Australia needs a national youth cup competition
Australian football is still yet to see the introduction of a nationwide cup competition for youth football.
If the federation is serious about changing the game, it starts with Australia's grassroots and youth development.
The introduction in recent years of National Youth Championships for ages 14-16 is only a small step in letting the next generation develop and play more minutes for their development.
The federation introduced the Youth Championships in 2006, shortly after creating the A-League, which is now known as A-League Men.
State federations introduced youth cup competitions in the NPL and local state leagues for teams competing in the premier competitions.
However, the problem is that not enough of these competitions exist around the country.
Furthermore, another major problem is the lack of 30+ games a season played in all NPL Youth competitions.
Compared to the rest of the world, mainly Europe, Australia falls well behind in youth games played per season.
A study from the ECA (European Club Association) noted that players aged under 12 were playing up to a total of 36 games per season, whilst players aged between 13-18 were playing up to 40 matches per season.
Another significant issue is that the “A-League Youth”, created in 2008 by the FFA to “develop Australia’s next footballing generation”, has failed tremendously.
Sydney FC are the reigning Y-League champions, winning the competition during the 2019-20 season.
The Youth League was shortened from 18 games per season to a very low 8.
The competition was also split into conferences, helping clubs reduce travel costs across Australia.
Despite all A-League teams requiring their “youth” squads to play in NPL competitions, many fail and do not compete due to the age difference.
Most youth teams consist of players of various ages (usually 15-23).
Sometimes, the odd first-team player gets minutes in for fitness.
A-League youth squads in the NPL or state leagues often find themselves in the lower-midtable positions.
They mainly come up against older and potentially more physically mature players.
However, there is an argument that playing against “men” helps develop young players, and there is some validity in that.
It can help speed up their development, as the environment is more akin to senior football.
The Western Sydney Wanderers were crowned Y-League champions back in 2018.
Nonetheless, the Youth League needs a significant overhaul.
Meanwhile, a national youth cup competition needs to be introduced to help the next generation of Australian footballers set the global stage alight.