A-League: Sydney coach Graham Arnold focused on titles not youth development

A-LEAGUE FIRST: Graham Arnold puts the Sydney squad through their paces at training ahead of the clash against Newcastle. Picture: AAP Images
A-LEAGUE FIRST: Graham Arnold puts the Sydney squad through their paces at training ahead of the clash against Newcastle. Picture: AAP Images

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 are one of the only clubs without representatives in the Australian squad after Arnold tailored a squad specifically to avoid disruptions caused by youth international fixtures. 

Some clubs and the players' union have been locked in a dispute with the FFA about 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.

Newcastle coach Ernie Merrick has been among those critical of the “meaningless” tournament after losing new arrival Riley McGree and Nick Cowburn.

"I was maybe the only coach who looked at the international program before the season started,” Arnold said. “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. 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 has come under criticism for the lack of opportunities for 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 Australia. It has lead to calls for expansion or a national second division to create 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 youngsters here are coming through,” Arnold 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."

Meanwhile, Arnold will resist making any changes to the his starting team that thrashed Perth Glory last week despite the short turnaround for their top-of-the-table clash against Newcastle Jets. 

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 appears to be taking no risks.

"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."