players are more expensive. Certain people like to point to results like last season's 5-0 loss against Northcote, when a lot of the younger players were played out of necessity, as proof that young players aren't good enough. If these players aren't good enough to make the step up to VPL level after 2-3 seasons in the under 21s, then either we're not producing the talent we should be (or like to think we are), or the whole under VPL under 21s comp is a waste of time.

  7. Yes Paul maybe thats true but with the players that south had last season they should won the title true

  8. No club has successfully produced more talent in its youth system than South Melbourne. However, little if any of them ever play senior football at South. Plenty of them move onto other VPL clubs and play senior football however limited, and then go on to disappear off the radar. Is this Souths problem ? No.
    Every coach has a different view on how his team is to look, and how he sets up the team for game day. Alot of the youth players in the VPL U-21's are substandard State 2 seniors at the most, with the worst being State 3 reserves quality. Very few are VPL senior material at the age of 21. NB. Senior material is defined as a player who can successfully hold a position amongst other more experienced players for more than 5 rounds. Not many can do this. I have watched plenty of U21, state league and VPL Senior matches over the past 5yrs. I am qualified to have a view on players, and never sit on the fence. A good young player can be spotted in the first 5-10 minutes. This 5-10 minutes must be during a senior appearance, and not during a match which contains kids playing because of the parents persistent nagging of the coach. There is a lot of good young talent out there, but none of them good enough to play at a South Melbourne constantly under pressure.

    No ex-youth player has come back to haunt us, so for me, the argument that our youth system is not working, is just a falacy.

  9. When I say that it is not working, I mean that

    a) we don't seem to produce any talent that we can use
    b) the aims of the youth and senior components seem to be on different wavelengths

    Why have a competitive under 21s squad when it's a rubbish competition/standard? Why are players and their associates - parents, coaches etc - still believing that their players have a shot at senior football at South? And why is South sending them mixed messages?


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