Footballers want to play at the highest level, clubs need money and Europe comes calling. So why the hand-wringing when a young player decides to chase his dream overseas?
With the hype surrounding the departure of Tom Rogic – and possibly Matt Ryan and Bernie Ibini – from the Central Coast Mariners to Europe, it is a pertinent time to examine the question of when is the right time for our young players to head overseas?
Firstly, we need to understand that we are a feeder league and our best players will always be looking to move on. There is nothing wrong with this, and in this regard we are no different to many other bigger footballing countries. Unless you are in the EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, or Serie A there are always going to be bigger and better leagues that players aspire to play in.
Countries like Holland, France, Belgium, Turkey, and all the Scandinavian and Eastern European countries have huge footballing histories and traditions and have football as their no.1 sport, yet these nations understand their position in the world game and the economics of the sport, in which transfer fees play an integral role in the financial sustainability of their clubs.
Players always want to test themselves at the highest level, and the fact that various national team managers have repeatedly made the point that those with Socceroo aspirations need to be playing overseas just reinforces this message. We are not going to achieve our ambition as a nation of being involved in the knock-out stages of World Cups with a squad of A-League players.
It-s easy for pundits to sit back and criticise what they perceive as the lack of value received in transfer fees for Australian players, but market forces dictate transfer prices, not the armchair musings of Championship Manager aficionados and keyboard warriors.
If a club is well known to be in financial dire straits, football is no different to any other industry in that opportunists will take the chance to asset strip the ailing organisation.
In the corporate world this is called entrepreneurialism and is widely lauded as being astute business practise, yet, in the A-League, it is treated as somehow underhanded and distasteful.
Let-s be clear about one thing – no club is forced to sell a player. If they are not happy with the transfer fee on offer they are no obligated to accept it (unless there is some sort of trigger clause in a player-s contract, but that is a different matter).
So now we move onto the question of timing. This is a tricky one. Is 25 games enough experience, or 50? I think each player has to be judged on his own merits. It-s a brave (some would say foolish) player that turns down a move to a UEFA Category 1 club because, in his plan, he ideally wanted to move a year later.
Opportunities don-t always present themselves at the perfect time and you can never be sure that another opportunity will arise.
It-s easy to roll out the line that “if you-re good enough you will get your move” but this is a very naïve and casual approach to a very short career, which, in my experience, can be made or broken in an instant by poor decision making.
As much as we may not want to hear it, the Australian domestic league is still regarded as a backwater in global footballing circles.
When our players are competing for interest from European teams they are not just competing against all the young players from Europe that are right under the noses of local scouts, but also the hordes of South Americans and Africans also desperate for an upward career move.
Throw in the complicating factor of a lack of an EU passport, which hampers many Australians from obtaining the necessary work permits in Europe, and you soon begin to realise that it is a buyers market, and that players can be forgiven for making hay while the sun shines if a European team shows interest in them.
Football is the biggest sport in the world, with millions of players worldwide all aspiring to the top leagues of England, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Clearly, not all young talented players (especially those with non-EU status) are going to end up in the higher echelons of European football. Does this mean they should stay here? Is a move to Austria, Serbia, or Switzerland such a disgraceful thing?
Sometimes it seems like the cultural cringe that Australians have been guilty of has come full circle. Instead of welcoming overseas interest we now fiercely resist on principle suspicious of the foreign invaders that “pillage” our players.
This is a parochial and unhelpful attitude that will not help us achieve our goals of competing as a national team at the highest level.
There is no right or wrong answer to the question of when a player should leave. Players need to be careful that they are not jumping at shadows, but also should be wary of listening too much to the emotional pleas to hang around a bit longer that they will inevitably hear.
However, with the New Zealand Knights, North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United all folding, compounded by the well publicised financial problems currently faced by the Mariners, the reduction of the ACL spots available to A-League clubs and suggested freeze on salaries, the challenge is to convince players that there is a league worth hanging around for.