Mentoring our youngsters

Young footballers need help both on and off the pitch, it's now my role to make sure they get that.

As some of you may have read in recent months, I now have a new role with FFA as an elite player mentor/liaison manager, which means I-m a point of contact for young footballers in regards to anything on or off the field.

This is something we-re taking to all Hyundai A-League clubs, and there are a couple of key areas we want to cover.

Firstly, I want to help young footballers get back that real desire to represent your country. Which then means we have to hit home that education is important, because players have a lot of spare time a lot of them do fall by the wayside as they progress through the ranks. And I want to give some clarity on the role of player managers.

Representing your country is a great opportunity and I want to instil that pride again. Sometimes it can come very quickly to players and if you don-t respect it, you can lose it just as quickly.

It-s my role to give those kids the harsh facts about being a professional footballer. For example, in my 1993 U-20s World Cup group, there were only four of us that made it out of that squad of 23 players - Kevin Muscat, Ante Milicic, Paul Agostino and myself.

And it-s almost as important to show young players what not do. I can certainly help there - I-ve lived a life, I-ve had a career, I played with the national team for 15 years. There are a lot of things I could have done differently.

I certainly wish I-d chased up an education while I had so many spare hours on my hands. It-s very important you have that opportunity to switch off. For some it-s great if every minute of every day is consumed by football but it-s far healthier if you have other interests.

I-m at an age now at 36 I-m looking to do those kinds of things. But our kids have got a great opportunity with the My Football Career pathways where they can be doing it at 18-19 years old, when they need that guidance the most.

We saw some of that that in Holger Oseick-s comments in regards to Tommy Rogic in the Socceroos squad announcement this week. I-m 100 per cent behind everything Holger said in that press conference. We have a habit in this country of heaping too much pressure on young players who have only shown glimpses and that-s not enough.

It-s difficult for these young players when they-re trying to find themselves in a team environment and find their feet within a club, and all the media hype can be too much to handle. We want to protect these young players and help their development but also do it away from the limelight.

Of course, all young players have ambitions and dreams but it-s my role to explain the structure of a football career, how it works and what obstacles they may run into.

Which brings me to player agents and managers, I know there-s been a bit of concern with agents thinking I-m going to recommend all the players to the PFA - the younger players should be going to the PFA and I don-t believe players that are moving from club to club within the A-League need an agent.

But there will come a time when our players go overseas - and that is still what we want - when managers will play a part. At no time will I ever make a decision for any of these boys. But what I will be doing is trying to inform them of how it all works and how going to the right club, in the right country at the right time - and getting the right manager - is very important in their career.

I won-t be recommending people. I-m not going to say, “No, you shouldn-t have an agent”, because I had one for 12 years. But if there does come a time when you need an agent it-s important to choose the right one.

There are a lot of fantastic agents out there but there are dodgy ones as well. The good ones are very good; they-re not only there for your football needs but they-re there for your family, to see whether you-re settled into an area, whether you-re educating yourself, that you-re investing your money and not wasting it. The good agents and managers understand this and surround their player with everything they need to have a career in the game.

For example, when I was playing away and my family wasn-t well, my agent was there at my door, making sure they were OK, so that made me and my family feel it was more than just a business arrangement. It-s important to spend some time to get to know someone you-re thinking of working with for a period of time.

I want to see our game improve. I want to see our future teams do better than any I was involved in, I want players to have better careers than ours.

Five years ago we had four or five boys in Romania - the likes of Josh Rose, Jacob Burns, Ryan Griffiths, Jon McKain, Michael Baird, Michael Thwaite - and they were stuck. They lost two or three years of their career and these are the kind of things we want to stop. A footballer-s career is a short one so you don-t want to lose time by making the wrong choice.

Thankfully, the A-League is going great guns now, we-ve created massive interest and we-ve shown there-s a pathway from the A-League to the Socceroos, which is great if you-re a young player now coming through the ranks. Establish yourself in the league, be one of the mainstays in your team and you-re in a fantastic position. We didn-t have that when I was coming up, it was overseas or nothing.

And that-s why it-s so important to me to try to help these players. I know what wasn-t there for me and what would-ve helped.

Already they-ve been very responsive. I spent a couple of days in Portugal with the U-20s side a few weeks ago and it was great.

I introduced my role and what I was there for - I had nothing to do with the coaching staff whatsoever, I was there for the players and the response was excellent. The players were hovering about in the corridor waiting to speak to me. I had four or five boys that were really keen to talk about their position in their careers and that-s what it-s all about.

It-s something I-ve been doing for the past two years with players like Daniel Bowles at Adelaide, Corey Brown at Brisbane Roar, Zac Anderson at Central Coast, Alastair Quinn who-s gone from Brisbane to Western Sydney. My passion is to help the kids make better decisions. And the bonus of that is if we can help that process we-re going to have better players and better national teams.