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Australia

Arnold backs calls for new A-League tier to give kids a chance

Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has backed calls for the establishment of a national second division or A-League reserves competition to remove the bottleneck of young Australian players who are pushing to play senior football.

After new Football Federation Australia technical director Rob Sherman told the Sydney Morning Herald  and The Age this week that there was "imminent danger" ahead that could result in failure to qualify for future World Cups, Arnold said it was vital that players between the key development ages of 17 and 22 had somewhere to play.

'I just want to help these great Australian kids fulfil their dreams and have a special life.' Graham Arnold

'I just want to help these great Australian kids fulfil their dreams and have a special life.' Graham ArnoldCredit:AAP

The National Youth League only runs for 10 rounds over the summer, with most A-League youngsters spending the rest of the year in their state-based NPL competitions, which are not of an adequate standard to facilitate their improvement.

Arnold bristled at suggestions that club coaches like himself, when he was at Sydney FC, were partly responsible because he did not give enough minutes to talented young local players.

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"I'm not saying the kids need to play in the A-League - if they're not good enough they shouldn't play," Arnold said on a conference call with reporters on Friday morning from Europe, where he is scouting Socceroos players ahead of the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying next month.

"But give them somewhere [else] to play. Maybe a reserve-grade competition is a great opportunity or maybe as FFA's talking about, a B-League - something like that to get the kids in a professional environment and to develop the kids so they have a chance to become professional footballers.

"It's a crucial thing that needs to be fixed - the structure of the game is the most important thing. I just want to help these great Australian kids fulfil their dreams and have a special life, because that's what being an elite sportsman is about."

Arnold has previously addressed club owners, who are now in control of their A-League, in an attempt to discourage them from creating further allowances for foreign players, which would further reduce the pool of Australian players he has to pick from.

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He admitted "it's their choice" about how many imports should be allowed in the A-League but argued that FFA's national teams department deserved a say, and suggested club support for a new tier or an expanded NYL was a fair trade-off.

FFA is working towards the establishment of a national second division in 2021, with a working group in place to discuss how it can be implemented.

But many in the game remain skeptical about the finances of such a competition, and there is support from within the A-League clubs for a reserves league instead.

"I've been to working group meetings, I've spent probably eight months of my 12 months in the job looking at all this stuff ... this is part of decision making that the national teams department has to be involved with," Arnold said.

Arnold said he discussed youth development with Dutch coach Adriaan de Mos on his recent travels, pointing to the Netherlands as a template for Australia to follow.

"I said to him, 'What's been the biggest turn in Dutch football [that helped you] bounce back?' He said, 'We stopped trying to compete with the big-money nations, we lowered our expectations and decided to fund youth development and build a second division where all the great kids from Ajax, PSV and all that could play every week'," Arnold said.

"He said Ajax has sold 350 million euros worth of players in the off-season. So we stopped trying to compete with the [rich leagues], we're going to build the structures underneath the first division and all the good kids will come through - they play in that, and then get sold, and then we can put our funds back into the top league because everyone's selling."

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