What is it with kids these days? It’s a question that’s consistently asked, passed on from one generation to the next when the latest batch are deemed cynical enough to judge their juniors with sufficient disdain and degradation. The current crop of ageing gen Y-ers can often be heard ridiculing the short-clipped linguistics of the early twenties/late teens set, or bemoaning the fact that kids these days wouldn’t know Radiohead or the Wu-tang Clan if it smacked them in the face with a twelve inch vinyl. The notion that they now sound exactly like their parents did when they were young un’s apparently escapes them. The opportunity to take the moral and intellectual high ground has presented itself and a thirty something Australian will be damned if he/she will let that chance pass by unaccompanied. This age-old practice of young up-start size reduction fails to appreciate a fact both inescapable and undeniably true, that the youth are the future. As totes amazeballs as many may find it, these modern day Bohemians in skinny jeans will be helping the world turn for years to come. Some companies know and actually embrace this by investing in youthful talent before it fully blossoms, sporting clubs being a prime example.
Sydney FC has shown a passing interest in the youth movement without ever convincing themselves of its validity. This season the need for long term planning is obvious as all time high expectations have lead to mediocrity at best. Whilst there is plenty to recommend about the Del Piero project, it is not a long term solution. The former Juventus great has brought an unprecedented level of media spotlight to the A-league and exposed the club to a whole new fan-base. The ageing superstar is not a new concept for Sydney FC though; Del Piero is merely the latest and greatest in a production line of Marquee names. The fruitfulness of this game plan has been hit and miss. Dwight Yorke brought the crowds and the toilet seat to the SFS in the inaugural season of the competition. His on-field pedigree coupled with the “all-night Dwight “persona fit the bling FC tag that Sydney were all too happy to be saddled with. He left the club shortly after but his relatively short stint can only be regarded as an unqualified success. Less rewarding were the brief flirtations with Benito Carbone and Juninho Paulista. Both were quality players but their spell in sky blue was hampered by injury and lack of direction from the club’s board.
The fact is that the Marquee player is of vital importance for a club like Sydney FC. Crowds in this city don’t crave star names, they demand them. They don’t get upset and protest if they don’t get their way, they forget you ever existed. The conundrum of this scenario is that Sydney are not big enough fish to compete for international class players in their prime which generally means veterans looking for a final payday in one of the world’s great cities. By this standard, a marquee player is good for two to three seasons at best, and even that level of commitment has proved elusive thus far. With star attractions guaranteed to come and go it’s paramount that the supporting cast is spot on. That usually means mass clear outs every season followed by a hastily thrown together squad of questionable ability. What it should mean is building a team over a number of years. What it should mean is a commitment to youth.
The club’s board have shown belated interest this season in the youth movement by signing Terry Antonis, Rhyan Grant and Sebastian Ryall to two year deals. Grant and Ryall have been standout performers for Sydney this term whilst Antonis is often tipped as a Socceroos star of the future. These players, along with the cream of a bunch including Peter Triantis, Blake Powell, Hagi Gligor, Aaron Calver, Joel Chianese and Alec Urosevski should make up the core of the squad for years to come. The merits of building a team around young talent cannot be underscored. This practice is often problematic in the A-league given the draw of big earnings and international exposure on offer overseas and it must be acknowledged that the top players will leave eventually. However, if Sydney are serious about their designs of being a big club on the world scale in years to come, players must want to be here. This is a process that will take time to implement but it has to start somewhere.
The weekends two all draw with Newcastle was a difficult match to recommend in many ways but was not totally without its merits. A host of big names were missing for the Sky Blues including veterans Brett Emerton, Jason Cullina and Joel Griffiths as Frank Farina was forced to trust in youth. Only three players in the starting line up were over thirty in a game that Sydney really should’ve won. Del Piero turned in a man of the match performance and showed he still has plenty to offer in the run in to the finals. If he is the man to spearhead this team next season he should be doing it with a similar supporting cast along with the odd necessary addition. Even if Sydney fail to qualify for the top six “Crazy Franks Massive Clearout” should be avoided, Barcelona wasn’t built in a day after all.
It’s time for the penny to drop. For the decision makers to realise that while these youngsters may talk and dress funny they are the future of our club and of our game. Here’s hoping, with all due respect, that they stay at the club long after Del Piero has moved on.