A-League legend Archie Thompson says the NSL's standard was greater than the A-League, and more professional teams are needed for the competition to improve.
Thompson is the third highest scorer in A-League history, with 90 goals in 224 appearances for Melbourne Victory between 2005 and 2016.
The enigmatic striker also made 54 national team appearances for Australia, including two successful World Cup qualifying campaigns.
After retiring from a stellar club career that spanned 20 years and included stints in Europe, Thompson, now a commentator with Fox Sports, feels there needs to be more professional clubs.
“The standard needs to get better,” he told FourFourTwo. “The quality of players needs to get better.
“There needs to be more pathways and opportunities for kids coming through. I remember playing in the old NSL and the beauty was that we had so many teams, so there were more opportunities.
“If you were good enough at 16 or 17 you went straight into the first team and that was your opportunity.
"I just don’t know if we have the depth that we did back then. That’s probably my only issue.”
Thompson believes this depth meant the NSL had greater quality players than the A-League, and that regional areas must stop being ignored.
“Professionalism and structure is where the A League has helped and grown the game," he said.
“But I still believe the NSL quality of player was better. There are probably a million players out there in the country that are not getting the opportunity.
“That’s the sad thing about it, but how do you fix that? It’s hard. The problem is you have to have success straight away, so clubs don’t use the local talent.
“Clubs prefer to bring in established players that do have the talent, and these players almost treat it as a piss-take - they get good coin and drive up there and do what they have to do.
“They don’t really care about the area but they’re getting their money So how do you grow it?
"That’s what’s happened since my time at Gippsland.
“They’ve had talented players come in, thought that’s not saying they’re just there for the coin, but did they care about the area?
“Were they passionate about growing football in the country? No. It’s a tough one because there are a lot of good players out there that are missing out.”
Looking to the game’s future, in 5 -10 seasons Thompson said he’d like to see an Aussie youngster playing at the highest level.
“I would like football to be right up there with the NRL and AFL in terms of popularity, exposure and money,” he said.
“Because if we had the resources and the budget that those guys have I can’t imagine what our sport would do.
“I’d like to think we’d be a real force in Asia, especially in the Asian Champions League and that we'd develop more players over in the top leagues in Europe.
“We’d have an Aaron Mooy that doesn’t play for Huddesfield but plays for Manchester City or Manchester United or Real Madrid. Like a Harry Kewell or a Mark Viduka.
“I’d like to see an Australian in the Real Madrid or Barcelona team.”