Eligibility and Talent Development

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

Deklan Wynne, in action against Portugal in the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup Round of 16 match

The New Zealand Football (NZF) eligibility debate has centred primarily on the disqualification of New Zealand from the Rio de Janiero Olympics.

However, a longer term consideration is how this ruling will impact on talent development in New Zealand.

NZF has taken an aggressive approach to locating players based off shore for the men’s national teams.  It is a stretch to believe NZF would not have had a good idea of the remit of the various FIFA statutes.

Unless the protest through legal avenues is successful, the All Whites qualifying bid for Russia 2018 has been effectively derailed through the Olympic disqualification.  When coupled with the difficult Oceania pathway (needing to win a home and away playoff final) before playing the 5th placed team in South America (Brazil or Colombia on Copa America form), eyes may already be turning to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Over time, the spotlight will shine on the ability of the NZF talent development pathway to produce top quality players that may legitimately represent New Zealand.

Certainly immigrant families may now be somewhat reticent to invest in the likes of Federation Talent Centres and National Talent Centres.  Involvement in these programmes was always incentivized by the fact players had to be part of this pathway to have the opportunity to play for New Zealand.

NZF is likely to be in a position of having fewer players to select for age group national team representation.

Will developing all New Zealand based young players still matter to NZF if eligibility to represent New Zealand is not clear or will this development role fall to others?

Schools, clubs and private academies may take more of a role in developing players in future, particularly for those athletes that are not born in New Zealand and do not have a New Zealand born parent such as the likes of Deklan Wynne or All White defender Storm Roux.

Children that love football will always want to play football.

However, for the valued immigrant population, the end game may now not be wearing a white jersey but rather other long-term outcomes.  Creating the opportunity for a US college scholarship or a football career in their country of birth may become the vision.

For NZF, it is going to have to assess if it is indeed the best operator in terms of developing talent in New Zealand.  As the FIFA recognised steward of the game in New Zealand, NZF simply must ensure that it is maximising New Zealand born talent.

Given the challenges facing the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, Qatar 2022 should now be top of mind for every 12-15 year old in New Zealand playing football.

Without the ability to connect with newly-minted New Zealanders NZF’s job of continuing to dominate the region has become a lot tougher.

The likes of Tahiti (OFC qualifiers for the 2013 Confederations Cup) and Fiji (winners of the recent Olympic tournament) have extensive national development programmes in place that are already bearing fruit.  The Fijian victory over Honduras at the FIFA U-20 tournament was testament to this fact.

One thing is for sure, talent development has never been so important to the game in New Zealand as it is now.

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