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When Richard Scudamore was engaged as a consultant three years ago by A-League club owners, just before securing their hard-fought independence from Football Australia, the former English Premier League boss offered some frank advice on what sort of players they should be prioritising.
“Australian teams don’t need a whole load of globally recognised superstars that walk around and everybody knows who they are,” he said, confounded by the competition’s marquee obsession.
“What you need to build is club loyalty. Homegrown is still the most exciting thing … the holy grail is the local boy made good because they are your best asset. My firm, simple belief is [having] your young players playing against the best foreign players you can afford to have — that’s the way they develop.”
The value of Scudamore’s overall contribution to the Australian game is up for debate, as is his view that the A-League doesn’t need to bother signing players who the average person might be able to identify. History bears out that many clubs ignored him anyway, signing players luike Daniel Sturridge (Perth Glory), Nani (Melbourne Victory) and Charlie Austin (Brisbane Roar), to varying degrees of success.
But he was onto something. As it turns out, some of the most recognisable players in the A-League are the epitome of Scudamore’s holy grail: young, talented and local. Importantly, they are also difference-makers, match-winners. And the four clubs left in the championship race are arguably the best in the country at bringing them through, putting paid to the old adage that you can’t win anything with kids, as well as illuminating for their rivals the best and most sustainable way to address their financial problems.
Melbourne City is a good place to start. Since the takeover by the City Football Group in 2014, player development has become a key focus, turning them into a destination club for Australia’s best and brightest prospects, and it is paying dividends on and off the field.
Jordan Bos and Callum Talbot are among a crop of outstanding young talents in the A-League.Credit: Getty
Two of them will be key players in their title tilt, which resumes with the first leg of their grand final qualifier on Friday night at Allianz Stadium against Sydney FC. While it appears both will be out the door in a matter of weeks, City should expect a tidy profit in return.
Jordan Bos, according to sources, is nearing a transfer to Belgian club KVC Westerlo that will shatter the competition’s outbound record. The 20-year-old left-back, who made his Socceroos debut earlier this year, has been valued at roughly $2 million after his breakout A-League season. That fee would eclipse what is believed to be the previous mark set by Aaron Mooy’s $1.4 million transfer from Melbourne City to Manchester City in 2016.
Marco Tilio, who went to the World Cup with the Socceroos and has long been touted as a star of the future, is also hotly tipped to take his talents to Europe at the end of the season.
“There a huge interest for both of them,” City coach Rado Vidosic said.
Marco Tilio went to the World Cup with the Socceroos, and appears to be bound for Europe.Credit: Eddie Jim
“Obviously, it is down to them to agree the terms with the clubs and also for Melbourne City to agree the fees for their services. Both of them have done fantastically well. Jordy Bos has been outstanding, and for him to make the national team and to play such a dominant role for us at a young age, we’re all very proud of that.
“It shows what this club is all about. Although they’re young, [they have their] feet on the ground, and they know what they need to do to progress even further.”
The other semi-final, between Adelaide United and the Central Coast Mariners, is also instructive — two smaller-budget teams punching above their weight, reaping rewards from putting their faith in the next generation.
Adelaide star Nestory Irankunda, 17, has a firm offer on the table from Bayern Munich, fully endorsed and sanctioned by manager Thomas Tuchel and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, who see him as a player of enormous potential. While Irankunda would not be able to move until the end of next season due to FIFA transfer restrictions on under-18 players, it would put him on a similar path to Reds product Mohamed Toure, who this week made his French Ligue 1 debut with Stade de Reims, surely putting himself on Arnold’s radar.
Irankunda, like Toure before him, is a pure excitement machine, and comfortably the competition’s most watchable player.
The Mariners, meanwhile, have a long history of producing Socceroos. Having just sold Garang Kuol to Newcastle United, the next cab off their rank is probably Nectar Triantis, 20, who has quietly emerged this season as one of the A-League’s best and most consistent centre-backs, and is already attracting foreign interest.
Sydney FC are the outliers. While they have arguably the best academy system in the country, their problem has always been properly integrating graduates from it into their first team. Most painfully, two of City’s standouts, Tilio and right-back Callum Talbot, are former Sydney products who were stuck behind established stars in their home town and had to move interstate to get a proper taste of senior football. When they do move on, it’ll be City, not them, pocketing the proceeds from the transfer market.
THE LOWDOWN: Sydney FC vs Melbourne City
A-League Men semi-final first leg
Friday, May 12, Allianz Stadium, 7.45pm
TV live on Network 10 and Paramount+
Sydney FC (4-3-3): Redmayne; Grant, Rodwell, Wilkinson, King; Brattan, Caceres, Retre; Mak, Le Fondre, Burgess.
Melbourne City (4-3-3): Glover; Talbot, Reis, Good, Bos; Berenguer, O’Neill, van der Venne; Leckie, Maclaren, Tilio.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
Have Sydney FC played their grand final already? A one-off hitout against your crosstown rivals is one thing. But two legs against the A-League’s most dominant team of the last few years is something else entirely. Sydney’s team of old warhorses know exactly what it takes to win finals matches, but it remains to be seen if their shock upset of the Wanderers was one final salvo from their decorated veterans, or just the start of a serious post-season assault. The signs will be evident pretty early once they’re confronted with City’s quick tempo and pressing.
Will familiar faces come back to haunt their old club? It will probably go down as one of the great squad management errors of the A-League era. How on earth did Sydney FC let Marco Tilio go? The Hurstville lad is one of the Socceroos’ biggest hopes, and showed exactly what he can do with a mazy run and goal in their last regular-season match, which – and this is not hyperbole – even Lionel Messi would have been proud of. He returns to Sydney with a point to prove, and it’ll probably be the last time he plays his old team given a move to Europe is in the offing.
Will Mathew Leckie start? The man who scored that goal against Denmark at the World Cup missed a big chunk of the A-League season with a hamstring injury but returned for City’s last two matches of the home-and-away campaign, coming off the bench for brief cameos. The week off, which City earned by finishing top of the ladder, has surely helped his fitness cause. At his best, he is one of the competition’s very best players, so City will be desperately hoping he can help them from the beginning of this encounter.
IN THE DUGOUT
Steve Corica (Sydney FC) – What a turnaround. Last week’s Sydney derby was one of the finest moments of Corica’s coaching career, dominating the second half to stun the Wanderers and turn a one-goal deficit into a 2-1 win, keeping their title dreams alive. His subs were spot on, his faith in notoriously injury-prone Jack Rodwell finally paid off, and obviously his half-time address resonated with his players, who produced 45 sizzling minutes. Is there more where that came from?
Rado Vidosic (Melbourne City) – A stalwart of the Australian soccer team and one-time assistant to Ange Postecoglou during the peak ‘Roarcelona’ years, he took over mid-season when Patrick Kisnorbo joined French club ESTAC Troyes, becoming the first Aussie to coach in one of Europe’s top five leagues. Vidosic hasn’t needed to change much, and despite the occasional wobble since assuming the top job, City come into the finals unbeaten in their last eight games, and with wins over all remaining finals teams under their belt.
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