Football Development Project: Can New Zealand be like Iceland?
This week-long series examines football development in New Zealand and asks some of Wellington's prominent coaches to give their take on it. In Sunday's part one, Liam Hyslop asks why can't we be like Iceland?
While New Zealand revelled in the joy of the All Whites' undefeated 2010 World Cup campaign, Iceland were trudging through draws against Cyprus and Liechtenstein.
New Zealand reached a peak ranking of 49 that year, while Iceland dipped to 112 - an expected place for a country of just 330,000 people.
But what few in the football world knew was Iceland were deep into a football revolution which has taken them to a Euro 2016 quarterfinal and a current world ranking of 22. New Zealand languishes back in the doldrums at 122 after three losses at the Confederations Cup last month.
The revolution began at the start of the millennium when the national football association invested heavily in two key areas: coaches and facilities.
They now have 848 coaches with a Uefa Pro, A or B licence, one for every 389 people in the country, or, more importantly, one for every 23 registered players. Their expansive indoor football halls are filled with kids training on the artificial turfs all year round. And that training from a very early age is run by highly-qualified, paid coaches. The kids who were five, six and seven when this started are now 22, 23 and 24 and playing for the national team.
By contrast, New Zealand has 72 active coaches with a Pro, A or B licence, one for every 2083 registered players, although good work is being done to boost that number.
So why is Iceland's example of any use to New Zealand? Well, youth football development is at a crossroads in this country.
The youth landscape, which encapsulates ages 13 to 19, has become so convoluted that private providers, charging top dollar, have become the leading developers of young footballers in this country, particularly in the nation's capital of Wellington.
Ole Football Academy (Porirua) and Wellington Phoenix Football Academy provided more than one-third of the players for both of the most recent New Zealand under-17 and New Zealand under-20 squads. Hot on their heels in Wellington is Kaizen Academy, with Team Wellington now entering the space with a player development programme. There are other entities as well, but these four are the biggest players, with the clearest pathways to top-level football.
It means the best young footballers and their parents in the city, and the country, have a minefield to traverse when deciding the best path for their kid.
The best of the best will have schools and academies chasing their services, while the local area's Federation Talent Centres will also want them at their trainings as well.
If they go to Ole or the Phoenix, then school and FTC football is pretty much off the table. They'll may also be charged upwards of $3000 per year for their football education.
Overall, the amount spent by the parents of roughly 350 kids on football fees alone at Wellington's academies has pushed past $500,000 per year, at an average cost of more than $1500 per year. It must be noted that when compared to the cost of sending a kid overseas to train, it's merely a drop in the ocean.
But given the academies' success, relative to the other entities in the area, at developing footballers, it's a price most are willing to pay.
So what are these academies offering for the money they charge? And how do they view the development landscape in New Zealand?
Over the next week we'll visit these academies to find out as part of the Football Development Project. Each has a slightly different view on things, but all want to see a consistent message coming out of NZF.
Finally, we'll talk to NZF's Andy Boyens about the challenges of the youth space, and what they plan to do about it. At this stage, it remains a work in progress.
While it's nice to think New Zealand could do what Iceland did, the realities are a touch different in many key areas. But the model has been made and elements of it can be taken and adapted to the New Zealand environment.
And it's not about everyone putting the boot into NZF, as seems to be chronic among the New Zealand football community. The project is more about starting a discussion and seeing where it goes.
Most people just want to see NZF establish a clear vision that everyone can get in behind.
As we'll find out over the next week, that will be no small feat.
Monday: Ole's Declan Edge on the fundamental change needed at New Zealand Football.