Tony Vidmar has given up counting the number of players lost to the Russian roulette of overseas football.
Every time the former Socceroo defender hears of a young player heading offshore, he feels like racing to the airport and throwing himself in front of the plane.
Mariners youngster Tom Rogic may be headed for superstardom at Celtic but for every Rogic there are a dozen players who fall through the cracks chasing fortune and fame in China, Romania, England, Croatia, Turkey….anywhere they a round ball.
Put it down to the impetuosity of youth but Vidmar is desperate to stem the tide – and there’s is no better man for the job.
In his role as head of the Australian Institute of Sport’s football program, ‘Viddy’ works daily with the country’s next generation of footballers.
And he can also talk from first-hand experience about the need for patience.
He waited six years and 134 games into his National Soccer League career with Adelaide City before travelling to Europe aged 25, carving out a stellar career with NAC Breda, Glasgow Rangers and Cardiff City.
The A-League, Vidmar says, has changed things for the better and there is no need to fill your passport to get ahead in the game.
“I think we have a very good breeding ground in this country but you’ve still got these players who think they can go overseas at a young age and make it,” Vidmar said with a shake of the head.
“They’ve got the wrong assumption. They need to develop their game here long enough before they can go overseas.
“Too many of them are going at 16,17 and you lose them through the system.
“I know the kids are keen and enthusiastic to go but it needs to be managed because unfortunately it is still happening and it impacts on the quality of the A-League.
“We want to keep our talented, young players here as long as we can so A-League clubs can play a part in their formative years.”
Vidmar’s optimism surrounding Australia’s up and coming talent has only strengthened since taking on the AIS gig almost a year ago.
The system wasn’t completely broken when he got there but it needed an overhaul.
It’s now receiving one.
“It’s a work in progress but it’s going in the right direction,” Vidmar declared.
“There were some players who’d been there a short space of time when I arrived and others who’d been there much longer.
“It was about trying to get them to gel and learn and improve their game.
“We want them to understand the game better and impart as much as information as you can without overloading them.
“We’re getting there.”
The AIS team competes in the National Youth League and, on results alone, appear to be doing it tough.
They are anchored to the bottom of the table with just one win and draw from 13 games, but some context is required.
The AIS regularly field school-age kids against teams brimming with fringe A-League players or over-age players dropping back to the NYL for match fitness.
They have also been operating with the bare minimum numbers as players enter and leave the system.
“We’ve had 15, 16 players but just in the past couple of weeks we’ve added another seven or eight players,” Vidmar explained.
“We want competition (within the squad) and for some time the boys haven’t had that – now they do.
“But we tend to look at things over the long term. We see ourselves as a breeding ground for developing the next batch of players for the A-League and, hopefully, international teams.
“It’s not just about table positions.”
The proof is Vidmar and his assistants are on the right track.
Teenage defender Scott Galloway was recently snapped up by Melbourne Victory and other A-League clubs are circling.
“There are several clubs who recognise the talent we have here. It gives them a good market to get players,” Vidmar said.
“They know the environment they’ve come from and that they’ve been well educated.
“Our role is to develop them as much as we can and then hopefully an A-League club takes them and develops them even further.
“There is some really good talent there.”
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