ECU continues to be a path for the best

ECU continues to be a path for the best

Posted on January 21, 2013 in 'News'

Renowned for exporting talented players to the English market, Western Australia state league powerhouse ECU Joondalup acknowledges that Perth Glory’s youth team and Football West’s National Training Centre are providing viable career pathways for their ambitious youngsters. (Courtesy of Football Federation Australia – written by Jonathon Cook)

Although the club in Perth’s northern suburbs continues to steer its best players overseas, academy director Steve Amphlett recognises the movement of others to clubs and programs closer to home.

“We know what we’re looking for in a player,” Amphlett said. “We know what it takes to go to the UK. In the first years it was only the UK. Now the boys have got the option of the NTC and the Glory youth as well. The players can make that decision.”

Amphlett is personally attuned to the process having witnessed his own son, Tommy, struggle in overseas trials before progressing into Glory’s Hyundai A-League team, only to be cast aside at the end of his contract.

“Perth Glory take the players, don’t really pay them a lot of money and don’t really play them in the first team,” he said. “So, players still want to look overseas.”

When ECU officials sat down recently to compile a list of their success stories, they quickly found more than a dozen players who had passed through the Edith Cowan University-based outfit on their way to an English club, their path often paved by UK-based agent Gary Williams.

Additionally, around half that number of players again had moved on, sometimes via the NTC, to clubs in the A-League, including current Glory players Josh Risdon and Brandon O’Neill. The list reached 22 names but Amphlett is convinced the real number is greater.

Middlesbrough captain Rhys Williams, Aston Villa midfielder Chris Herd (Above scoring the equaliser for Villa at Anfield) and Millwall defender Shane Lowry stand at the peak of Joondalup’s export pyramid, which has become such a rich source of income for the club through training and development fees.

One of Joondalup’s most influential junior coaches, John Brown, a Scotsman who arrived in Australia 35 years ago, highlighted the vast difference in fees the club earns from an overseas transfer compared to a domestic move.

“There’s a far bigger amount of cash to the club for an overseas player than a Risdon or Tommy Amphlett or Brandon O’Neill,” Brown said.

“I’m not sure of the financial side of things but I think you’re looking at $5000 for an A-League player. If somebody is good enough to go overseas, obviously there’s a lot more money involved.”

By way of comparison, Joondalup is still owed around $300,000 by financially crippled English club Portsmouth for development fees associated with Alex Grant, Andrew Higgins and Ryan Williams, whose transfer to Fulham last year further increased Pompey’s debt to ECU.

Club president Steve Wheatley insisted development fees were ploughed back into the club, which competes in WA’s Premier League, and pointed out that Joondalup had provided around $250,000 towards a new $1.5 million facility at the ECU sports ground.

“Every single penny that we’ve had has been invested back into the club,” he said.

Joondalup’s initial success at placing players at English clubs was the magnet for other players in the northern suburbs, where there is a large pool of British immigrants steeped in football culture, to join the club’s junior teams.

Amphlett said the retention of like-minded coaches over the years had also been crucial.

“We have trials every year and we don’t have to advertise,” he said.

Almost inevitably, Joondalup’s success has sparked some criticism, including suggestions the club will accept only players with European passports to make transfers less complicated.

Wheatley, who has been involved with the club from its earliest days as Joondalup City in 1992, dismisses the rumours.

“That’s rubbish. We call that a bit of jealousy,” he said. “That’s never been the club’s policy, ever. We are an Australian club in an Australian city.”

On another level, Brown freely admits his preference for players to stay in the Joondalup system, rather than being drawn into the highly successful NTC program, which is Football Federation Australia’s preferred pathway.

Football West technical director Cris Ola is keen to work more closely with Joondalup, particularly in the area of coach education and accreditation, and indicated recent correspondence had been positive.

“We want them to come aboard as much as much as possible,” Ola said. “We want to work together and there are signs they want to do that.”

Of even more concern to Ola is a tendency for young players to be blinded by the success of those who have gone before them.

“It’s become so competitive at the top level that players think if Chris Herd can make it, then so can I,” he said. “Some are fooled into thinking the dream is easy to achieve. It’s not.

“It takes the sacrifices of hundreds or thousands of players until one makes it.”

On that point, those pulling the strings at Joondalup would agree, wholeheartedly.