Hyundai A-League coaches Graham Arnold and Mike Mulvey have praised the role of the National Premier Leagues pathway in preparing the next generation of elite footballers.
Arnold and Mulvey, who coach Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar respectively, are in Townsville this week as part of the Wingate Properties Townsville Football Cup – a four-team pre-season tournament featuring NPL Queensland’s Northern Fury.
Arnold played the game at the highest levels in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as representing the Socceroos on 54 occasions and said he was impressed by the NPL model being rolled out across the country.
“The state leagues are hugely important to where the A-League sits,” he explained.
“That’s got to be where the pathway is. You can’t have kids jumping from Under 16’s up to A-League, if you can strengthen the next step, if the facilities can improve and give them a good environment to develop in, then the step up will be much easier.”
Following the Sky Blues hard-fought 3-1 win over Fury on Sunday, Arnold added that he wasn’t surprised by the performance of the NPL Queensland club.
“I didn’t expect anything less. When younger players get the opportunity to perform and to show what they've got, the adrenalin kicks in. I always knew they would give us a test.”
He further explained that he was impressed by Fury’s long-term vision to provide a genuine pathway for players in North Queensland, as opposed to their previous incarnation as a stand-alone A-League outfit.
“What Fury are doing up here, with everything starting at grassroots level and they're concentrating more on that rather than just putting five million dollars into one team and forgetting the rest, they have more of a long-term project and vision and that’s what a lot of clubs should do.”
He said Fury was benefitting from the experience of Director of Coaching Ian Ferguson, who represented Scotland on nine occasions as a player and previously coached Perth Glory as well as Fury in the A-League.
“You've got to be proud of what Fergie is doing up here. You have a guy who has done everything in world football and he is living in a regional town that he loves and he’s prepared to put a lot back into the sport for the kids up here,” Arnold explained.
“The kids up here should be honoured to have someone like him but also the community. I’m sure he will develop a lot of good players up here for Fury.”
Mulvey has seen first-hand the benefits of NPL Queensland in particular, with Roar’s National Youth League team competing in the state’s elite club competition for the first time this season.
The A-League Premiership and Championship winning coach said it provided the club further opportunity to identify and develop Queensland talent with the potential of playing A-League football.
“It’s very important because the gap between A-League players and state league players is quite big,” Mulvey explained.
“The A-League players are full-time professionals so they can train all the time if you want them to, while state league players tend to work or do university and can fit in two or three nights a week.”
He further explained that Roar clearly see themselves as part of the pathway for Queensland’s aspiring professional footballers.
“The fact that our players can play in the NPL through our youth team is very important for our younger players.”
“It’s our responsibility as an A-League club to offer a pathway, which we do, to local players to gain access to the people we have at the club and the players we have at the club to train with them or learn from them in some capacity.”
Recently Roar hand-picked Olympic FC’s Reuben Way, Western Pride’s Lincoln Rule and Brisbane Strikers’ Matt Thurtell based on their performances in this year’s NPL Queensland.
“We identified them as three lads that we wanted to have a little look at closer up and they did well,” Mulvey explained.
He referred back to the difference in fitness level between full-time professionals and the semi-professional prospects.
“They were all less fit than we would have desired, so we didn’t push them too much, because we didn’t want to disrupt their particular teams’ plans for the season.”
“But we’ll bring them in again, once we get back to Ballymore and away from the travelling we’ve done for the past few weeks, and give them another couple of weeks training with us,” Mulvey said.