The dying embers of the National Soccer League (NSL) were extinguished in 2004, on a mud-drenched, sodden pitch in Parramatta. It was a pitiless graveyard for a bygone era of Australian football, but there was one part of history that couldn’t be forgotten.

Two years before Australia’s greatest national team announced its return to the world stage, the 2004 NSL Grand Final featured the bedrock of Australian football talent. Despite a plethora of Australians playing across Europe, 20 Socceroos played that day, in front of barely 9,000 supporters.

There were only two foreigners between both squads. One of them didn’t play, the other was taken off after 60 minutes. The organisation, support and resources were in disarray, but the standard of Australian footballer – a ringing endorsement of youth development – was sensational.

Compare that to the 2017 A-League grand final. Parramatta’s forsaken pitch is replaced by the 50,000 capacity Allianz Arena. Every aspect of the match is tightly organised. There’s widespread media coverage and a fantastic atmosphere.

But instead of 20, there are only two current Socceroos on the pitch, and instead of one, there are nine foreign imports. Despite the growth of the league, there are also fewer Australians playing in Europe’s top leagues now than there were in 2004.

This disparity has many causes, but there’s one stark difference. The NSL’s best players were Australian and there was no need for foreign quotas. If they were good enough, young Aussies didn’t have to worry about imports taking their place.

Asia’s three strongest leagues in Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have the 3+1 rule, only allowing three foreigners from any country per club, in addition to an import from Asia. It’s a rule that’s been adopted by the Asian Champions League, and is quickly spreading throughout the region.