Heart Youngsters Flying VPL Flag

Victoria’s top flight football competition, the Premier League, has proven to be a treasure hove of talent over the last decade.

Victoria-s top flight football competition, the Premier League, has proven to be a treasure hove of talent over the last decade.

Providing footballers with the perfect stage to stake their claim for a berth on a senior Hyundai A-League roster, the competition has reignited the careers of many hidden talents, including Asian Champions League Player of the Tournament Sasa Ognenovski.

And in Melbourne Heart FC-s Nick Kalmar, Aziz Behich, Adrian Zahra and Kliment Taseski, the State-s top flight competition has proven once again why it is regarded as one of the leading development leagues in Australia, with the former VPL stars all featuring in the Club-s debut campaign.

Having scored three times in 14 starting appearances, including a goal of the season contender, Kalmar-s meteoric rise has been a highlight of Heart-s inaugural season, with the 23-year-old adapting swiftly to the rigours of the Hyundai A-League.

The former Melbourne Knights junior believes the VPL is fertile ground for developing Hyundai A-League calibre talent, saying players at State level just need to be granted an opportunity.

“It's not easy, but I was given the chance that others don't get. It often seems that when coaches need to sign players they look to get in overseas boys rather than look locally,” he said.

“I've been pinching myself ever since I came to the club. We have a good coaching staff, a good playing group and I'm very humbled to be among the players we have here.

“I've got a lot of improvement to make and a lot to work on, but I think the set-up here is very good and I'm enjoying it.”

Signing for the Club as an injury replacement player, Zahra-s impressive performances on the training ground have seen him quickly evolve into a regular contender for first team selection, starting Heart-s last five matches.

While Zahra agrees with Kalmar-s sentiments regarding the depth of talent in the VPL, the winger admits there is significant leap in quality from the local leagues to Australia-s top flight competition.

“There's still a pretty big step up, but there's definitely a few boys out there who could do well if given an opportunity,” he said.

“It is more intense, quicker, and you need to concentrate more. I am small and quick. When I was younger I was more of an attacking midfielder, but coming into the seniors I have had to become more versatile.”

The ability to be versatile has proven to be a crucial factor in the rise of Behich, with the former Green Gully Cavalier transitioning into a left back role with the Club, despite arriving with a reputation as a winger.

Behich-s fine form and link play with Rutger Worm has seen the duo transform into a menacing force on the flanks, prompting Head Coach John van ‘t Schip to praise the youngster-s versatility and work ethic.

“Aziz has done well since he joined the group in pre-season, and has been prepared to play wherever the team needed him. Every week he has been taking steps forward and I have no doubt he will continue to work hard and become more and more important to the group,” van ‘t Schip said.

A Young Socceroo, former Altona Magic star Taseski is another VPL player who has made a significant impact during his debut season, earning recognition as a member of Heart-s inaugural five-man leadership group.

Providing a link between Heart-s youthful core and the coaching staff, Taseski-s maturity and composure has seen him assume an important role at the Club, providing further evidence of the VPL-s ability to produce multi-faceted footballers.

General Manager, Football Operations John Didulica believes Hyundai A-League clubs bear a responsibility to survey the local landscape in the search of emerging talent.

“It should be an objective and a priority of every A-League club to give talented young players a genuine opportunity to pursue a professional career,” he said. “And these young players don-t all funnel through the AIS or elite amateur pathways.

“A lot of talented kids are working very hard to make a name for themselves within the traditional club structure, that exists in the Victorian Premier League for example, and we owe it to them to pay close attention to those leagues.

Didulica added: “Talented players in Victoria can-t think that just because they missed the AIS squad that they don-t have a genuine future in the sport.

“This year, with the success we have had with the VPL players we have recruited, we have proven that we are watching, and that with the right coaching, the players are good enough.”