Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold dismissed player development as one of the main objectives of the A-League, brushing off complaints from rival clubs angered at losing young players to the Asian under-23 championships. Sydney FC won’t lose any players during the January tournament as Arnold has tailored a squad to avoid disruptions caused by youth international fixtures.
Several clubs and the players’ union are locked in a dispute with the FFA about the prospect of some of the best young talent missing as many as five A-League games this month for a tournament that falls outside of a FIFA-sanctioned international window. However, Arnold has supported coaches prioritising players who won’t miss key games during the season, bringing into question the function of the A-League.
“I was maybe the only coach who looked at the international programme before the season started. I don’t understand what the fuss is about. I did a hear a comment about the young players going, but I didn’t know the A-League was a development league,” Arnold said. “There’s been a lot of talk around the senior players because of the international windows but I don’t see the A-League as a development league. It’s a meaningful competition in which clubs expect to win trophies.”
Arnold’s comments come as the league faces criticism for the lack of opportunities provided to young players. The average player age of last season’s competition was 27.8 years, the highest in the 40 years of national football in . It has led to calls for expansion or a national second division to address the lack of player pathways.
Sydney FC have a number of youth international players on their books but almost none have experienced consistent first team football over the last two seasons. The impressive performance and form of one of the oldest squads in the competition has made it difficult for youngsters to break through into the A-League squad but Arnold says Sydney’s best young talent will start to break through by the end of the year.
“The youngsters here are coming through,” he said. “At the Mariners they were ready and I’d put a lot of work into them – [Tom] Rogic, [Mat] Ryan, [Trent] Sainsbury, [Mustafa] Amini, the list goes on. The ones I’ve got here you’ll see in the next 12 months.”
The n players’ union, the PFA, requested that FFA allow players to withdraw on their own accord if they did not want to take part in the Asian championships. It’s understood all players selected have reported for international duty.
Meanwhile, Arnold will resist making any changes to the starting team that thrashed Perth Glory last week despite the short turnaround for their top-of-the-table clash against Newcastle Jets.
Consistency will be the priority for Arnold who is set to reward those who tore apart Perth Glory by a six-goal margin on Saturday night with starting spots against the Jets just four days later.
Despite the physical toll of hot, humid conditions during the past week and the limited preparation, Arnold has no fitness concerns over his players’ ability to back-up on Wednesday night.
The Sky Blues have an opportunity to open an 11-point gap at the top of the A-League table with a win over Newcastle and Arnold is taking no risks, with the only possible change being to his bench with the return of Matt Simon from injury.
“We played on Saturday, it’s Wednesday night, a good turnaround. When you’re as fit as the boys are and we continue to talk about being the fittest team in the country, it’s not a problem at all,” Arnold said.
“If anything there’s more excitement around the game tomorrow night. We showed 45 good minutes out of 90. It’s about a 95-minute performance tomorrow night.”
Sydney FC have a dominant record against the Jets, having not lost them since December 2012. They’ve won their last nine games against Newcastle and are undefeated in their past 14 competitive games.