Smithies' Talking Points: Unprecedented youth reliance helping promising talent thrive
It's official – the kids are taking the early stages of the A-League season by storm.
After 10 games of the new season, the average age of players in the competition is the lowest it has ever been at this stage, with coaches increasingly inclined to give their young players a chance to prove themselves.
So far the average age of the players deployed by 11 teams, including starters and used substitutes, is just 26.5 – the lowest comparable figure in the history of the A-League.
Though that data comes with the caveat that Perth are yet to play a game thanks to border restrictions, and have one of the oldest squads, the deployment of younger players is a consistent theme across the rest of the competition.
Eight of the 11 clubs to have played so far have average ages under 27, a radical change after several years where a number of teams were progressively getting older.
Though the average age rises slightly this season on including starting XI players only, to 27.3 years, it’s still the lowest at this point since the 2013-14 season and well down on recent seasons – in 2018/19 for instance, clubs including Perth, Brisbane, Sydney FC, Newcastle and Melbourne Victory all had averages of around 30 or older.
The expanded number of substitutes this year, up to five per team, has played a part in the reduced average age, with coaches able to play teenagers off the bench. The 10 youngest players this season includes one 16-year-old in Adelaide’s Mohamed Toure, two 17-year-olds, two 18 year-olds and five aged 19.
A new wave of young Australian coaches has put its faith in a clutch of youngsters – in part because of the reduced salary cap, but also driven by a desire to promote the next generation.
"I think from a national team perspective in five to 10 years, COVID is going to be the biggest blessing we’ve ever had," Mariners boss Alen Stajcic said after watching his young side win its first two games of the season for the first time in 13 years..
"We’ll reap these rewards of all these opportunities that these kids are getting that have been blocked in the past by limited pathways, limited teams and opportunities with foreigners taking up the key spots.”
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