Australian youth internationals unlikely to return in 2021

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has said that he doesn’t believe Australia’s junior national sides will return to action in 2021. 

Hot off the heels of the Olympics, the coming months are set to be busy ones for Australian national sides; the Socceroos set to resume their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign against China at a venue yet to be determined in September and the Matildas ramping up preparations for the 2022 Asian Cup. 

However, it appears that the two senior sides won’t be joined on the field by their younger compatriots — whose absence from international competition looks set to now stretch into 2022. 

Australia’s U17 boys, the Joeys, last played at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil — Trevor Morgan’s team advancing to the knockout stages before being eliminated by France — while its U20 men’s team last ran out at the 2019 AFF U-18 Youth Championship, where Gary Van Egmond’s side was crowned champions after defeating Malaysia 1-0 in the final. 

See Also: Australia men at crossroads after Tokyo Olympics disappointment, Graham Arnold exit

Rae Dower’s U17 girls, the Junior Matildas, were last in action at the 2019 AFF U-15 Championship in Thailand, while Leah Blayney’s U20 side, the Young Matildas, last had a competitive hitout at the 2019 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, also in Thailand. 

The Young Matildas had been set to begin their qualification campaign for the 2022 AFC U20 Women’s Asian Cup 2022 in Shepparton, Victoria tomorrow, August 14, 2021) but those fixtures, like the Junior Matildas AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers scheduled for September in Cessnock, New South Wales, have fallen victim to ongoing restrictions surrounding international travel. 

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While these teams have maintained their programs and talent ID procedures and even been able to assemble in limited capacities throughout the pandemic — child protection issues complicating Football Australia’s efforts to bring the country’s best youth together amidst a pandemic — Johnson told a zoom call with Australian journalists on Thursday that he was of the view that they wouldn’t return to competitive action in 2021. 

“What I can tell you is that I don’t see any youth national teams being played in this calendar year,” he said. “I don’t see it happening. 

“There was supposed to be a tournament in Indonesia but if you look at the cases in Indonesia I don’t think we could put our hands on our heart and say that we could send a team over there at this stage. I don’t think the AFC will go ahead with it. 

“I do believe it will be some time before the AFC will be playing youth international tournaments. Certainly not in 2021, that’s my personnel view.”

Though Johnson’s prediction will come as a disappointment to Socceroos boss Graham Arnold, who has previously issued a plea for the federation to find a way to get its youth teams back in action, the CEO did perhaps boost his mood when he spruiked that an increase in investment for its national teams was coming. 

While the devil may be in the details when it comes to ratio versus gross, Johnson — his organisation no longer responsible for the administration of the A-, W-, and Y-League — declared that coming funding allotments for the Socceroos, Matildas and their junior counterparts was the highest percentage in Football Australia history. 

See Also: Socceroos exploring multiple venues for China World Cup qualifier after Sydney dreams dashed

“When it comes to the actual budget, the way that we’ve done the budget for FY22, I can tell you that the percentage of our funding that goes to football is the highest percentage that we’ve ever had,” Johnson said. “The majority of that funding is going into the national teams. 

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“National teams funding is healthy. At the end of the day, sponsorship money comes in and goes into the same bank and how we allocate it is a business decision. But the Socceroos and Matildas are looked after well from a high-performance perspective.”

“Two-thirds of our budget will go to football. One third will be ops and thirds will be football. That’s a very healthy, by international standards, investment into football. Over 50% of our budget will go to the National Team programs. That will be spread between senior teams and youth teams.”

Header Image Credit: Football Australia

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