Looking for the stars of 2022 World Cup

The years of 1991 and '92 have turned out to be very productive in the make up of the current Socceroos team. In those two calendar years, seven of the current squad were born.

Jason Davidson, Matt Leckie, Tom Juric and Tommy Oar were born in 1991 and Matt Ryan, Trent Sainsbury and Massimo Luongo came along the following year.

This group of 22 and 23-year-olds provide a youthful core in a squad with an average age of 26.4 years.

Not every year will produce a future Socceroo, because there are so many variables along the elite player pathway, but the job of coaches everywhere in Australia is to make sure no one slips through the net.

That was the task at the annual National Training Centre (NTC) Challenge in Canberra last month, one of Australia's most important talent identification tournaments.

All the States and Territories are represented by boys teams and there were 37 games played over six days. The girls' NTC Challenge followed a similar format last August.

This year in the boys' NTC, the focus was on players born in 1999 and 2000. These players are 14 and 15 year olds from across Australia, as identified for their potential by NTC coaches after an eight-month selection process.

The objective is to identify young players with a potential to become a future professional and perhaps progress to representing Australia's national teams.

In this regard, the NTC class of 2014 is on a pathway that could take them into the possibility of playing in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. If we could produce future Socceroos, as occurred from the 1991 and '92 generations, it would be a fantastic outcome.

The work of identifying the talent at the NTC Challenge falls to the Technical Study Group (TSG). It's made up of National Team coaches, the FFA Centre of Excellence Technical Director, the

TDs from the States and Territories and the Head Coaches of the NTCs across the nation.

The TSG has the job of selecting an All Stars Team, representing the most talented players born in 1999 and 2000.

During the week the TSG evaluated the players on a scale measuring six competences. These are Mentality of a Winner, Personality, Emotional Stability, Physical Competence with a high focus on Explosiveness, Insight in the Game (decision making) and Body and Ball control (technical ability).

The TSG also took into account Relative Age Effect (RAE) and Biological Maturity (early mature, normal mature or late developer).

The RAE is an assessment made between players born early in a calendar year in comparison to those born late in the year. When a player has just turned 14, he or she may be some way behind in terms of development of a fellow 14 year old who could be 11 months older.

Tthe RAE in combination with biological advancement (or arrears) played an important role in the assessment of players.

On Friday evening, players and their parents were invited to the AIS Theatre to attend the announcement of the All Stars Team, and the individual awards for the most talented outfield player and goalkeeper.

Let me congratulate Josh Hope from Tasmania, who was named outfield  player of the tournament and Finn Matheson, the  Queensland goalkeeper. They were honoured as most talented players on show.

As part of the presentation, I spoke to the players and parents about the six competencies model and reflected my thoughts about the way Australian youth development must improve to compete with the best in the world in the future.

Some of my observations related to individuals. It takes dedication and application to become a professional player. You must constantly strive to improve every facet of development. Players also need to put in the hours and the hard work.

There's also the collective response. The best players must be assembled in the best teams and play their peer group under the guidance of highly qualified coaches.  Under the pressure of high-level competition, improvement comes from having to survive in this intense environment.

In both individual and collective development, Australia needs coaches to provide the proper education, environment, structures and mentoring for young players. That's why the FFA elite player pathway is as much about the education of coaches and the development of players.

Other speakers in Canberra included Peter De Roo as the TD of the Centre of Excellence, who explained the program for scholarship players, and Craig Moore, who as an FFA football adviser FFA spoke about career planning. 

Ange Postecoglou, the Head Coach of the Socceroos, was a keen observer during the week. None of the players at the NTC Challenge will be ready for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, but the fact that Ange spent some many hours looking into the future shows that the nation is getting serious about addressing our elite player pathway.