Oakleigh a fertile breeding ground

Few clubs can boast about nurturing talent through to the Hyundai A-League like Victorian Premier League outfit the Oakleigh Cannons.

Few clubs can boast about nurturing talent through to the Hyundai A-League like Victorian Premier League outfit the Oakleigh Cannons.

Ivan Franjic, two-time champion and one-time premier with the Brisbane Roar, is the biggest of the 10 names to graduate from the Cannons to Australia's top flight.

According to Aki Ionnas, who has been the club's general manager for 13 years, much of the credit for the player development must go to Arthur Papas.

Papas was surprisingly appointed coach of the Cannons for the 2011 season, which Ionnas described as the "best decision we've ever made" after being left "absolutely stunned" by the then 30-year-old during the interview process.

Craig Goodwin (Newcastle Jets) and Jeremy Walker (Melbourne Heart) are 'Papas' players', plucked from relative obscurity.

"It's a matter of balancing your squad, your team. That's one thing Arthur Papas identified and brought to our club," Ionnas said.

"He has had one-on-ones with our coaches and explained to them how he operated, his philosophy, and the coaches believe that."

Melbourne Heart duo Nick Kalmar and Sam Mitchinson, Adelaide United utility Cameron Watson, Melbourne Victory defender Matthew Foschini and the likes of Jimmy Downey, Steven Gray and Lewis Italiano have also graduated from the Cannons.

Papas' first move after arriving at Oakleigh was to implement a 4-3-3 formation, one which the Cannons have stuck to.

Despite his departure - to the Jets and then to India - Papas has left his mark at Jack Edwards Reserve.

"Arthur Papas has left a structure in place and also supports the club. Whenever he's in Melbourne he comes to the club," Ionnas said.

"He's definitely left a structure in place that people who take on the role can follow that role and we've been doing it quite well."

Ionnas highlights talent identification and opportunity as the keys to Oakleigh's ability to develop young stars.

Looking after players and leading them to a professional career has given the Cannons a reputation which they are keen to build.

"I think the word is out there that because we've had nine or 10 players go to the A-League in the last four years especially," Ionnas said.

"Players have seen that and it makes it a lot easier to recruit young players to the club."

The Cannons strike a balance in their squad and several younger members of their squad could be worth looking out for.

Dusan Bosnjak, formerly captain of Heart's youth team, and Reece Vittiglia are among the names to watch.

They are being guided by a group of stalwarts, including the likes of Ari Drakos, Frankie Lagana and former Victory striker Ricky Diaco.

"They're very important. Players like that - that have been at the club for three to five years, they create the core of your team," Ionnas said.

"They're very instrumental. Younger players come and look up to them."

Victoria is set to join the National Premier Leagues system from next year, and Ionnas said the state definitely needed a change.

The compensation for clubs like Oakleigh who produce talent for A-League sides is also likely to change after previously being given $3000 per player who took the step up.

Much debate still continues around the player points system, but changes are unlikely to stop the Cannons producing more A-League talent.