Demanding, intense and at times uncertain the A-League is far from easy street for any footballer. Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) President Simon Colosimo discusses the progress the game has made, how the landscape has changed and how player education has never been more important to ensure Australia’s best and brightest make the right career choices when confronted with a raft of options.

The goal was always to create a competition where Australian players could genuinely have a career. In 1997 when I emerged into the old NSL alongside the likes of Socceroos stars Vince Grella and Mark Bresciano at Carlton this was not the case.

Back then if you wanted to carve out a successful career you had to go to Europe, and the players went in their droves. Some like Vince and Mark thrived and they would form part of the golden generation of Soceroos who would lead us to back-to-back World Cup appearances. Some others did not enjoy the same level of success instead having to ply their trade in Australia playing a sport that was regarded by many as a joke.

When the A-League was established the goal of the PFA was to ensure this was no longer the case. Nine seasons on, and having seen the hard work the PFA, FFA and the clubs have put in, it is encouraging to see the progress we have made from those dark days.

Whilst the game has come a long way it is neither a comfortable career nor the easy option. The mental strength required to make it in a league where there are only 230 jobs up for grabs is huge and only the ones who have the hunger and desire to make it will progress to the A-League.

As highlighted by the annual PFA Injury report to stay there is even harder. In the 2012/2013 season alone 542 games were missed through injury. Whilst the introduction of the agreed PFA and FFA Minimum Medical Standards have seen a significant reduction in the number of games missed through injury there is still plenty of work to be done at some clubs. Career ending injuries are also unfortunately not rare and despite insurance to protect players more still needs to be done to assist players in the difficult phase of transition after their careers are over.

Job security in also precarious. This season alone there were 119 players coming off-contract and this type of uncertainty is something that is a constant companion for players. Even when a player has a long-term contract it has proven to be no guarantee as shown by the demise of North Queensland and the Gold Coast, which left players out of work through no fault of their own.

The reason why I raise all this is because some have expressed their concerns that the A-League may be a little too easy and that it could be having a negative impact on the Socceroos. The assertion that the younger generation have it easy is not a new one, however it misses the point that progress is what we are all after, with each generation building for the next generation and that is what the PFA has always been about – leaving a legacy for the next generation. Our fight for better conditions is not just about the here and now but for the generations that follow because we know it will help the game move forward.

The golden generation did in many cases have to do it tough. They did almost all have to move abroad early and many were forced to go through extremely difficult periods that required them to show huge amounts of mental strength. Whilst their mental strength played a huge role in their success just as important were the choices they made.

The choices for many of them were much more straightforward than for Australian players of today. Asia was not an option like it is now and staying in Australia was not an idea that many seriously entertained. The landscape has changed and Europe is no longer the only place our players are looking to go too or are in demand in.

In such an environment it is the responsibility of us at the PFA to play a leading role in helping players to make the right choice. Choices must be made with a career in mind not just the short-term. For this to happen players have to be educated and be surrounded by knowledgeable and trustworthy people.

Players have to be equipped to make the right choice as there are few second chances in football. If they choose to make the move from the A-League it has to be to the right club in the right league, with PFA research showing that the first move overseas for 80 per cent of players being the highest ranked club of their career.

It also extremely important that the next generation are given time to develop and are not compared with past generations before they have had time to reach their potential. Products of the A-League such as Robbie Kruse, Mile Jedinak and Mat Ryan have all shown how good the A-League is at producing players who have the ability to be successful in Europe.  There are many current A-League players ready to follow in their footsteps but it is important that past glories are not used as a stick to beat them with.

The current Socceroos may not be playing at the same level as their predecessors but this is not the result of life being too easy in the A-League or a lack of mental strength. To get our players back playing regularly in the top leagues in the world we need to assist them in making the right decisions. This is a challenge we have always embraced at the PFA and is one we will never shirk.