In recent years, the A-League Men competition has been praised for its rejuvenated outlook on the importance of young local talent, with the likes of Ben Waine (20), Marco Tilio (20) and Alou Kuol (21) bursting onto the scene. Now, the latter has rightfully left the league and began to make a name for himself in Germany, but other talented youngsters have chosen to stay in the Australian competition.
But why? Surely Waine and Tilio can have a crack at Europe, yet both youngsters have chosen to sign on with their respective clubs (Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne City) until 2024. With Tilio scoring a worldie against Argentina in the Olympics, there must have been clubs vying for his signature, right? Waine even turned down a contract with English Championship side Coventry City!
The question demands some serious thought. It is not like staying ensures a place in the first XI. If anything, clubs are moving towards a balance of eager locals and quality experienced players from foreign leagues. City, for example, have signed on a front three of Andrew Nabbout, Jamie Maclaren and Mathew Leckie - where is the guaranteed starting spot in that for Tilio? With newcomer Manuel Pucciarelli in the mix, albeit as a Luna replacement, Tilio will certainly be fighting for a spot this season.
Despite the focus on youth lately, the league looks headed to a destination it has always dreamed of: a balance between experience and youth.
With the integration of a new 'Designated Player' rule, where clubs can sign an additional player outside of the cap (between $300k-$600k per year), City has taken this option quite happily. Sure, Tilio could have possibly been converted to an attacking midfielder, replacing Luna, but now we have increased competition within the squad.
Now take Melbourne Victory. The club had its worst finish in history last season (yay) but has now 'flipped the switch' in what might be the biggest rebuild the club has ever seen. We still need to see their new recruits perform, but our greatest rivals have not messed around. With Tony Popovic in charge, the club has kept on its best talent while creating healthy competition by recruiting new experienced and younger players, reinvigorating the squad.
Sure, they could have just kept on Ben Folami and thrown all their eggs in one basket, but they instead signed Chris Ikonomidis and Nick D'Agostino as well. The attacking trio are all young, hungry players with something to prove and the motivation to fight for a spot in the first XI.
Of course, this is not really the forum to be talking up our rivals, but the main reason for this example is the fact that our league is evolving. We are creating a balance, generating competition and ensuring our youth are getting minutes whilst also having to fight for that chance.
The future is bright, but the present may be just as spectacular.