Talent is in our backyard

Too many imports, or just about right? It's a big issue for the Hyundai A-League, which permits five foreigners in a roster of just 23 players.

Too many imports, or just about right? It's a big issue for the Hyundai A-League, which permits five foreigners in a roster of just 23 players. That's almost 20 percent. Are they the reason the competition has started to make serious inroads, or are they blocking the path of a new generation of potential Socceroos? It could be a bit of both.

For the league to continue to advance, and also provide a constant supply of players for the national team, we need to look at ways of improving the current salary cap model to ensure we get the best possible value for money. A big part of that discussion is the foreigners.

Currently, the salary cap sits at $2.5 million, with two marquee spots (one Australian and one foreigner) falling outside the cap. What we have to avoid is the foreign quota being filled by journeymen on fairly low salaries. To me, those spots at the bottom end of the cap should be filled by young Australians. We must continually provide opportunities for domestic players.

One way of ensuring this could be splitting the salary cap into two sections - one for foreigners, the other for domestic players. Let-s say out of the $2.5million salary cap, we put aside $600,000 just for the foreigners, and at the same time reduce the number from five to four. Let's say we also set the minimum wage for the foreigners at $150,000.

By doing both of these things, clubs would have to be more diligent in who they sign given the size of each investment. But they would still retain some flexibility.

Take Brisbane Roar as an example. They currently have four foreigners (Thomas Broich, Henrique, Liam Miller and Besart Berisha), all of whom undoubtedly have the necessary quality. But by making Broich one of their marquees, that gives them the chance to spend the whole $600,000 on just three imports. It means they have a much better chance of getting the right import - one guaranteed to be in the starting eleven, and a player the crowds will come to watch.

Even if the Roar hadn't made Broich a marquee, under my model they would still have $600,000 to spend on four foreigners. That gives them a much better chance of getting the right player provided they did the right due diligence. Scouting is one aspect of the A-League that definitely needs to improve. Let's be honest, the short history of the A-League has been littered with clubs signing foreigners who've had almost zero impact on the competition. Some of these players have been prepared to come on low wages just to keep their careers alive. It may sound harsh, but we can-t allow them to fill up valuable spots.

I-ve heard clubs say that there simply aren't enough quality players in Australia to provide a high quality product. Let-s break that down into actual numbers and see if there-s any merit to the statement. Assuming the four foreign players are in a starting XI (and let-s forget the goalkeeping spot for a moment) are we really expected to believe that a club can-t find or develop six outfield players that have the ability to play at A-League level? C'mon.

The challenge for A-League clubs is to get out and find the best local players, because they're out there. Over the years, for instance, the various state leagues have provided an enormous talent base for clubs to draw from. Sasa Ognenovski is a prime example. In 2006, Ognenovski was plucked from Fawkner in the Victorian Premier League, and now he's got 21 caps for the Socceroos. Yet in the inaugural season of the A-League (2005-06) he wasn't deemed good enough at a time when the quality of the foreigners was, to say the least, questionable.

If we are to develop as a football nation, we need our premier clubs and coaches looking harder in their own backyard instead of taking the easy option of signing a foreign player who may be of little pedigree. No matter what system we put in place, there will always be hits and misses. But I, for one, would be far more comfortable if that mistake was made on a young Aussie instead of a journeyman from the other side of the world.