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Leaving so soon?

When the full details of the Mustafa Amini-Central Coast-Borussia Dortmund deal were fleshed out in the media last week, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the structure of the transfer that the Mariners and Dortmund agreed on was nothing short of brilliant. But it begs the question – have young Australian players been moving to European clubs from the local leagues in the ‘wrong’ way?

I should elaborate – it’s not that I don’t want our best talent to play their football overseas, as the ultimate aim is developing them to a good enough level to play for the national team. And the last thing A-League clubs want to be doing is projecting a negative image about their willingness to help their players realise their own individual European footballing dreams.

But it seems over the last few years, many young players have been leaving Australia prematurely.

Now, I should say that this isn’t always the case. Former A-League standouts like Nathan Burns, David Carney and Nikita Rukavytsya are getting good game time and contributing well to their respective European clubs. However, I’m talking about players like Bruce Djite, Adrian Leijer, Nick Carle, Ruben Zadkovich and Michael Theoklitos – who have all left the A-League in search of greener pastures in Europe, only to end up returning a year or two later. And the jury is still out on whether the European stints of fellow A-League graduates like Mitchell Langerak, Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Michael Zullo, Tommy Oar and Adam Sarota will be successful, or whether they too will return to our shores shortly.

Is it just a case of being unlucky and not fully taking chances when they present themselves in Europe? Possibly. Michael Theoklitos would be the first to say that he didn’t take his chances, few as they were, in his brief stay with Norwich City. But perhaps it’s that these players simply weren’t ready, prepared or mature enough.

The Mustafa Amini situation, however, is pleasing, as it is an example of how young players should ideally transition from A-League football to any of the top flight leagues in Europe. A European club comes along (such as German Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund), purchases the player from the A-League club, then loans the player back to that A-League club for the upcoming season. What this creates is as close to a win-win situation for the A-League club and the European club as possible. Firstly, the A-League club gets another season out of their young starlet, with full knowledge in advance that they will need to replace him before the next season begins. On the other side of the coin, the European club gets a player (be it one year later) that is more mature, has more game time and experience under their belt, and is both a better professional and a better player. Mariners coach Graham Arnold put it best when he said, “there are no losers from this deal – everyone is happy”.

What needs to happen now, though, is that the other nine A-League clubs need to sit up and take notice of how the Central Coast Mariners have gone about the Amini transfer. So that rather than sending an ill-prepared up-and-comer to a European club on a straight transfer (like the Oar-Sarota-Zullo move to FC Utrecht), where they’ll most likely play reserve or youth football and occasionally warm the bench for the seniors, the A-League clubs need to do what is best for the player, their own club, and Australian football as a whole. Prepare the player, help them mature, and give them the experience they will need in order to succeed on their first foray into Europe.

And it will not surprise me if, in five years time, Amini is still plying his trade in the top leagues of Europe and playing at venues like the 80,000 capacity Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund. Why? Because he, his agent and his A-League club went about his transfer the ‘right’ way. And, equally, it won’t shock me if, in that same five years, the next Djite and Zadkovich will have left for, and subsequently returned home from, Europe to the more casual and quiet surrounds of Perth Oval. Why? Because they simply weren’t ‘ready’.


About the author

avatarJustin is a passionate football fan, and the Editor-in-chief of Ultimate A-League.

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