Since the birth of the A-League, the standard of play has improved, bigger names are being drawn to Australia and talented youngsters have been given a larger and more noticeable platform on to which to shine.
We could debate the quality of the prospects coming through now compared to 15, 20 years ago, but that’s another discussion.
The fact is the A-League is gaining more and more exposure to overseas scouts and managers and there are some young guns in our own backyard ripe for being picked up by European or Asian clubs looking for talent.
Here are my picks for the best youngsters in the league, most likely to depart our shores in the near future.
The talented striker has gone from strength to strength since returning home from his four year spell with Blackburn Rovers’ youth academy. While his two years with Perth Glory hinted at his potential, his move to Brisbane Roar last year saw him capitalize on it. 25 appearances, 20 goals and the Young Player of the Year award was a fitting result for the frontman, who spearheaded Brisbane’s surge to the semi-finals. Armed with pace, composed finishing and a poacher’s instinct to be in the right place at the right time, Maclaren has earned the reputation of Australia’s most ruthless young striker. His superb season earned him a debut for the Socceroos against England and it would be no surprise to see him lead the line in their qualification campaign for Russia 2018. At just 22 years of age, he’s young enough – and talented enough – to earn another crack at Europe.
Risdon has been one of the best fullbacks in the league for some time now, but over the last two years he has raised his game. Now undisputedly the league’s best right back, his performances for Perth Glory propelled him into Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos setup. Combining menacing attacking runs with great on-field awareness and sturdy defending, the 23 year-old has improved every year since his debut in 2010, adding strength and an improved work rate over the course of his time in the league. At this stage of his career, there isn’t too much for him to be gained by staying in the A-League; if he wants to continue to improve and nail down the Socceroos’ right back spot, his best bet is to head to Europe. After five seasons with the Glory, it’s a move most Perth faithful would agree he fully deserves.
Since his arrival at Melbourne Victory in 2012, Geria has slowly but surely turned into, first as a strong defender who looks destined to leave for overseas sooner rather than later. While his early years at the club were marked by inconsistency, combining confident performances with erratic ones, there was enough there to suggest the Victory should persist with him. This past season he finally cut out the error-riddled showings of the past, and turned in assured displays on a more frequent basis, despite battling injury. Making the right back spot his own, an improved game at both ends of the field gave Victory fans something to smile about after a disappointing season. Having just won himself his maiden Socceroos appearance, if he can pick up from where he left off last season, expect Europe or Asia to come calling.
It’s been somewhat of a meteoric rise for the Kenyan-born flyer. A couple of years ago he was another youngster making his A-League bow for his hometown club Adelaide United. Now, the winger has emerged as one of the league’s most exciting prospects off the back of a breakthrough season in South Australia. After finding game-time hard to come by early in the season, Kamau eventually forced himself into Guillermo Amor’s first team plans and repaid the faith, making 18 appearances and scoring three goals including the opener in the Grand Final. With his electrifying pace and dashing runs, Kamau drew comparisons with former Reds winger Awer Mabil and made a big move in the off-season, signing for Melbourne City. If he can match his production levels at his new club, a move overseas awaits.
The dashing midfielder with an eye for goal turned heads with a number of glowing performances for Brisbane Roar two years ago. Prior to last season, it looked like he would be one of the best young players in the league after a superb goal and performance against Villareal in a friendly. However, Clut surprisingly failed to impress new coach John Aloisi and was unable to crack the Brisbane side. Desperate for an exit, he inked a two-year deal with the Newcastle Jets in the off-season. The move should mean he’ll see more game time and hopefully will be able to kickstart his stalling career. Clut will be out to prove Aloisi wrong this season, and based on his past performances, he’s got more than enough talent to do so. If he performs like he did when he broke onto the scene a few years ago, everyone else had better watch out.