Heart's Generation Next

Given Melbourne Heart FC’s emphasis on developing Australia’s generation next, the establishment of a National Youth League outfit seemed the logical next step in the Club’s evolution.

Given Melbourne Heart FC-s emphasis on developing Australia-s generation next, the establishment of a National Youth League outfit seemed the logical next step in the Club-s evolution.

With former Jong Ajax head coach and academy director John van ‘t Schip at the helm of Heart-s Hyundai A-League squad, the Red and White-s have been uniquely positioned since its inception to make its mark in cultivating emerging talent.

Launching a state-wide talent search midway through 2010, van ‘t Schip, assistant coach Ante Milicic and then player, but now youth coach John Aloisi set about discovering footballers largely overlooked by the existing development structure and hierarchy.

Scouring through the Victorian Premier League and State Leagues, the trio, along with esteemed General Manager, Football Operations, John Didulica, established a criteria for players deemed to align with the Heart ethos.

Placing significant importance on technical ability, players were scouted and assessed according to their perceived suitability to be fielded within the mandated formation of Heart-s overarching football philosophy, the 4-3-3.

After viewing over 500 players at matches or in trials staged at Heart-s La Trobe University headquarters, Aloisi, who had by now progressed into his coaching role full-time following an 18-month talent search, decided upon a squad of 15 to lead the Club into its inaugural campaign.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Ten rounds into the season, Heart lies within striking distance of the National Youth League crown, poised to play its eight remaining matches in Victoria.

While the side has endured a slump of sorts, the importance of playing its remaining matches in Melbourne cannot be understated, sparking a quiet optimism of what potentially lies ahead.

However, despite the success of Heart Youth on the field, the ultimate arbiter of its success lies in a number vastly more important to that on the competition table; the number of players which ultimately make the leap to the Club-s senior roster.

Didulica says: “The youth team has quickly become an important focus of the club, and we enjoy having so many fresh and new faces at the club.

“It-s great to see guys from all around Victoria come together and develop rapidly under an excellent coaching staff.

“Ideally the youth team would be an important conduit between elite youth development and professional football. The youth league itself faces a number of challenges in doing that.”

The former Sydney United and Melbourne Knights striker cites the relatively short 18-week season and contracted preparation period as key hurdles to be overcome as the National Youth League seeks to grow both in influence and stature.

“The youth league will continue to evolve, and what we can do now is just offer the players who are in our system the best possible opportunities to step up into full professionalism, or to have a fantastic life experience,” he says.

While there is still two months of the National Youth League season to run, Didulica and his football department have commenced discussions regarding the future of Heart-s contracted youth players between seasons.

Didulica says the Club will continue working with stakeholders across the game in the search for a solution which ensures Heart-s elite young talent is able to maintain its current growth trajectory.

“There was some discussion about us fielding a team in the VPL or State 1,” Didulica says.

“FFV have indicated that won-t happen, and we are happy to continue working with FFV, the local clubs and FFA to ensure there is a solution for talented young players to be part of a consistent and high standard program for 12 months of the year, as opposed to ad-hoc intervals.”