Youth development A-League's 'missing frontier' - Cross

In the first of a series of articles on Goal Australia investigating A-League youth development, Sydney FC's new academy director looks to break new ground

Sydney FC's new academy director Kelly Cross has labelled youth development the A-League's "missing frontier" and has an in-depth plan to make the Sky Blues the Australian leaders.

Since the end of the 2013-14 A-League season, a number of clubs have recruited staff and made announcements regarding youth development and talent identification.

Central Coast Mariners have started the first official scouting network in the A-League and Adelaide United have installed former Barcelona midfielder Guillermo Amor as their technical director.

On Monday, Sydney joined in, announcing that Cross will leave his current gig at Football Federation Australia (FFA) in December to help set up the Sky Blues' planned academy.

"[Youth development is] the missing frontier...it's the logical extension of what a modern, professional club should look like," Cross told Goal.

"So it's been missing and for obvious reasons it hasn't eventuated yet but there are certain clubs that are ready to make that leap [now]."

In the previous nine seasons of the A-League, many clubs have claimed to have a youth-development focus but in a subtle dig at the likes the Mariners and Melbourne City, Cross argued he has yet to see a proper development pathway in Australia's top tier.

The FFA's current assistant technical director plans to create exactly that at Sydney over the next decade.

"If you're merely picking players, you know, from the AIS and the NPL at 17 or 18 [years of age], that's not a development pathway, that's not an academy," he said.

"For the academy to work, you've taught them your way, your football language and they've developed your own club's DNA over the period of time and we hope to be the best at doing that."

While Cross may not agree, Central Coast are widely considered the leaders in terms of youth development in the A-League.

The Central Coast Mariners Academy (CCMA) was formed in 2012 and although Mariners coach Phil Moss concedes the A-League club are "still searching for the right model", the Gosford-based outfit are very proud of their programme.

Central Coast know that their long-term sustainability will depend on their ability to produce their own players.

"It's not just about the first-team squad, it's about building for the future and progression, planning," Moss told Goal.

"We're a club that's only had three coaches in 10 years and three CEOs and two owners. So we've got to make sure that there's always a progression plan in place for the players as well."

Read more: The Mariners' well was dry - Moss

As part of the FFA's national curriculum, A-League clubs are expected to compete in their respective National Premier Leagues (NPL) in 2016 to provide year-round football for developing players.

The National Youth League (NYL) sides will compete against the state league clubs' senior teams - as the Mariners, Newcastle Jets, Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory did this year - while each A-League club will have to form further junior teams to fill the rest of the NPL age groups.

Similar to the NYL teams, each of the A-League's junior teams will play up an age group in the NPL.

But before he starts identifying players, Cross believes it is crucial that Sydney FC work out what type of football they want to play.

"In football, what you would find if you dig deep around the game, 'philosophy' has become a buzz word but not many people have the detail and the principles behind it," he said.

"'Possession-based' has become a buzz word, everyone's saying it but how do you develop it? What does it mean?

"So what I believe is if you start by articulating what your fundamental beliefs on football [are], the things you're going to be unwavering on...you can then and only then begin to articulate what a training programme might look like."

Cross has been given a permanent contract at Sydney and claims he would not have left FFA without one.

As the former football director at Westfield Sports High School in Sydney, Cross helped develop the likes of Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton and Jason Culina and is convinced that youth development has to be a long-term project.

Cross believes Sydney have the patience to see their yet-to-be-formed academy produce genuine on-field benefits.

"Sydney FC want to be a club that's challenging [for] if not winning the Asian Champions League in 10 years," he said.

"So I would like to think that if we get players of say 12, 13 [years of age] coming into the programme soon, then in eight, nine years time, they're 20, 21, 22, that you might see four, five or six of those playing in the latter regions of the Asian Champions League.

"Then I would say we've done something."

Tomorrow on Goal Australia: How Central Coast's scouting network will keep the Mariners afloat...