Last week, after a process not without its fair share of skulduggery, Melbourne Victory’s attempts to construct an $18 million Academy out at Footscray Park were all but dashed when Maribyrnong City Council rejected the plan.
Though wrangling will no doubt continue – the council has indicated that they want to work with Victory to find a new location and Victory could pursue legal action to recoup some costs – the inability of Australia’s biggest club to construct an elite facility for its women and youth leaves said programs in a state of flux.
While the resourcing gap that was opened between Melbourne City and Victory in the W-League when the former entered the league has been well-publicised, the rejection of the academy also threatens to further widen the space that exists between the two Melbourne rivals’ academies.
Like its men’s and women’s sides, City’s Y-League side is based out of the club’s elite facilities on the campus of La Trobe University – with access to the same amenities of their senior equivalents.
Advocated for by former academy boss and now Singapore Technical Director Joe Palatsides, the move was made in order to make the youth players truly feel like part of the City setup and create a sense of belonging.
It also represents a powerful tool that City staff can use when they are out recruiting the next generation of academy talent – especially when contrasted with Victory’s dearth of similar resources for their elite youth.
It means that when it comes time to pitch to the best and brightest of Victoria’s talent, Victory’s academy staff are forced to compete with City recruiters that can offer an setup with better facilities, more junior Australian internationals, more A-League minutes for youngsters and the prospect of the club’s CFG connections greasing a path to Europe.
Some of those carrots are simply unmatchable by Victory’s staff – they can’t manufacture a global, oil-money backed conglomerate of their own to back the club nor can they control the minutes that Marco Kurz gives young players.
However, the proposed Footscray Park facility would have given them a valuable chip of their own when it came to winning the battle for talented teen’s hearts and minds by providing them with elite facilities of their own to pitch.
Unmistakably, there are clear signs of progress under new youth boss Drew Sherman at Victory.
The decision the club has made to abolish fees for players in their academy is a welcome move that will remove financial barriers for players and serve as a potent tool in their recruiting arsenal.
Players such as Josh Hope, Anthony Lesiotis, Matt Sutton, Ben Carrigan, Jay Barnett and Birkan Kirdar all possess the talent to earn senior minutes and provide an example of an academy to senior pathway that can be pointed to.
The club also remains the biggest and most successful player in town and, when combined with longevity, the majority of the current crop of Victorian youngsters being recruited should possess a greater affection for the Victory badge than City’s.