Why the days of recycled A-League players are numbered

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A consistent criticism of A-League clubs is their habitual recycling of players but the emergence of fresh faces this season indicates these times are coming to an end.

The opening rounds of the 2019/20 A-League has seen academy products light up the competition week in, week out to earn the respect of coaches and fans alike in the process.

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This magnified level of trust in youth is slowly but surely reducing the reliance clubs have historically held upon proven, experienced personnel.

But we are not quite there yet.

Those persistent upon the recycling critique will inevitably continue to cherry-pick the many veterans who remain signed with A-League clubs.

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Liam Reddy has infamously represented seven and the likes of Kwabena Appiah, Scott Galloway, Rostyn Griffiths and Andrew Redmayne are plying their trade at a fifth.

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As much as we all would love to see more promising NPL talent granted an opportunity in the top flight, the magnitude of the quality divide between the two competitions is far greater than many perceive.

The standout players from the state-wide competitions who have recently earned opportunities in the A-League have all struggled to make an instant impact.

The likes of Kenny Athiu, Kane Sheppard and Danny Choi are examples of prolific goal-scorers at NPL level who could not immediately replicate their form in front of goal in the A-League.

While some may argue they were halted by injury and a lack of playing time, one player who has been granted a platform to perform is 2018 NPL NSW golden boot winner Jordan Murray.

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The 24-year-old is slowly but surely finding his feet in the Central Coast Mariners number nine shirt, but his lack of consistency has seen Alen Stajcic turn to a ready-made talent – Brazilian attacker Jair – in an attempt to maximise his side’s threat in the final third.

This is not suggesting NPL talent deserve to be neglected, it demonstrates how they often require time to adjust to the standard of the A-League.

The unfortunate reality is for many coaches in a professional environment, showing patience is likely to bear a detrimental impact upon results, and potentially their job security.

Rather than taking a punt on an unproven NPL starlet, the signing of an experienced professional with a hefty international or domestic CV often shapes a far more attractive prospect.

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Fortunately, it appears A-League academies are shaping up to be the perfect answer to this dilemma.

The model has taken some time to garner momentum but is now bearing fruit as a priceless pathway for youth development throughout Australia.

Young players are training at rapidly-improving facilities with an emphasis upon development at the forefront, all while fine-tuning their game against seasoned professionals at first grade NPL level.

This has seen the production of footballers ready to deliver as soon as they are granted the opportunity – the flourishing academy set-ups at the Wanderers and Sydney FC this season has seen their benches stacked with exciting youngsters.

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In round one, both clubs fielded teenagers at left-back in the form of 18-year-old Daniel Wilmering and 19-year-old Joel King respectively.

It is becoming evident when their opportunity arises, these youngsters are well and truly stepping up to the mantle.

Connor Metcalfe, Ramy Najjarine and Moudi Najjar have all featured heavily for City this campaign, at times being prioritised over foreign recruits Adrian Luna and Javier Cabrera.

Al-Hassan Toure exploded onto the scene as Adelaide United’s primary attacking outlet in their FFA Cup success, while teenagers Kristian Popovic, Samuel Silvera and Angus Thurgate have all popped up with decisive goals for their respective clubs.

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This list will surely continue to grow as the season unfolds.

A measure of the progress to date is foreign coaches such as Markus Babbel, Erick Mombaerts and Gertjan Verbeek, who hold no direct investment in the future of Australian football, are all entrusting youth in their starting sides.

With all signs suggesting this promising trend will continue, the days of uninspiring, recycled A-League rosters may well be behind us.

Feature image credit: Mark Brake

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Chris Curulli
Passionate Sports Media student and all round football obsessive, covering the Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2019/20 season.