23/05/2024

Is football in Australia in good shape? (Photo: Daily Football Show/Twitter)

With recent unconvincing performances from the Socceroos in World Cup Qualifiers, the state of football in Australia has been at the forefront of conversations of late. Is it in decline, and if so, why?

Football in Australia has always been down the pecking order. Aussie rules and rugby league are the two biggest sports in the country and football has been left by the wayside.

This year, a new $200 million deal has been signed by ViacomCBS with the Australian Professional Leagues to broadcast both the men’s and women’s games in Australia on Network Ten. Along with streaming service Paramount+, it is a step in the right direction.

The younger generations are suffering when it comes to pathways to European football and when looking back on the Socceroos “Golden Generation”, there is a startling revelation.

Is football in Australia in decline?

Of the 2006 Socceroos World Cup squad, 12 players were playing in Europe’s top five leagues, with eight being in the English Premier League. The likes of Harry Kewell (Liverpool), Mark Viduka (Newcastle), Tim Cahill (Everton) along with Lucas Neill (Blackburn), and Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough) were all in England’s top division.

Fast forward to the present day and that number is just two. Mat Ryan with Real Sociedad in La Liga and Ajdin Hrustic with Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga.

The 2010 World Cup squad had only four players that came from the top five leagues, while in 2014, that number dropped to three and in 2018, again only three players came from Europe’s big leagues.

Why is this? There could be a host of reasons. One could be that younger players do not get the exposure in the league as they simply do not get enough chances to prove themselves.

The argument could be made that now, young Australian footballers have better access to training and development opportunities than what players had in 2006. So why isn’t there more Aussie players in the top divisions in Europe?

Why are there so few Socceroos in Europe’s top leagues?

Some of the Socceroos top players in Aaron Mooy (Shanghai Port), Harry Souttar (Stoke City), Martin Boyle (Hibernian), Jackson Irvine (St. Pauli), James Holland (LASK), and Tom Rogic (Celtic) don’t appear in the top leagues.

Is it as simple as the level of talent coming out of Australia is just not good enough to compete? Or is there something more dire happening to football in Australia? Mooy was heralded as the favourite son when he signed for Manchester City after his exploits for Melbourne City. But now finds himself in China, not Spain, England, or Germany.

That is not a knock on the Chinese Super League, but in generations gone by, the peak of football was to be playing in the Premier League. That dream looks as if it has faded.

The league has talked about expansion recently with the league moving from 12 teams to 14 teams. This would create more chances for younger players to get the much-needed exposure that they otherwise would not have had. But this would be down to the clubs to give players a chance.

Bringing in more teams would also mean more games in a league season. The more chances to play, the better and the more both the men’s and women’s game can be broadcast.

The fruits are there for all to see if younger players get a chance. Connor Metcalfe (22) and Marco Tilio (20) of Melbourne City are two prime examples. Both got experience and flourished as they look to be part of our next generation of Socceroos.

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Both had breakout seasons which resulted in a Socceroos appearance for Metcalfe and an Olympic call-up for Tilio.

Joshua Rawlins (17) of Perth Glory and Mohamed Toure (17) of Adelaide United are other examples of what can happen when players are given an opportunity.

Rawlins, a right-back for the Glory, featured 12 times in the league last season as a 17-year-old. Toure, a left winger for Adelaide rose to prominence last season. The youngster played an impressive 14 games and scored three goals and had one assist.

It is examples like this that show how valuable getting young players exposure is. Both have experience and yet are so young and that can only lead to positive things.

The APL (Australian Professional League) is trying to usher in a new era of football in Australia with the new broadcast rights. Fans in Australia had to subscribe to Fox Sports or Kayo to see any football. That is not the case anymore.

Both the AFL and NRL are on free-to-air and some of the then W-League’s games last season were as well, but, the exposure of the game to the Australian people was severely lacking. Hopefully, with the new deal and expansion, that changes.

Football is called the “global game” and it is time that Australia puts in the same effort with football as it does other codes. Otherwise, we could be looking at being cast away in world football, stuck in mediocrity for decades to come.

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