Renowned youth coach Tom Byer believes Australian football is in trouble because it is not producing quality players anymore.
The Olyroos have failed to qualify for an Olympics since 2008 while the Joeys were recently eliminated early from the AFC Under-16 Championships. Last month the Young Socceroos failed to book a spot in next year’s Under-20 World Cup after they were bundled out of the AFC Under-19 Championships.
Byer, who helped drive Japan’s technical revolution through grassroots programs, is now working with the Chinese government to help that country’s youth development.
He points to the Socceroos’ Golden Generation at the 2006 World Cup and says Australia is no longer developing that kind of talent.
“If you look at that Golden Generation of players and then if you look at now and what’s happening now, you’ve got a lot of people scratching their heads thinking where are all the players?” Byer told FourFourTwo.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s the case of it being a coaching problem, as much as a cultural problem. I believe most of them come from the decades in the past where there was that migration to Australia.
"Whether it was the Serbs, the Greeks, the Italians, the English or what have you. During that time the culture was so strong in Australia that they were developing players. Around the world in those top countries there’s a culture at home which is very conducive to producing players.”
Byer, who works as a technical consultant with the AFC, believes Australian kids do not play enough football and that their skill acquisition starts at too late an age.
“Football starts at home,” he said.
“In Australia it’s not necessarily a coaching problem, where everybody usually thinks it is. Many countries believe they are only one coach away from qualifying for a World Cup or winning a World Cup, or doing well in a World Cup.
“You look at Australia and it’s really a seasonal sport. You don’t play all year round like we do in Japan. Japan plays football 52 weeks of the year. They don’t play a couple of months a year, they play all-year.
“If you look at Australia some of the associations only have a 15-week season. Some kids only practice once a week for an hour. That’s tantamount to going to school for two days in a year, and expecting they’re going to develop players.
“What’s not happening in Australia is that the culture is becoming diluted. Football doesn’t start at home, it starts in a lot of these recreational leagues. I work in a lot of different places, but surely Australia’s an interesting topic because I really believe the players of a decade ago were much, much better than the ones you have now.”
Byer also believes it is down to the role of parents to help improve their children’s technique and skill away from organized football and clubs.
“Technical skills are rarely the result of coaching,” he said.
“It’s really the result of what’s happening at home and in the backyard, what’s happening with parents, most specifically with fathers.
“If you read the biographies of many, many players, whether its Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi, you’ll find that the majority of them attribute their technical success to their fathers. It’s very rarely a coach.
“There’s 211 member associations in FIFA, only eight have won World Cups and out of that eight only three are serial repeaters (at winning).
“In those countries that are producing very good players, it’s not so much about what is happening on the coaching side but what’s happening on the culture side.
“It’s a very difficult, complicated discussion, because football development is controversial.”
Australia currently has no players earning regular minutes in the English Premier League, Serie A or La Liga.
Byer said Australia is being left behind in youth development in Asia and feels that the success of the Socceroos under Ange Postecoglou has glossed over failings in the younger national teams.
“If you look at the competition here in Asia you’ll find that just about all of the teams that play in the senior World Cup, those countries usually have been passing through and qualifying regularly in the Under-17 World Cup or the Under-20 World Cup,” the American said.
“History will dictate that if you aren’t qualifying in those cycles in those younger age groups, then you’re going to struggle to qualify for that at the top.
“One of the problems is that because the Australian national team has done quite well, although it’s still under a lot of scrutiny about how good the players actually are, the facts remain that they are competitive.
“But many people believe things aren’t at bright as they are portrayed to be. The Under-17s, 20s, 23s not just failed to qualify but they didn’t even get out of their group I believe. So there’s reason to be concerned in Australia about what’s happening.
“The good news is that Australia has finally got a very, very good sharp, brilliant I would call him, coach in Ange, and I’ve never met the man. But he seems to be the real deal and I think if they had any other coach they might not be doing as well as they are now.
“But the old days of having so many Australians playing in the Premier League and in Germany and throughout Europe seem to have dried up.”