SPORT: FFA Centre of Excellence v Sydney FC Youth at the Australian Institute of Sport in Bruce. Sydney FC Youth player George Timotheou in action. 8th February 2015. Photo by Melissa Adams of The Canberra Times. Photo: Melissa AdamsSoccer players past and present have weighed into the debate whether to close down Football Federation Australia’s Centre of Excellence based out of Canberra.
The FFA board met last week to discuss whether the AIS program should see out its scheduled 2019 finish or pull the plug early and redistribute the funds.
The argument for shutting the academy is the FFA spend too much on developing just 24 players, while those who have been through the system vouch for its value.
The likes of Ned Zelic, Mark Viduka, John Aloisi, Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano are all products of the program which is currently set to hand over the reigns to A-League academies in 2019.
Former Socceroo and Centre of Excellence coach Tony Vidmar believes A-League academies need more time before they are able to successfully develop players.
Socceroos veteran and Melbourne Victory captain Carl Valeri came out of the AIS system and can see both sides of the debate.
“I was a product of the old AIS with Steve O’Connor who took in slightly older players and really prepared them how to be a professional footballer abroad and in the national team,” Valeri said.
“It was a career changing experience for me because going in I was very athletic but I didn’t really know how to be a professional footballer and had to fine tune my skills.
“The AIS have produced a lot of excellent players but I’m sure the FFA have their reasons if they do close it because the people whose job it is to decide these things are very across all the relevant information.
“We [Victory] are preparing to launch an academy where there will be fantastic coaches who I’m sure can give excellent advice and guidance and prepare youngsters for what’s ahead like I got at the AIS.”
With no A-League team in Canberra Valeri said it would be disappointing to see an elite pathway in the ACT closed, but added there is one foolproof way to reach the top.
“Obviously a pathway for the young Canberra soccer players is important but it’s about finding the right option that benefits everyone,” Valeri said.
“There is one pathway that works anywhere, the kids hate hearing it and I get sick of telling them, but it’s simply hard work.
“I came through the Canberra system and there was no A-League or nothing around but I was just a kid who was prepared to work hard and try his best, so there’s a pathway right there.”
Sydney FC defender George Timotheou came through the Centre of Excellence three years ago and the teenager praised the academy for earning a full-time contract with the Sky Blues this season.
“Coming out of that program and I thought it was very successful, a lot of the players who come out go on to get A-League contracts and if not straight away, most do eventually,” Timotheou said.
“It’s their decision if they want to get rid of it and they’re doing it for the reason they best believe will benefit the youth production of Australian talent.”
Centre of Excellence skipper Joel King arrived in Canberra from Shellharbour and said the program had done wonders for his budding career.
“Playing at club level to here is a big difference with all the coaching and facilities and everything, it’s a big step up,” King said.
“Hopefully I can get a professional youth or A-League contract and there is everything here for me to achieve that goal, so I wouldn’t want to see it go.”