Rudan warns against placing unfair expectations on A-League’s rising youth

Full story first published in SBS’ The World Game:

The surplus of minutes available to youth has been one of the A-League’s celebrated storylines in 2020-21, but Western United coach Mark Rudan has taken time following his side’s 5-4 win over Perth Glory to urge caution and warn against excitement turning into an unfair burden of expectations.

20-year-old Dylan Pierias became the latest youngster to throw his name into the spotlight on Saturday afternoon; scoring his first-ever A-League goal just minutes after entering Kardinia Park as a second-half substitute, and then adding his second four minutes later to put Western ahead.

Ultimately, his goal proved vital as Western triumphed 5-4 in one of the most chaotic fixtures in national league history: the game’s eight second-half goals in 28 minutes eclipsed only by the eight goals Adelaide City and Mooroolbark combined for in 27 minutes during the NSL’s first season in 1977.

“You can’t control things like that, you just hope you’re the winner at the end of the day,” Rudan said post-game.

“It was just one of those (games) where you shrug your shoulders and say that it’s fantastic for the people watching.”

Pierias has had a winding round to senior football.

In 2017, he was named amongst The Guardian‘s best 60 young players in the world alongside the likes of Jadon Sancho, Alphonso Davies and Vinicius Junior, and in 2018 he secured a trial with Serie A side Genoa before returning to Melbourne City.

Rising through the ranks of Australia’s elite pathway, he was also a fixture in the Joeys and Young Socceroos squads.

However, such accolades weren’t accompanied by much in the way of senior football and he played just 112 minutes for City in the three years between his senior debut in 2016-17 and his exit for Western ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

“I’ve kept an eye on Dylan ever since he was a 15-year-old,” Rudan said.

“I wanted to bring him in on loan when I was at Wellington but Melbourne City didn’t allow him to leave at that time, so I jumped at the chance to bring him to [Western] and work with him.

“The big challenge for Dylan is: do you want to be a starter and finish off the game and play 95 minutes or are you an impact player? And right now he’s got to decide because these are the things we tell him are required to start the games. And these are the things he needs to continue to work on.

“Fantastic person is Dylan, (I) love working with him and he’s got an asset that 95% of players don’t have: he’s raw speed and hard to defend against. But our job as coaches is to make him a more complete player and more awesome player.”

Indeed, gifted with pace to burn and a desire to get forward whenever able, the versatile right-sided talent is undoubtedly packed with the potential to excite and excel.

Add to that his deployment as a regular marketing face of Western, an Olympic Games (nominally) being on the horizon and an opening of his goalscoring account, and the hype only promises to build.

But for Rudan – who spent his formative years as a player at the AIS and in the NSL before moving to Alemannia Aachen at 25 years old – it’s vital that excitement doesn’t turn into an unfair sense of exception for Pierias, Mohamed Toure, or any other youngster breaking through.

“For Dylan to come on and make an impact, and seeing all the young kids running around, I think it’s great for the league,” Rudan added.

“And having an additional club in the competition helps with that, the more clubs, the more opportunities we can give to players.

“The most important thing though, is that sometimes we tend to jump off a little bit too early and we go and praise these young players and pump them up and talk them up.

“Let them be, let them work their craft. I know it’s a great story but they don’t need the added pressure.

“A lot of young kids have come through and played a couple of games or half a season and they’ve become the next big thing in Australian football and then before you know it they tail off because the expectations are great.

“You never know what’s going through the mind of a young player as well. It’s really important that clubs and coaches and staff really protect these kids.

“The media can do what they want – it’s our job to protect them and make sure they continue to work as hard as they can to continue to be the best footballers they can be. It’s hard to control, because the media are always looking for that next big story.

“It’s great that a lot of young players are getting opportunities but let’s take a step back sometimes.

“They need to be nurtured, they need to be looked after. They’ve got a long way to go. Being a professional footballer is hard, and to take the next step and go overseas is even harder.

“We’ve got a job to do and that’s to protect them from the outside noise and let them be in the moment and allow them to be the best they can be.”

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