Once upon a time if you were an Australian player and playing in Europe, no matter what the club, it was seen as a great move on your behalf. The 90’s and early 2000’s saw a number of players littered throughout the leagues across the UK and various leagues in Europe. Harry Kewell was the golden boy of Australian soccer after establishing himself at Leeds United having joining them at 17 years of age. He is a very rare success story in a long line of Aussie players who have left our shores at a young age to try to break into the top leagues. Nowadays there is more scrutiny made over the destination of our players as the status of football has raised in Australia following the 2006 World Cup. Sometimes young Australians have left to take up offers in Europe without success- Adrian Leijer at Fulham in ’07 and Nick Carle at French side Troyes in ’02 are two examples. Often the lure of Europe is enough for a player to pack up his things and make the long trip across the world but often the move seems to stifle the development of some players and that is now the scenario that is facing one of Australia’s brightest prospects- Tom Rogic.
Rogic has been a vital part of the Central Coast Mariners march to the top of the A-league table. The 20-year-old midfielder has won rave reviews with his displays that have seen him score three goals in 11 matches with two assist. Last November he won his first cap for the Socceroos in a 2-1 friendly win over South Korea. Those performances caught the attention of Scottish champions Glasgow Celtic and on Monday the club confirmed that his work permit has been approved and transfer has been completed. Now the move seems to have sparked a debate among some of Australia’s more established football pundits. Both Les Murray and the extremely unlikable Craig Foster have both weighed in with their views on the subject. Before the transfer was completed Rogic was linked with a move to Reading FC who are currently sitting in the relegation zone in the Premier League. The potential move was met with some trepidation as it felt that a move to a side fighting relegation was not the right move for a player who likes to express his attacking prowess. Much like the attacking talents of Nicky Carle were wasted at Bristol City and then later at Crystal Palace.
The question no longer is whether it’s a good idea to go to Europe but what is the best league/ nation to go to? Also is it a good idea for players who are still so young and early in their football development to make moves to clubs that are in the lower divisions who’s standard of play is not that much higher than that of the A-League (I would rate the standard in Australia around the same as the lower half of the Championship or maybe League One level). Celtic certainly are a big club, there is no question about that. Yet the rest of the league leaves a lot to be desired. With the relegation of Rangers into the third tier of Scottish football Sky Sport have shown more Scottish Premier League matches that previously wouldn’t have found their way onto the screen and having watched one or two games I must say the standard is not that great. I was back in Australia in December and watched Sydney FC v Melbourne Heart and the standard wasn’t much different. So really what is the point of flying to the other side of the world to play in a league of similar standard?
Rogic will almost certainly win a Scottish title if he manages to break into the first team as Celtic are set to dominate the Scottish game as it’s pretty much a one horse race until Rangers return. At the moment the Scottish league is one that is based on pace and power, in recent memory it’s never been a league for creative playmakers to shine. The most recent stars at Celtic have either been center forwards (John Hartson, Hendrik Larrson) or wide players (Shunsuke Nakamura, Aiden McGeady). Traditionally the center pairing in midfield have been two physically imposing players in the, current Celtic coach, Neil Lennon mold. It could well mean a lot of time on the bench for Rogic but hopefully that’s not the case.
It is a recurring theme in the football narrative that a creative young player leaves the comfort of the club that has brought him to attention only to find their progression up the football ladder halted. A very recent example is Scott Sinclair at Manchester City. He is probably better known at the moment as the boyfriend of former Coronation Street ‘actress’ Helen Flanagan than as a footballer. That is because he has dropped off the football radar due to his inactivity. After impressing as a youth player at Bristol City Sinclair succumbed to the advances of the newly cashed up Chelsea and signed for them in 2005. What followed was four seasons of loan moves to six different clubs and 13 appearances for Chelsea. Realizing that his future laid elsewhere Sinclair left to join Swansea where he was vital in their promotion to the Premier League. His stats for that season were 50 appearances scoring 27 goals. He also helped Swansea finish 11th in the table in what was their first season in the Premier League. With his stock on the rise he was linked with a move to Manchester City in the off-season. Maybe thinking that he had unfinished business at a top club he made the move to the Citizens where, just like at Chelsea, he has spent most of his time on the bench. So far this season he has only made eight appearances in total.
Chelsea have a long list of former players in their squad history that were brought to the club under the tag of ‘the big thing’ only to find themselves on the bench, loaned out to a variety of clubs or in the reserves. Gael Kakuta, Daniel Strridge and Josh McEachran to name but a few. But it would be wrong to only accuse Chelsea of stifling talent progression as nearly all clubs are guilty of this. Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique both had to leave Manchester United to get game time and that’s worked out well for both (especially for Pique). One player who was widely tipped to be a future England star is current Tottenham Hotspur player John Bostwock. At 15 years of age the Daily Mail was already linking him with a move to either Chelsea, Manchester United or Barcelona. Bostwock debuted for Crystal Palace as a 15-year-old and became the subject of a move to Spurs in 2008. After signing a five-year contract he went with then manager Juande Ramos squad for pre-season training. But Ramos was sacked that season and he found playing time under new manager Harry Redknapp hard to come by. His attitude was questioned by Redknapp which probably resulted in him being loaned out to four different clubs since 2009. Currently he is playing for Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town trying to resurrect his career. Another new manager at Spurs may have helped his chances of breaking into the Spurs side as Andre Villas-Boas does give youth a chance (as Steven Caulker and Kyle Naughton can attest) but it would seem unlikely.
Despite these examples of development stagnation it shouldn’t mean that Rogic’s decision will follow the same path. In fact there are examples where the move has worked out well for players- Brett Emerton for one. After learning his trade at Sydney Olympic he moved to Feyenoord at 21 years old. Emerton established himself in the Dutch side for three seasons before securing a move to Blackburn Rovers where he had a successful career. Ultimately when you strip it back the reason most people in Australia are concerned/ interested in Rogic’s move is because they care about his future and his progression as he could potentially be a star for Australia. The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ is reaching its end for the Socceroos and there would appear to be a talent void. Players who have been asked to take-over certain rolls have failed to convince. But there is also a danger in over hyping youngsters as it can place too much unnecessary pressure on them. Take the case of Michael Johnson who was recently released by Manchester City as an example.
The biggest loser in this move is the A-League (and I guess the Mariners) it’s been robbed of a star in a league that struggles to attract crowds on a consistent basis. Tommy Oar and Nathan Burns are two other exciting players that have left the A-League in recent years in search of richer football pastures, both have had varying degrees of success. Would they have benefited from staying in the A-League for another season or two? It’s very hard to tell. But going to a league where you’re not playing football is probably an ill-advised move. I couldn’t disagree more with former Socceroo’s manager Pim Verbeeks assessment that it was better for Australian players to train in Europe (and not play) than it was to play in the A-league. It’s a very uninspiring and damning statement to make from the Dutchmen but no amount of training can compare to what happens on the football pitch. It is on the field where you’re judged, where you’re decision-making, talent and discipline are all exposed. For Rogic’s sake I hope he’s made the right choice.