Professional Footballers Australia (the PFA) has published a pioneering study into the ‘Golden Generation’ of Australian footballers, delivering an evidence-based framework for the emergence of internationally competitive football talent.

The unparalleled project, entitled ‘Culture Amplifies Talent: Building a Framework for Golden Generations’, was the product of an 18-month undertaking in collaboration with PFA partner and leading sport management university, Victoria University.

The researchers were given unprecedented access to 17 elite Australian footballers born between the years 1972 and 1988 including Paul OkonJosip Skoko and John Aloisi, exploring all aspects of their football developmental history.

The key findings from the research include:

  • the identification of six (6) key themes that recurred during the development journeys of the Golden Generation that delivered Australia international success: passionfamilymentality, environmentpractice and pathway;
  • the underlying importance of a deep emotional connection between the player and the sport from the earliest possible age that compounded intrinsically as the player matured;
  • the fundamental role played by individual clubs in shaping the entire lives of the players and their families, in addition to their football journey;
  • the importance of unstructured and informal play; with players spending more than twice as much time from the ages of 5 and 18 engaging in informal play than in formal team training;
  • an early exposure to senior football, with players averaging their first appearances within senior competition before reaching the age of 16.

The findings were synthesised and presented by PFA Chief Executive John Didulica and one of the 17 interviewees, renowned Socceroo John Aloisi, at the PFA’s headquarters on Tuesday morning.

Click here to download a PDF version of the Report.

Commenting on the report’s design, execution and research outcomes, Didulica believes a talent management and developmental framework can be designed from the six key themes that emerged from the research, that can guide the sport through its next phase.

“As we assessed the Golden Generation, it evolved as a case study for the decisive role that an immersive culture plays in sporting success,” Didulica said.

“For far too long we have viewed talent development through the narrow lens of a curriculum or a coaching methodology. It is clear from the research that what we need to expand our thinking and promote the important role and interdependence of the game’s different constituent parts: family, community clubs, professional leagues, state federations and media partners. They are all critical to helping world class talent emerge.”

“Importantly, we cannot lose sight of the focus of our mission – the young player. It is not enough to re-imagine our football culture, we must remake it in such a way that generation after generation wishes to immerse themselves in it.”

Aloisi, who is uniquely positioned as a member of the Golden Generation and has viewed the development of the game as a player and a coach in Australia, said that the findings provide an invaluable perspective. 

“As a player and a coach over 20 years, I’ve been witness to so many discussions within the football community about these sorts of issues, so it’s great to see this quality of work actually being done,” Aloisi said.

“The evidence in the findings confirms in many respects what we intuitively suspect, but the important aspect it actually now provides a framework for us to ensure we can create the conditions needed to develop world class players. The report shows that the process goes much deeper than just coaching, facilities and style of play but to building a deep culture and connection to the sport we all love.”

Culture Amplifies Talent: Building a Framework for Golden Generations” emerged following the PFA’s landmark Player Pathway Study in 2017, which catalogued and analysed all 3.5 million professional league match minutes played by Australian males between 2002/03 and 2015/16.

By tracking the careers of Australia’s professional male players in unprecedented detail, the Player Pathway Study was able to isolate key metrics that demonstrated the decline in relation to our international performance. 

Key findings within the Player Pathway Study included:

  • an 80% reduction in the match time of Australian players across the Big 5 leagues of Europe from 2005 to 2015;
  • professional match minutes played by under 20 players have more than halved since 2011/12; and
  • over 30% of players regarded as good enough to play a professional match before the age of 21 do not play another professional match minute after the age of 23.

In turn, “Culture Amplifies Talent”, was able to focus on some of those players active during the peak of our match minutes and isolate the defining traits of their development journey.