Whilst youngsters grow up dreaming of playing in Europe, the harsh reality is that dreams don’t always eventuate; at least as smoothly as our night-time journeys envisage them. Becoming a professional footballer is a tough job and requires hard work, dedication and often a natural skill for the game which eludes many not so lucky in the birth lottery. Some exceed all obstacles to make a name for themselves and Australia, being the incredibly talented country it is, produces many gifted youngsters who are signed by academies in Europe or in other big leagues in Asia/South America. However, this is only the beginning of their footballing careers and a rise to stardom is nowhere near guaranteed.
Today two signings were (all but) confirmed for A-League clubs; talented 23 year old defender, Daniel Mullen, on loan from Dalian Aerbin in the Chinese Super League and 20 year old striker, Jarrod Kyle, from Sheffield Wednesday. Both young Australians, these two signings are indicative of just how far the A-League has come in terms of player growth – in perhaps some of the most critical years of their burgeoning careers, youngsters like Daniel and Jarrod see the A-League as a viable and effective platform for their development.
Jarrod Kyle grew up on the Gold Coast and played his football for Broadbeach United. He was offered a trial at Sheffield Wednesday and after a month’s worth of impressing in training he was offered a two year scholarship at their academy. Last season he managed to play regular football for the academy team and trained occasionally with their first team. To cap it off, he even won the season’s “Academy Player of the Year”.
However, in an interview with osaussies.com, he asserted, “Yeah, I could definitely see myself playing back home. If things were to not work out as planned over here I would certainly consider trying to find an A-league club.”
While not managing to break into the first team this season, things haven’t necessarily gone poorly for Jarrod at Sheffield. However, my point is still clearly exemplified; with his career not progressing into first team football as he would hope, moving to the A-League is a better career choice for the youngster. He is not giving up on the European dream, I’m sure, but using the A-League as a stepping stone; a stone he deems much larger and more promising than playing for a small European club or their academy.
This is something I’m sure many players currently playing in the A-League would agree with. Take, for instance, Aaron Mooy. Formerly playing for St. Mirren in the Scottish Premier League – he was always considered a large talent – but not progressing as quickly as he would like. He was still only 20 though and surely the best way forward was to simply keep training hard and wait it out until hopefully first-team football becomes an option?
Instead, Mooy made a decision that some might have considered a “backwards” step in his career – I’m sure even he had his doubts about it; he joined newly formed A-League club, the Western Sydney Wanderers. I would say, “the rest is history” – but that doesn’t stop my history teachers and nor will it stop me. This move couldn’t have been a better career choice in hindsight – he has played spectacular, regular football and even earned himself multiple calls up to the Socceroos since his move to the A-League. While us Wanderers fans would love him to stay, I have no doubts his excellent performance this season has him under the keen eye of multiple clubs which he, in the future, could move to with a much fuller and more enticing resume.
But how could I write this article without mentioning Tom Rogic? Previously an unknown talent, making inroads only in the futsal form of the game, Rogic was able to showcase his immense talent in the Nike X-Factor style competition: “The Chance”. Shortly after this he trained with, now English Premier League club, Reading and was offered a contract. However, as red-tape often does get in the way, Tom was denied a work-permit – his European dreams crushed before his eyes.
Or so he might’ve thought.
Instead, Rogic was offered a two and a half year contract from A-League club, the Central Coast Mariners – as he did not require any sort of work permit to play in his homeland. This seemed quite the step down from potential Premier League football for Reading FC. He started in the National Youth League, scoring a hat trick on debut; before long he was coming off the bench and then starting for the first team. And bhoy (spoilers) was he impressive.
Like a proper launching pad, the A-League propelled his career into a meteoric ascension. He was rewarded with a Socceroos cap – and then last month, one of Europe’s biggest and most historic clubs, Celtic FC bought him. The other night I watched his debut for the “Hoops” where he played an enterprising game – nabbing himself a brilliant assist and Man of the Match. Dream come true? Not far from it.
A move back to Europe is not always the case, nor a necessary element of the A-League’s ability to kickstart careers. Take a look at Dario Vidosic. The 25 year old was signed as a youngster from Brisbane by Bundesliga side, Nuremburg, in 2007, but after four years and multiple loans was not able to make a big enough impression. He returned to the A-League for Adelaide United almost two years ago and has since become one of the best players in the competition. Another call-up for the Socceroos seems imminent, and whilst a future move to another league is still a possibility, Vidosic could get away with quite a successful career playing solely in Australia.
A decade ago, young Aussies stranded in academies and small European clubs would have little option but to watch their careers fade into obscurity. The A-League has reached a level of quality and support that makes it the perfect platform to both produce raw talent and nurture players, who’s European dreams have reached a dead end, into their full potential.
I’m sure over the next few years we’ll notice more and more young Aussies returning to the A-League from overseas, aiming to reinvigorate their career; let’s hope, at the same time, we see a similar amount of players going the other-way with the credentials, experience and skill necessary to make it in bigger leagues and greener pastures.
I wish the best of luck to Kyle and Mullen at Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory respectively; hopefully they get the best out of the competition and help continue what has been a truly spectacular season for the A-League.
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