Having spent six years as the Football Australia Head of Performance, Luke Casserly is more qualified than most to cast his eye over the current happenings in Australian football.
Casserly, who also represented the Socceroos as a player back in the late 1990s, spoke once more to Kick360 about the recent struggles of Australia’s national teams, the recent moves of Australian players overseas, and looked back at his time with the FA.
Casserly believes that whilst the Socceroos may have been slightly unfortunate to not grab more points from their recent games, he feels that the team needs to be more bold and adventurous in their play.
“I still felt we were the better team, created more chances and should have won the matches we drew versus China and Oman; add 4 points and we are equal first. Instead we find ourselves with a challenging task starting at home versus Japan.
“I prefer to see the Socceroos be more proactive, look to put the opposition under pressure in their half, be really aggressive in our press, I think this suits us more than the pragmatic approach. Knowing we have the play-off spot secured and automatic qualification to gain, I am really hoping we see a high-octane Socceroos ready to take the game to Japan next week.”
The high stakes of these next two games is not lost on fans and those involved in the Australian game, and Casserly is all too aware of the impact of potentially failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.
“There is no doubt the interest in our game peaks when the Socceroos are competing in a World Cup. In a time where there is so much competition for fans and corporate support, I’m not sure missing the World Cup is something the game can afford from that perspective.
“As far as the development of players is concerned, I hope this ignites the conversation around our junior national team programs. Exposure to as much international football as possible is crucial to the development of our best young players and this has been a big gap for us for far too long.”
He has also lamented the lack of progress made by the Matildas, in particular questioning the style of play utilised at the ill-fated Asian Cup campaign.
“I think many of us have struggled to see any real progress in the way the team plays and a clear move to a more direct style of play – [we] played more long balls than any team in the tournament and we played the longest long balls on average – which I do not believe is the recipe for international success.
“We saw many players given some minutes in friendly games as they looked to build depth in the squad but then untried players were brought in for the Asian Cup which confused many. The message somewhat shifted from the AFC Asian Cup being a benchmark tournament to being part of the journey, not the destination.”
In light of the Matildas recent struggles, Casserly says that to make the Women’s World Cup truly special, the Matildas have to reach their potential.
“We saw double digit growth in the registration of players following the Socceroos success in the Asian Cup on home soil in 2015. We know that Australia will host and run a fantastic tournament but it will need the Matildas to get to the pointy end for us to truly capitalise from a whole of game perspective.”
One aspect of the game that Casserly see’s in a more positive light is the increase of young Australian players getting opportunities to play in Europe. After somewhat of a lull, the January transfer window saw Connor Metcalfe, Joel King and Nathaniel Atkinson secure moves to Germany, Denmark and Scotland respectively.
For Casserly, it is the increase of minutes played for young players and the development of club academies that has been key.
“The combination of A-League academies having now been established for a few years, young players getting opportunities in the A League men’s and our Olyroos competing at the Olympics has been the catalyst for this.
“When the A-League commenced we had only 7 teams in Australia who all had 5 foreigners, no NYL and A-League clubs did not have juniors, it was almost impossible for any young players to get opportunities in our professional league. We would send players from State league clubs or the AIS who competed in the Capital football NPL competition to try and qualify for junior World Cups through Asia, which is very difficult.
“The structures that were in place when the A League was established only provided an elite environment for the 23 players in 7 A league squads, this is what left us with a 10 plus year gap in development, particularly for payers aged between 16 and 23. Thankfully this has changed, players are getting opportunities in good leagues overseas again which will no doubt help our national teams in the future.”
After finally qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, it is imperative that the Olyroos continue their progression. With Graham Arnold stepping aside from the role, all eyes are on who the FA puts in charge for the future. Casserly believes the FA should look for someone with experience, and who plays a brand of football that aligns with the preferred style.
“Everyone could see in my time at FFA that I preferred Australian coaches for our national teams. I also think it is important that our young players get the most experienced coaches possible to nurture their development over coaches who are still developing themselves.
“I am not sure if the view has changed but it is important the coach has a proven record of success playing a brand of football that is aligned with the style the FA want for our national teams. In the past that was a style of football aligned with our national curriculum, if we are going to develop players to play a certain stye of football I think it makes sense to have our national team coaches with a proven record of success playing that way.”
Having left his role at the FA in 2019, Casserly reflected on some of the positive changes made during his tenure, and the things he was most proud of.
“I was super proud of the team of people I got to work with, incredibly talented and committed bunch. We had some obvious highs like winning the Asian Cup with the Socceroos, qualifying for the Olympics for the first time in a while, the Matilda’s hit their highest ever FIFA world ranking of 4th, and the Socceroos qualified for the World Cup for the first time in our history with an Australian Coach and an all-Australian support staff.
“Behind the scenes we completely rebuilt our sports science, scouting and technical analysis departments. [We] created a central hub for all national team players and vertically integrated all practices from scouting, logistics, security [and] medical. When a player came into the junior set up at 15 years of age, they were exposed to the same level of detail in preparation, match analysis, and physical analysis as the senior teams. It was delivered in a consistent format, as they progressed through the age groups.”
While he states that the whole team he worked with was a “committed and talented bunch”, he gives special praise to Katina Hicks, who played a key role in the development of the Pararoos, Australia’s Paralympic team.
“The work Katina Hicks… did in ensuring the Pararoos program not only remained, but thrived, following the removal of funding from the ASC made me incredibly proud. The program was on it’s knees, we struggled to get buy in internally let alone externally but an enormous amount of work and belief with support form the Australian Sports Foundation means the Paroroos have remained one of our most loved teams and have also ended up with their best ever place at a World Championships.
“The video message I received from the Pararoos when I left the FFA was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.”
Casserly hasn’t departed the football world entirely, though. He has since taken up a role NPL NSW club Hills Brumbies heading up the football committee, where he feels that the sky is the limit as far as growth is concerned.
“We have been able to build a really good team of staff which includes Alex Tobin, Brian Brown, Patrick Zwaanswijk, Adam Barbera [and] Andrew Crews to name a few, so it’s a real pleasure to be around these football people. We are an ambitious NPL club in the Hills region, we have almost 14,000 registered players, and a President in Tristan Rimmer who is super supportive and keen to see how far we can go as a club.”