In just over three months, 21 of Australia’s most promising prospects will experience the biggest moment in their burgeoning footballing careers.
On October 26, Australia’s U17 boy’s side – the Joeys – will take the field against South American side Ecuador in the first of their three group stage matches at the 2019 U17 World Cup; the biennial FIFA tournament showcasing some of the finest teenage talents in the world.
Led by Head Coach Trevor Morgan, the side will then clash with European nation Hungary on October 29 before concluding the group stages with one of the most daunting challenges in youth football: a meeting with African powerhouses Nigeria on November 1.
30 prospective members of the Joeys’ World Cup squad are currently ensconced in a training camp in the nation’s capital, the penultimate gathering of the side before Morgan and his staff make a decision on the makeup of the final 21 that will earn a seat on the plane to the Brazil-hosted tournament.
Thanks to a piece of serendipitous timing, the first night of that camp coincided with the drawing of the World Cup’s groups; enabling the youngsters to learn their upcoming opponents as a unit.
Speaking to dailyfootballshow.com from Canberra, Morgan said that the event had served to help crystallise the importance of the coming tournament for his side.
“The things that were said at the draw, about the importance of being U17 World Cup players, and (former Nigerian international) Celestine Babayaro saying what he felt at the tournament, I think that made it very real for them,” Morgan said.
“There’s a great buzz about the group and yet, obviously, being a group of 30 players there are still a few hurdles to jump before making that final squad.”
Of the 30 players assembled in Canberra, 21 are attached to A-League sides, four are currently on the books at NPL NSW clubs and five are plying their fledgling trade overseas.
With the tournament just over three months away, chances for youngsters to press a case for selection at the World Cup are shrinking, but Morgan was disinclined to declare that his final 21 would be exclusively drawn from the 30 players currently in camp.
“I think we’ll leave drawing our line in the sand a little bit longer yet,” Morgan explained.
“We have another camp in August and I think we can keep ourselves quite open until then. What I’m trying to do is give people opportunities as they progress at their club level – the young players you want to give them as many chances as possible – and there are one or two players we wanted in this camp that are not here and obviously we want to give them a chance.”
The 2019 U17 World Cup is a notable occasion for Australian football in that it marks the first occasion that Australia has qualified for a youth World Cup since the closure of the FFA Centre of Excellence (CoE) at the AIS in 2017.
Thirteen members of Australia’s 2015 squad – including Daniel Arzani, James Delianov and Joe Caletti – were members of the CoE at the time of the tournament whilst only four – Pierce Waring, Lucas Derrick, Nicholas Sorras and Jonathan Vakirtzis – were attached to A-League clubs.
In 2015 the numbers were even greater; 15 members of Jan Versleijen’s squad drawn from the Canberra institution.
With his squad now set to come from club sides that sit outside of his control, the CoE’s closure has added a new dimension to preparations for Morgan, who was appointed to his post ahead of the 2018 AFC U16 Championship in mid-2018.
But, whilst the decision to close the CoE has led to a vociferous debate amongst the Australian footballing zeitgeist on the development its young talent, the Joeys’ gaffer says he doesn’t believe the change will negatively affect his team’s cohesion come October.
“I think the relationship (between the Joeys’ staff and A-League clubs) is fantastic,” he said.
“I discuss with them how a player is progressing, and they usually tell me their story: ‘he played up this week and we thought he was a bit flat, so we dropped him back’ for example.
“I think, really, just gently showing a genuine interest in the boys and constantly staying in contact is a very good starting point. If they ask me if I want something, of course, I’m going to give my opinion, but I think the most important thing is you show an interest in the player.”
“Whenever they finish a camp we give fairly detailed feedback to the club about what we saw – without saying what they should do when they’re back there – but rather what we observed in the camp with the things we want them to do (with the Joeys).
“We usually send a video to go with that, plus we have a chat when we send the report through. At the moment I’m happy with the communication with the clubs and they’re very responsive as well, they’re keen to help their kids progress.
“(The players) go home after camp, but there’s a very good relationship between them.
“We brought some boys into the trip in Turkey (March’s UEFA ASSIST Tournament) who never played for Australia and in the three months since then they’ve been in daily contact with their roommate, someone they never knew before.
“There are other boys that have played each other at national youth championships and in the national youth league, so they know each other well. They’ve also been in camp over the last two years quite a lot of them so, although they don’t’ see each other every day, they’ve been in constant contact.
“To be honest, I think the culture within the team that the leadership group drives the team; there’s a lot of camaraderie, a good attitude, helping each other. They’re a tight group.
“At the moment, there’s five members of the leadership group: Ryan Teague – the captain of the team – Noah Botić, two of the central defenders Daniel Walsh and Jordan Courtney-Perkins and then Adam Pavlesić.
“They’re all boys that have shown as being someone within their group as someone who could run a meeting based on technical, tactical footage. I only need to speak quietly to the boys to say we need this done and this and to make sure everyone’s on time and there are no issues with that.
“They drive everything and they contribute around the place in terms of getting those things done and communicating with players so it doesn’t become the coach always demanding things.”