OPINION: Danny Hay bemoans the decline of our national league and the apathy of the organisation overseeing it.
New Zealand Football's domestic premiership - success, failure, does anyone even care?
I'd lean towards the latter, because that's the attitude the organisation which oversees the league seems to take.
For too long our top club competition has been allowed to slowly decay.
Of course it would be unrealistic to ever expect a return to the halcyon days of national league football in the 1970's and 80's. The landscape of the game in New Zealand has changed too much for that to ever be a distinct possibility.
The presence of the Wellington Phoenix and the A-League, access to world-class football at the click of a mouse remote control, all make it difficult to ever see fans turning out to watch local football en masse again.
That may be the reality, but the national competition still has an integral part to play within the structure of the game.
It just needs to be given a meaningful direction and purpose rather than being left to drift year after year making little to no impact.
Using it as a means to develop young players and create a genuine pathway towards the Phoenix or other professional environments is the obvious answer.
I look with green eyes at what Football Federation Australia are rolling out in their state-based National Premier League (the tier under the A-League).
No pretence, the new perspective is youth advancement.
The FFA has laid down a mandate that incentivises youth development and curbs excessive player payments (the dirty secret of "amateur" club football there and in New Zealand). Through a points cap system, among other restrictions, clubs are only allowed a limited number of foreign players and are rewarded significantly for playing rising stars under the age of 18.
This is nothing new, as it wasn't that long ago that the German national body realised they needed to change tack and focus on youth development for the good of their game - and that's a serious, European nation we're talking about.
The rewards they are now reaping are only too clear for everyone to see.
As was the case in Germany and Australia, this is not an issue New Zealand
Football can overcome on their own.
There needs to be collaborative buy-in from the national premiership clubs. That's easier said than done unfortunately, as a few take a micro-view to the growth and progress of the game.
They are solely interested in their club and their teams being on top of the pile. Case in point was the negative reaction to the Wanderers side (shadow NZ under-20 team) being included in the ASB Premiership this season.
Added to that is the questions of how and why the Phoenix haven't been able to include their reserve/youth team into the league as yet. It makes no sense that NZF and the clubs would stifle the progression of the best talent within our only professional club.
Surely there is a need to work together and not only protect our one and only professional football club, but ensure they have the best chance possible of creating an environment that nurtures and develops young players, capable of taking steps into the top leagues around the globe.
At present, rather than a development focus, a lot of energy and money within some clubs goes on the pursuit of a couple of games, cash and a little bit of kudos at the Club World Cup. Chasing that has seen teams start games, on more than one occasion, with as few as four players eligible to play for New Zealand.
Change would be difficult to comprehend for some clubs, especially as they are so entrenched in their thinking that they truly believe the status quo is working well.
Bigger picture, the domestic premiership as a competition isn't doing enough for the game.
NZ Football need to instigate a new emphasis and enforce clubs to work with it, whether they want to or not.
Danny Hay is a former All Whites captain.
- Sunday Star Times
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