EDITORIAL: Twelve years ago, if the same attitudes existed at the top of Australian football as they do today, there would be no Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell or Lucas Neill. The nation's three biggest names would have been blocked by Football Federation Australia authorities from moving and launching their careers in England. Kewell would never have had his chance at Leeds United to work with Eddie Gray, nor Cahill and Neill to find Theo Paphitis and Millwall. They would have been stopped by the FFA, point-blank.
This is the situation Reece Caira now finds himself in at Aston Villa. Once of Blacktown City in Sydney, Caira has been offered a place at Aston Villa's academy. But the FFA are refusing to rubberstamp the move, insisting they know what's best for his career - which is to return to Australia and play in the A-League's youth competition.
Caira and his family have been told to forget about joining a system that has produced Gabby Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner, Gary Cahill and Nathan Delfouneso in the last 18 months. The results just don't stack up against the A-League system, according to the FFA, even though it is barely a year old.
The FFA should be applauded for attempting to introduce a nationwide youth competition. But the speed and the way it's been thrown together does suggest it was done in part to silence the complaints from Australia's soccer clique. Those critics are now not so loud, but it has to be explained how a young player's development benefits from him spending more time IN THE AIR flying to games than actually minutes ON THE PITCH. And how a 19 or 20 year-old's game could ever improve training and playing with 16 year-olds.
This is what lies in wait for Caira should he decide to return to Sydney - or he could simply turn his back on Australia and pledge his future to one of the home nations.
Why the FFA felt the need to put a 16 year-old lad in such a position is beyond me.
Rather than trying to make an 'example' of the Caira family, the FFA would be better served throwing money and resources at strengthening their relationship with young players chasing a career abroad.
For too long we've seen young Australian players lost to other nations while playing and training with European clubs. Whether it's due to cliques, playing favourites, or simply a failure of an ancient scouting system, the FFA have been found wanting when it comes to establishing and staying in contact with young players abroad.
Richard Money, the former Newcastle Jets coach, gave Adelaide native Brad Inman, at 16, a Premier League Reserve team debut with Newcastle United last season. The lad is now playing for Scotland U19. And while Caira is being prevented from joining Villa, irony of ironies is that Perth youngster Shane Lowry, as an 18 year-old, has worn the captain's armband for the reserves and been capped by the Republic of Ireland at U21 level. There's another Perth lad at Villa, Chris Herd, who Martin O'Neill thought highly enough of to include in his UEFA Cup squads last season.
Then there's the question why it took Australia until U23 level to identify James Troisi while he had been at Newcastle United for over two years? And are they even aware of what Bolton Wanderers think of their teenage Aussie Aaron Mooy?
Despite the carping from the soccer elites, Australia has continued to produce highly sought-after young talent in recent years - and it hasn't all come through the AIS.
The FFA should accept this and drop the idea they know what's best. Preventing a young lad from achieving his dream for the sake of soccer politics shouldn't be what the game is about in Australia.