There are many things wrong with Australian soccer, but the quality of our production-line of young talent is not among them.
True, the national league is starting to be adversely affected by the number of Australian players now competing overseas. And true, too many of these youngsters are being influenced into believing in their own publicity, mostly by agents who stand to profit from this misapprehension.
But the seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of talent across the country shows no sign of diminishing. There is now a new generation of young stars ready to shine, as the current season has emphasised.
The name on everyone’s lips in recent months has been Paul Agostino, the West Adelaide starlet whose wiry physique has helped him to flourish in his debut season in the NSL. Agostino, like so many young Australians, will move to Europe as soon as his home commitments permit, possibly to Holland, where PSV Eindhoven are keen on his signature.
The fact that Agostino has been able to score six goals in a fairly poor team against players often five to 10 years older suggests he will have few problems with the transition to the professional ranks. He has the pace, the temperament and the build to succeed.
Young strikers remain our most desirable soccer export, and Agostino is not alone in carving out a name for himself in his rookie season. Sydney Croatia teenager Ante Milicic is another who has demonstrated tremendous potential. Quick, lively and with a poacher’s instinct in front of the posts, he has banged in 28 goals in just 21 youth league games. Unfortunately, Sydney Croatia are not renowned for giving their youngsters an early start in the top grade, so we will have to wait and see whether Milicic can reproduce such impressive statistics in the NSL. A lot of keen judges are betting he will.
The other forwards to catch the eye include Melbourne Croatia pair Ollie Pondeljak and Joe Bacak, who have often deputised for the experienced Ivan Kelic and Francis Awaritefe, the pint-sized Joe Barbaro from Adelaide City, and late developer Chris Slater, a Mackay-bred player who has made an impact with the surprise team of the season, Brisbane United. In terms of skill, there have not been many better young performers than Con Boutsianis, who has a habit of scoring vital goals and who has tormented many defenders down either flank for reigning champions South Melbourne.
At the other end of the park, there have also been newcomers who have impressed – chief among them Heidelberg United’s rugged defender Kevin Muscat. Talk to seasoned NSL players, and they admit to being surprised at the confidence, almost arrogance, of the youth international captain. Not only does Muscat have a ruthless streak, he can also bring the ball out from the back with consummate ease.
The same could be said of Peter Tsekenis, sold by St George to Sydney Olympic and well-equipped to replace Ned Zelic when the Socceroo sweeper moves to Europe after the Olympics. Less skilled but no less important has been young fullback Andrew Roberts, who has the speed and tenacity to become a regular for Newcastle Breakers. In the same vein, all-action midfielder Matthew Horsley has been a cornerstone of the success of Wollongong City. Horsley has impressed many observers with his work-rate, and must be considered unlucky not to have made the Olympic (under-23) team.
Other rookies to have made an impression include talented Marconi-Fairfield winger Steve Corica, who at last looks ready to live up to his potential, the skilful utility Paul Souris from Apia-Leichhardt, and young playmaker Michael Reda, who has struggled in the last half of the season but who showed enough early on to suggest he will be a fine performer for Parramatta Melita.
SYDNEY OLYMPIC: Peter Tsekenis
SYDNEY CROATIA: Ante Milicic
MARCONI-FAIRFIELD: Steve Corica
PARRAMATTA MELITA: Michael Reda
APIA-LEICHHARDT: Paul Souris
WOLLONGONG CITY: Matt Horsley
NEWCASTLE BREAKERS: Andrew Roberts
SOUTH MELBOURNE: Con Boutsianis
HEIDELBERG UNITED: Kevin Muscat
MELBOURNE CROATIA: Ollie Pondeljak
PRESTON: Robert Stojcevksi
WEST ADELAIDE: Paul Agostino
ADELAIDE CITY: Joe Barbaro
BRISBANE UNITED: Chris Slater
Sydney Morning Herald