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FFA Technical Director Rob Sherman, left, and Football West Technical Director Cris Ola

FFA Technical Director Rob Sherman Q&A

Football West News

Football Federation Australia Technical Director Rob Sherman was in Perth last week, where he put on a practical session and power-point presentation for coaches, Technical Directors and Presidents at Perth SC’s Dorrien Gardens.

Football West spoke with Melbourne-based Rob about his visit, his take on the current state of football in Australia and his vision for the game Down Under.

Football West: How long are you in WA for?

Rob Sherman: I’m in Western Australia for three days and then going over to South Australia. I’m trying to reach into the more isolated states because I haven’t had the opportunity.

We’ve had the TDs in and the CEOs in, but we’ve not had any real visibility of myself and a chance to talk through a few things. It won’t be the last time.

FW: So it’s to let people know who you are …

RS: … and challenge some thinking really. Not necessarily put plans down but talk about people’s thoughts and get a feedback on those.

FW: How did the presentation at Perth SC go?

RS: I had some positive feedback. I definitely challenged some people which I’m more than happy to do, and I think we do need to challenge the status quo. Ultimately, I don’t think the game has maximised its potential, because not everyone will align to a centralised purpose.

FFA Technical Director Rob Sherman adresses the audience of club coaches, Technical Directors and Presidents at Perth SC

FW: Tell us about your role with the FFA and what are the biggest challenges?

RS: I’m Technical Director. I’m trying to have an oversight over the whole of the game where you put a blueprint down for the competition structures potentially, certainly youth development which leads eventually to international success.

We’re staying still at best. Other countries are accelerating, other countries that we might have assumed were inferior to us are investing heavily in youth development, international activity, professional leagues. Countries who are already established are progressing at a rate and if we’re not careful we are going to get left behind.

FW: How do you mark progress?

RS: You can look at international success if you like, so this is the first mark – qualifying for World Cups, potentially becomes hard.

Qualifying shouldn’t be enough, we should want to go there and actually perform. I think it’s reasonable to expect to get out of the group stages and into the knockouts.

Historically, the men have made the Round of 16 once, women have made the quarter-finals three times. Could we eclipse that? That should be the long-term vision. Could we actually get semi-final for the women, quarters for the men? To do that you actually need players in the top leagues. And that has diminished massively since 2006. And they are not at the top clubs in the top leagues and that’s got to be a concern.

So there’s a benchmark where if we’re successful you’d like to see that trend reversed and see more Australian players, male and female, playing for the top clubs.

Football West TD Cris Ola, right, looks on as Rob Sherman addresses some of the young players present at Perth SC

FW: What is the current state of play with our youth players?

RS: There is bound to be some good work going on but we don’t really know because we (FFA) don’t check. There’s no real accreditation to say an academy or youth development fits a standard, a benchmark.

Most countries around the world, in terms of the European model particularly, there’s an accreditation system. So clubs are asked to meet certain benchmarks and they get accredited. So in the “Triple P”, you’ve got your Category One, Two and Three standard. In Holland there’s categories which they’ve introduced, Belgium there’s categories. So my feeling is we need to adopt something similar where we challenge our clubs to reach the standard they think they can reach and we give them the accreditation accordingly. Then people will know the standard has been met.

Part of it would be coach accreditation but part of it would be a true operational plan, a true vision … the club business model, if you like. A club business plan, say, their leadership plan, their actual football program, their sport science support, their medical support, how they work with education and welfare. The whole kit and caboodle. Set a baseline that might be quite basic but at the top level it should be world class.

That will require investment …

In terms of your professional game one of your true assets is players. Australia is not really a selling league and it could, potentially, produce assets that the world would want, then it becomes part of your sustainability model.

Now that needs to filter through the game through training conversations and the like, but ultimately you need to invest in youth development. If clubs are the beneficiaries – vis-a-vis produce players for their first team, players they can sell – then that’s the choice they can make. They choose to or they choose not to.

With A-League clubs breaking from the FFA, will it be more difficult to align the pathway?

I don’t think so. I think those are discussions that need to be had. I think there’s a real opportunity with separation, it shouldn’t be seen as a threat, it should be seen as an opportunity.

I think the second division discussions are also an opportunity and in truth we do need to align the competitions structure and then build capacity to enable the clubs to aspire within the structure, and by aspire that means they meet certain standards. If they meet certain standards then that leaves the game richer because you’ve got strong football clubs at a certain level of the game.

With the second division, do you see NPL clubs filling that?

I think that’s a debate that needs to be had. Is it a high-performance league for professionals, X amount of games per year, or is it a performance league where NPL sits currently with a few changes?

The size of Australia brings its own challenges …

It does, so the realities are you need to establish the principles of what you are trying to achieve with your competition structure first, and those are across a number of areas. And from there you then build a structure, so when those discussions are going on you stay true to the principle

What is the bigger challenge – player development or club development?

I would say they go hand in glove. If we get our club development right, and a component of that is player development, then you have a win-win. Club development is about capacity and sustainability, of which player development is an integral part of that. And if you do that well then the game is more robust because it’s got more robust clubs.

Football prides itself on its participation numbers …

The thing about participation is it’s retention that’s the key. So it’s how many players come in and how many stay in. So the whole spectrum of the game is, if we’re a grassroots club and we’re doing a really good job our players stay in football. If we’re a club that’s developing players then those clubs go on and fill their potential, playing in the NPL or professional leagues or whatever, and they stay in the game. So a good measure of the game is how many people stay in it, not only how many partake in it.

And where is WA in the national standing?

At this stage it would be hard to equate. Like I said, there’ll be good work going on all over the country … it’s the co-operation between the clubs, the federation and national body and the alignment of competitions. So if we get that right, it’s not all doom and gloom, there’s some good work going on there, no two ways about it. But are we maximising what we have and what we could have? Probably not.

Is this a five-year, a 10-year plan?

I think you’ve got to have a much longer approach, so I would say that the reality is if you really set your stall out it might take 20 years to come to fruition. So let’s just say there’s a six- or seven-year-old now who starts in a program and we get it right – he’s not going to see the benefit until he’s 20-plus. S0 it’s 14 years down the road.

The danger is on each youth cycle is, “Oh you know, what we’re doing is not very good”. Well that youth cycle is a product of something that was initiated 10 years ago. It takes time, so we need to be clear on what we’re trying to achieve and then judge it properly with a long-term vison, have a long-term investment strategy, a long-term vision of how the game will look in the future and have benchmarks on the way.

You’ve spoken to coaches and club representatives and you’ve spelt that out, how was that received?

It’s hard to tell. I think in essence everyone does buy into a national vision where … if you like, our moon mission, is having our teams compete on the national stage with success looking like knockout stages. To do that we need players in top leagues and more professionals. And to do that we need to work collectively in an aligned system. I think people buy into that. Always the challenge is the capability to take your own vested hat off and put the central cause in the middle and see how you can be a beneficiary of that and contribute to that.

Unlike rugby and cricket, which is centralised, football is club based …

And we need to embrace that, it should be our strength, not our weakness. The key for me is how do you embrace ambition and allow people to grow into a space where they actually fulfil two wishes, their own and the national good.