Late last year, Crikey columnist Francis Leach highlighted the fate of young Melbourne Victory player Vince Lia, and the fact that he had only managed a handful of minutes in the first half of the 2006/07 A-League season.
For someone who had started in almost every Victory match last season, and who had aspirations of taking a place in the squad for the 2008 Beijing Games, this was obviously not an ideal scenario for Lia.
A similar situation has engulfed Lia’s teammate Kristian Sarkies, who has struggled for a starting position in the Victory lineup despite the fact he has figured in 13 or the Victory’s 19 games this season.
His performance in scoring a brace in his team’s 2-2 draw with Perth at the weekend – when regular starters Kevin Muscat, Archie Thompson, Danny Allsop and Fred were rested in the run-up to the finals – underlined his obvious talent but highlighted the fact that there just aren’t enough starting positions in the current A-League setup to cater for the talent on hand.
Sarkies has been offered a new contract with the Victory according to coach Ernie Merrick, but there are suggestions the 20-year-old midfielder may look to other A-League clubs to ensure more game time in 2007-08.
The other suggestion, as highlighted by Michael Lynch’s story in The Age at the weekend, is that Sarkies may be better off heading overseas in search of a lower league in Europe to further his development.
It would be a shame if our emerging junior talent had to venture offshore to guarantee regular senior football simply because there weren’t enough spots in Australia to nurture their obvious talents.
Leach’s suggested remedy for Lia’s and Sarkies’s situations was that the A-League needed a reserves competition, a suggestion that has obvious merits. But equally, for the good of the development of the elite talent in this country, perhaps the next step that needs to be considered is the expansion of the competition from eight to ten teams.
Regardless which step the FFA takes, it is obviously heartening to see so many talented juniors coming through the ranks of the A-League. It’s now just a matter of harnessing that talent so the deeds of Germany 2006 are seen as just the start of the continuing emergence of Australia as a major player on the international football scene.