Plea to curb visa play­ers and nur­ture lo­cal tal­ent

Player agent John Gri­maud sees a new era of do­mes­tic stars

The Weekend Australian - - SPORT - RAY GATT SOC­CER

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

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