A former Premier League head of recruitment believes it’s now harder than ever for Australian soccer players to make it to the English top-flight.
It’s been over a decade since the Socceroos’ golden generation started to fade away and there’s been few signs of a return to those halcyon days of the mid-to-late 2000s.
At the 2006 World Cup, nine of Australia’s 23-man squad represented Premier League sides with four others plying their trade in the Spanish La Liga and Serie A in Italy.
In stark contrast, at last year’s Asian Cup, Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan was the only player contracted to an EPL team, although Aaron Mooy, then of Huddersfield, would have been in the squad had it not been for injury.
There have been a string of theories put forward for the reason behind Australia’s well of talent drying up.
One, is the decision of the FFA in 2017 to shut down the centre of excellence at the Australian Institute of Sport that produced the likes of Craig Moore, Vince Grella, Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton, Mark Bresciano, Vince Grella and John Aloisi.
Another is the replacement of home-grown coaches like Ron Smith and Steve O’Connor in Canberra over 10 years ago with ones from the Netherlands in a failed attempt to emulate the successful Dutch system.
Gary Penrice, former head of recruitment at Everton, Crystal Palace, Blackpool, QPR, Wigan and Stoke, who’s just been appointed by Celtic, believes making the grade in England is tough, but not necessarily because of a lack of talent.
“Sometimes it just happens, a glut of really good players come through at once,” Penrice told AAP.
“We’re seeing it with Wales at the moment who have young kids like Daniel James now playing for Man United and Harry Wilson, who’s on loan at Bournemouth from Liverpool.
“Who knows, in four years time we could be talking about it happening again with Australia. But the football world is so vast nowadays.
“You now have players coming from so many different parts of the world to play in the Premier League.”
There have been 51 Aussies who’ve played in the Premier League since its formation in 1992, which ranks only behind Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria for a non-European nation.
“There’s always been lots of good players from Scandinavia and Australia but now you have players from countries like Liberia, Tanzania and Gabon, the net of talent is wider than ever,” Penrice said.
“I was at Palace when Mile Jedinak was there. A terrific guy, great pro and a real leader of men.
“You can say the same about Tim Cahill when I was at Everton.
“Both fantastic players, but also dependable, strong, good to have around your squad. That is always what Australian players have brought to a team.”
Penrice said the progress of Mooy and Ryan shows good Aussies can still break through.
“I first watched Mooy in a World Cup warm-up match against Czech Republic and he was the best player on the pitch.
“Clubs will always want to sign players like him and Ryan.”
The improvement in young English talent has also hindered Aussie players in academy systems like Aiden O’Neill, on loan to Brisbane Roar from Burnley, making the grade like Kewell did at Leeds.
A change to the rules for overseas signings also means EPL clubs must now splash out to be guaranteed a work permit.
Previously, a permit would be granted for any player who’d played 75 per cent of their country’s international fixtures over three years.
Now, only a player who costs £10 million and earns £30,000 a week will be given the green light under a points system.
“It’s certainly made things harder,” Penrice said.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Australia.
“Young (Daniel) Arzani has been at Celtic, but he he’s not played much due to the injury he had.
“Arzani is Manchester City’s player … they obviously think he’s got something to have signed him.
“But he needs to play games. I am guessing they’ll loan him out again.”