Jacks academy continues to shine

Jacks academy continues to shine

Posted on September 2, 2019 in 'News'

The ECU Joondalup Soccer Club Academy is the envy of most of the clubs in Australia, and it continues to produce quality players and the clubs Head of Football Operations Steve Amphlett sat down with Aidan Ormond from FTBL and discussed the club’s fantastic development programme .

There’s a little of Southampton and a lot of their own elite philosophy in the way one West Australian club has gone it alone and produced a phenomenal number of professional footballers. ECU Joondalup – nicknamed the Jacks – is one of the great success stories in Australia’s largely dysfunctional youth development system. One of Asia’s hottest strikers, Socceroo Adam Taggart, is just one of many who have come through the club. Brandon O’Neill – a recent A-League Championship winner and new Socceroo – is another who came through ECU.

Another future star is Danny Douglas, 15, who debuted this year for ECUs U20s as a 14-year-old and has since been trialling with West Bromwich Albion. Two examples past and present of ECU’s development philosophy and success. ECU do it their way. For a start, they’ve trashed the idea of only playing a 4-3-3. The Perth club believes modern footballers need to know how to play several formations. ECU also use their senior club side – which plays in Australia’s second tier NPL – as a breeding ground for the youngest talent.

The club says, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. They point to the number of 15-year-olds they’ve elevated to the senior team over the years as proof their mantra works. Club stalwart and operations director Steve Amphlett explains more. “We are fluid with our formations. The FFA directive a few years ago was a 4-3-3,” he tells FTBL. “But if you only play that formation, and you go overseas and the club you trial with play 4-4-2. The coach over there in Europe is going to give you 30 minutes to impress. “It makes it so much harder. “We try to change the system a few times each season, so the players are comfortable when trialling at clubs anywhere in the world and are more versatile footballers.”

This fluidity hasn’t gone down well with the governing bodies, according to Amphlett. “You’re on your own. The governing bodies want the development to go through the A-League clubs yet our club and others here in Perth have produced top, top players,” he said. “We just try to find professional footballers. “History says anyone who’s played NPL first team at 15 has gone on and become a professional footballer. “The pressure is to go to England and the quality in England has gone up ten-fold. “And the quality in Australia has certainly dropped. “I believe it’s dropped because of the increase in academies, increased clinics and more social football rather than the best playing against the best,” he says.

The continuity in philosophy is one reason why the club has maintained its success. The club handpicks their coaches, and insist they follow the ECU way. The respected former A-League star Steve McGarry has been part of the club in recent years. “And now he’s putting a similar philosophy into Glory’s set up and making it stronger,” adds Amphlett, whose son Tommy was also part of the Glory set up but is back at ECU these days.
“ECU always play the best players up, that’s club policy. The club has a non-rotational policy. The best players play, and everyone must buy into that. “The players have to be pushed all the time. “With FFA they believe the way to success is through the A-League teams. “But we’ve only got one A-League team in WA – Perth Glory. They have a massive turnover while we have continuity.”

The ECU alumni are impressive. Recent Saudi League acquisition Shane Lowry just one of a roll call of professionals. Aryn Williams, Rhys Williams, Alex Grant, Josh Risdon, Shane Lowry, and strikers Joe Knowles (who is back at the club), as well as Taggart, are just some of the names ECU Joondalup have helped produce. Add Rostyn Griffiths, Chris Herd to that list and you understand why this club is revered. What’s more, the next generation is off on trial or coming through in WA. Aside from teenager Douglas, ECU product Fraser Dunlop is in the UK. The striker is trialling with Stevenage, Bournemouth, Fulham and Sheffield United. Ben Hinshelwood is another who has trialled overseas. Impressively, too, six ECU players were in last week’s WA v Glory U13 and U14 clashes.

Go back in time and the club’s U13s won through a national tournament to represent Australia as the national U13s side at a mini-World Cup in Europe for junior teams. “When we employ first-team coaches they are made aware that if a player at, say age 15, needs to be in the first team, then he’s elevated to the first team.”  The current first team coach, for example, is a former club academy coach. Dale McCulloch has complete buy-in about the way the club works. “We copied Southampton from the days of Micky Lyons. Now I run it overall and employ the coaches and do the contracts,” Amphlett explains.

ECU was born from a Southampton link. The Saints was an academy funded by Southampton and headed by Mick Lyons in a full-time role 16 years ago. Southampton were associated with the Saints from 1999-2003. The Saints then merged juniors with Joondalup and moved to the Edith Cowan University, thus name change to ECU Joondalup SC. Lyons, the former English pro, is back at the club as is the influential John Brown. “We look for technical ability and mental strength. Not everyone has that. The minimum is getting these young players who deserve it playing in the first team as early as 15,” Amphlett stresses. “FFA and Football West have their own plans, but we’ll continue to do what we do. They say it’s not about winning at that level but winning becomes part of that. “It’s part of the mental strategy.

“You’ve got to accept disappointment and we push these players. It doesn’t suit everybody. But if you want to be a footballer, the cream will rise. They go on about numbers and registrations. There is room for social football and there must be room for elite football, whether they like it or not. Everybody should be playing. But for those we see with the talent, we’ll push through to the next age group,” he added. “Australia will not produce top players for our national sides without elite junior football. We’ve outlined what we do. It doesn’t suit everybody. And we’ll continue to do it,”