A new study says the Socceroos' 'Golden Generation' was an outlier in Australia's football talent pool and suggests ways to improve youth development.
The success of the Socceroos' 'Golden Generation' was an outlier, with the talent pool of today a matter of Australia reverting to the mean, according to a study completed by Australia's players' union.
In the study, 17 'Golden Generation' footballers - born between 1972 and 1984 - were interviewed including John Aloisi, Josip Skoko and Alex Wilkinson.
It aimed to identify what those 'Golden Generation' players had in common and found recurring crucial factors included playing backyard soccer at a young age, an early exposure to senior football, and connection to a particular club.
"The reality is that based on Australia's innate attributes, our performance today is probably 'normal', whereas for one golden moment in time, the stars aligned to create special conditions and special players," the report said.
"We have not failed since then. We have regressed to the mean."
The report, completed by the PFA and Victoria University, followed the 2017 Player Pathway study, which identified a decline in Australian footballers playing in Europe's top five leagues and highlighted a dearth of young players earning professional minutes.
Between 1997 and 2017, the number of boys under 15 registered to play football rose from 208,600 to 531,909, but in that time the minutes Australian players earned across the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 dropped from 28,860 to 5,995.
With some of those 'Golden Generation' players suggesting modern young players were over-coached, the new report suggested a focus on more unstructured football and prioritising investment in and access to outdoor football courts to help maximise young players' enjoyment and exposure to free play.
Aloisi also noted players who didn't settle into development pathways or academies early often fell through the cracks - while others were often written off early on based on what they couldn't do - rather than their strengths.
He cited the emergence of Jamie Maclaren and Adam Taggart after Australia had struggled to deliver goal scoring strikers in recent years.
"I think once you're not in the pathway at the moment you sort of get lost, and we're quick to judge and say 'he's got the ability to be a player' - everyone develops at different stages," he said at the report's presentation.
"Everyone's got different make-up. Hopefully with Jamie Mclaren and Adam Taggart we've finally got strikers again, but we lost that ability to have goal scoring strikers.
"They were goalscorers (but) we first of all wanted to make them all-round players."