Brisbane Roar and Sydney FC did enough to stay top of their respective conferences as the Y-League moved past the halfway point of the 2019/20 season last weekend - Brisbane thumping Adelaide and Sydney surviving a scare against Canberra. Just how much, though, does a win in the Y-League mean?
Welcome to the Y-League, the competition where everything's made up and the results don't matter!
With apologies to Drew Carey for the paraphrasing, such a statement – though obvious in its significant hyperbole – does carry some truth with it when it comes to Australia’s premier junior competition.
With the league not broadcast in any fashion and highlights few and far between, results are often the only thing that fans of clubs are able to go off when attempting to ascertain what level of talent is coming through their academy.
However, as a quick peruse of triumphant squads at U17 or U20 World Cups could tell you, winning games at a junior level is not the ultimate indicator of future success.
To begin with, coaches in the Y-League after often operating behind the eight ball before a ball is kicked thanks to a lack of training time with their squads.
Thanks to players on the precipice of A-League football training almost full-time with their club’s senior sides, Y-League coaches have precious little, if any, chances to game-plan or put in place structures with their sides ahead of game day.
“I think a lot about defending is about playing with those alongside you and building those relationships and having an understanding of how each other plays,” youth coach Lachlan Armstrong told FTBL last week.
“It is easier to set up teams in attack than it is in defence, especially if you don’t get to work with them day in and day out. Maybe that’s why we're seeing some average to poor defending, as a result.”
Beyond that, of course, is the important caveat that the primary aim of academies and junior is not to win football games – but to produce players that are capable of contributing minutes at an A-League level.
Is the academy that wins the Y-League but sends only two players to the senior team doing a better job than the academy that struggles in the Y-League but sends a half dozen?
Controlling for specific circumstances at senior level that may affect playing opportunities for youngsters, if an academy is regularly sending players to Australia’s U17, U19 and U23 sides and transferring players to overseas clubs but failing to get results on the field, are they considered a failure?
That’s not to say that the pursuit of triumph is to be totally discarded at a youth level.
Albeit in a more abstract manner than kicking a ball or laying a tackle, winning football games is a learned skill.
The ability to defend a lead when the opposition is throwing everything at you in pursuit of an equaliser, maintain clear and incisive thinking in pursuit of a winner as fatigue kicks in or find the internal strength to claw back a deficit and take a lead are – amongst others – mental aspects of the game that can only be learned by doing.