Socceroos legend Alex Tobin and several other top Australian footballers are at war with Football NSW over a highly controversial decision to relegate eight clubs from the state’s top tier of junior football without warning.
- In recent weeks, Football NSW has informed NPL clubs that eight teams will be relegated from its top youth division instead of the usual two.
- The move came as the pandemic forced an early cancellation of the season, but sparked outrage
- Alex Tobin said the move would severely hamper the development of the state’s young players and vowed to fight it
In a move that is expected to drain several clubs of their prized young talents and bring youth football in Australia to what Tobin calls “the lowest point it could reach,” relegation rules have been changed as a result. of forcing COVID-19 to cancel the season.
The teams started the season on the assumption that only two teams would be demoted from NPL 1 as usual, but the clubs received a letter from the NSW Football board on May 26 stating that a new, previously undisclosed format , to relegate eight clubs was at stake.
A new notice from August 16 defined which teams to promote and relegate, considering only Phase 1 of the NPL youth season.
In a sign of how controversial the appeal is, former Socceroo Nick Carle, technical director of Southern Districts – a club that profited from the decision by staying in NPL 1 – has spoken out against it.
Carle’s club joined the teams concerned by signing a letter calling for the decision to be overturned.
âWe are opposed to the ruling because of the way it was made. I don’t understand how they came to that conclusion,â Carle said.
“I am very disappointed. As a club we are very happy to be in NPL 1, but we do not agree with the way it has gone.
“It’s open to their players now. Parents and kids unfortunately don’t understand what good programs are. They are just looking for an NPL 1 club. When we were in NPL 2 we lost 95% of our players. “
For the clubs concerned – St George FA and FC, Northbridge Bulls, NSW Spirit, Hakoah FC, Bonnyrigg Eagles, Mounties Wanderers and Hills United, where Tobin is technical director – this impact has already been felt.
Hakoah said he has already lost half of his young players since the decision was made a week ago.
Select a few clubs to monopolize young talent
Tobin’s Hills United face a similar battle to retain the young players they have spent several years developing, who now believe they must leave for a top club.
Youth development in the state can now be channeled to a few select clubs.
That left 87 times Socceroo Tobin, who has devoted much of his life to the Australian game, raging.
“Personally, it’s frustrating. I’ve been doing this for a long, long time. It’s the lowest point I’ve seen the game reach in my youth, based on this decision,” he said. declared.
“Our argument is that it is not fair. It is not football. It has not been communicated before.
âThe emphasis is that there are some clubs that should have elite youth programs and the rest can go back to your local lineups or drop out of the leagues.
“They just decided to find another formula without warning: the first eight of the first half of the season stay in place and we’ll just live with it.
“People can see which clubs have been affected and they can draw their own conclusions as to why those decisions were made.”
Former Socceroos skipper Craig Foster has joined opposition to Football NSW’s change.
He believes the decision strikes at the heart of the wrong direction in youth development in the country.
“Is anyone really surprised? Even our 1974 Socceroos would shake their heads when they heard this news,” Foster said.
“My question for now is where is the overall national program to achieve alignment? How are we still there? The pattern has to stop repeating itself at some point.
“What worries me is that in 23 months we will have a FIFA Women’s World Cup at home. What happens to the girls of these eight clubs, or the following eight clubs?”
Experts ignored by administrators, says Tobin
Tobin believes technical directors with national team backgrounds and overseas playing careers – like Carle and Aytek Genc in St George, who have been similarly affected – have been canceled by the administration.
At a time when there are fewer Australian male players in the world’s top foreign leagues than at any time in the past 35 years, there are fears that such measures will continue to hamper the development of the country’s youth.
âThey ignored all the technical advice from qualified coaches regarding this competitive structure. That’s the most frustrating part,â said Tobin.
“My problem is who are the next Socceroos and Matildas?” Where is the overall plan for this to happen?
“I don’t see anywhere else in the world where CTOs are overwhelmed by administrators, especially [on] something as simple, fundamental and important as the process of developing young players.
âNSW Football tried that three years ago with the reboot. Halfway through the season they switched platforms, everyone backed off and they overturned the decision.
âIf you asked me, ‘Could NSW Football have made such a damaging decision as the restart three years ago that they retracted? “I would have said, ‘It’s impossible.’
“But here we are three years later and they have done it again.”
NSW Football says to move ‘fairer option’
NSW Football stood firm in its decision.
The governing body says the reformed structure supports one of the key recommendations that emerged from Football Australia’s performance gap analysis, namely the desire to increase the number of match minutes played by talented young players. of State.
“Football NSW remains firmly convinced that this was the fairest option because by the time football was suspended Phase 2 was incomplete and some clubs had played more of the stronger clubs while others had played more weaker clubs, which meant that the standings at the time were not as level as they were at the end of phase 1, “he said.
“NSW Football recognizes that some clubs may feel disappointed and aggrieved that they did not have the opportunity to complete the season and improve their standings before the 2022 season.”
Tobin and affected clubs insist the fight for a knockdown will continue.
“They didn’t justify it, they weren’t ready to meet, they weren’t ready to listen to the clubs’ legitimate grievances,” Tobin said.
“We’re not emotional about it, we’re just stating absolute facts that are consistent with football, and we’ve encountered absolute silence.
“Therefore, the battle is on.”