By most measures Australian players simply don’t play enough matches, but now that the FA has finalised the new domestic match calendar we finally have a reliable framework to build on to solve this problem.
My simple solution to add senior games to the calendar is by elevating the Y-League to a senior level competition that is contested not by separate Y-League teams, but by each clubs’ existing A-League squads.
The former Y-League struggled for attention and relevance. In it’s recent final form it saw two conferences play 10 matches a season. This competition was contested by a separate Y-League squad largely in isolation from the A-League.
It allowed youth development to be an afterthought and the few players with Y-League experience who made a name for themselves, did so not in the Y-League, but in the A-League or in subsequent Senior NPL squads.
The Y-League did not play enough games, nor connect clearly up to the A-League or down to the NPL. It was a youth competition stuck in existential purgatory that largely failed to drive interest or talent.
If we want to develop players to a global standard we can’t have them playing in isolated youth competitions, they need to be stretched beyond their levels and expose themselves to Senior Level football.
The Y-League as a brand can continue, but the competition itself must be elevated to a senior level competition.
To make this happen I suggest:
- Increasing the A-League squad limits to 30 players
- Maintaining the spirit of the Y-League by ensuring the competition has tighter youth policies (for example the competition may require 6 of the starting players to be U23)
- Create competitive relevance for A-League clubs by awarding competition winners with salary cap exceptions (for example allowing teams to register extra U23 players outside the cap)
By elevating the competition to a senior level we can ensure it is taken more seriously, provides more meaningful match minutes for youth, and doesn’t detract from the A-League or FFA Cup the way other potential new tournaments would as it is a known brand that has peacefully coexisted in the ecosystem (even if just by virtue of its irrelevance).
Increasing the number of senior games through the Y-League also means:
- We can fulfil AFC rules easily,
- add more games for players and,
- reduce the number of A-League games to make the competition a simple home and away regular season!
The Y-League competition itself can be more experimental with features including match-day youth policies, different substitute policies, regional games, conferences etc.
I think the new Y-League can fit in one of two windows:
- In the first part of the season during the weekdays (Tuesday/Wednesday). This compliments the A-League regularity and the season end coincides with the transfer window allowing young players who can’t establish themselves in the first team to move to NST teams.
- As a weekend competition alongside the FFA Cup finals. This would serve as more of a pre-season tournament but would provide football to teams knocked out of the competition.
Y-League fixtures at a Senior Level would also assist club lobbying for mini-stadia which could be used a proper club home grounds (allowing clubs to also host their W-League games at appropriate football managed venues)!
What do you think?