Plea to curb visa players and nurture local talent
Player agent John Grimaud sees a new era of domestic stars
As one of the leading player agents in Australia, John Grimaud makes it his business to do the hard yards, travelling long distances and spending a large amount of time searching for the best young talent in the country.
A self-described “mentor”, he has an almost manic determination to see A-League clubs provide more opportunities to young Australian players to develop in the national competition.
Which is why he says he is extremely frustrated at what he sees as a lack of courage and foresight of clubs and coaches, who are more intent on “wasting time and space on some second-rate foreign players” than looking to give our rich vein of talent an opportunity.
“Nothing excites fans more than a young, fresh, brave talent with energy and enthusiasm to make a mark,” Grimaud told The Weekend Australian.
“We are on the cusp of an exciting era ... just look at the Australian under-20s squad.
“Angry is probably not the right word, but I am certainly frustrated by the lack of belief in these kids. I see so much great talent out there and it is going to waste.”
It is not hard to feel his frustration, especially when you look at the A-League this season and the emergence of the likes of Perth Glory’s Jacob Italiano (16), Melbourne City duo Daniel Arzani (19) and Nathan Atkinson (18).
Throw in Melbourne Victory’s Christian Theoharous (18), 17year-old Rahmat Akbari (Brisbane Roar), Apostolos Stamatelopoulos (18) from Adelaide United and Western Sydney’s Keanu Bacchus (19) and Grimaud makes a convincing case for his argument. Italiano and Atkinson aside, most of these players have only been getting bit-part appearances, mainly as substitutes.
Grimaud has no doubts the numbers of young players and their game time could be improved and he believes the way to do it is to reduce the amount of visa players in the A-League.
As it stands now, clubs are allowed five foreigners — a figure Grimaud believes is too high.
It’s a thorny subject, given most clubs have stridently opposed any reduction because they believe the foreigners not only bring class to the competition but help boost the interest of fans.
Certainly, in players like Sydney trio Milos Ninkovic, Adrian Mierzejewski and Bobo, Perth’s Diego Castro, Newcastle’s Pato Rodriguez, Victory’s Leroy George and Massimo Maccarone at Brisbane, you have top-quality foreigners who fit the bill.
But for every decent foreign player, there are two who don’t hit the mark. They are the mistakes, Grimaud says, the clubs and the game cannot afford.
“Do we need so many visa players? Absolutely not.
“I would like to see the number reduced to say three plus one Asian player, though that could be an issue because we just can’t attract the really decent Asian players under our salary cap.
“So, for me, the ideal number would be three and that would stop clubs signing a foreigner for the sake of it.
“As it stands now, I believe we are getting some second-rate foreigners who add absolutely nothing to the league.”
Grimaud, who counts the likes of Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie and Brandon Borrello on his books, believes a reduction will not only force A-League coaches to look more to local talent but it would make them more circumspect in regards to the visa players they actually sign.
“If you only have three then you are going to be very careful as to who you sign. You will need to have very good scouting because you cannot afford to make a mistake in this department,” he said. “With five, you have room to move and making a mistake isn’t too bad.”
In contrast to Grimaud’s view, Perth Glory chief executive Peter Filopoulos and highly regarded agent Lou Sticca stopped short of calling for a reduction.
Instead they believe a better option is to force clubs to include more under-20s or under-21 players on the matchday teamsheet.
“I’d rather see a mandate that of the matchday squad of 16, you must have three under-21 players involved,” Filopoulos, one of the most forward thinkers in the game, said.
Sticca says the age limit should be even lower. “My position is clear, FFA needs to have three under-20s on every teamsheet for the full A-League season.”
Whether the clubs are prepared to listen remains to be seen.
Championship-winning coach Graham Arnold has built the Sky Blues’ success on his eye for decent foreign players.
While he is an advocate of Australian talent, using it to great effect when he took Central Coast Mariners to the title in 2013, he has had a set view that having Australian talent in the squad can be detrimental because players usually spend long periods away on international duty.
Arnold caused much debate recently when he said the ALeague is not a development league. “I was maybe the only coach who looked at the international program before the season started.
“I don’t understand what the fuss is about. I did not a hear a comment about the young players going, but I didn’t know the ALeague was a development league,” Arnold said.
“It’s a meaningful competition in which clubs expect to win trophies.”
‘We are getting some second-rate foreigners, who add absolutely nothing to the league’ JOHN GRIMAUD PLAYER AGENT