As the small planes land at Moorabbin airport, the sound of the aircraft at night just adds to the background noise while the footballers train in the cold weather.
Across the road from the airport is the Kingston Heath Soccer Complex. The sports facility in Melbourne’s southern suburbs is the home of Bentleigh Greens, one of surprise packets in Australian sport in 2014.
The Greens shocked Australian soccer/football fans and the media alike with their fairy tale run to the FFA Cup semi-finals last season, only to be eliminated by A-League club Perth Glory.
A defeat to the Ballarat Red Devils has prevented another repeat of the fairy tale this year but new heroes from Bentleigh could be emerging soon. The Greens are planning for the future too.
Throughout Australia there are football teams who are now required to follow the FFA National Curriculum and it is no different in Victoria.
The curriculum was released in 2009 and it provides guidelines on coaching and developing footballers in Australia. Traditionally Australian teams have been noted for their physical strength and fighting spirit but the FFA’s guidelines are suggesting that teams work more on technical skills and tactical flexibility.
Bentleigh is one of those clubs that is already placing an emphasis on a technical, possession-based game. From youth level to senior level, usage of the 4-3-3 formation as opposed to the 4-4-2 and playing short passes instead of long-balls is the norm.
Frank McGrellis is the technical director of the Bentleigh Greens and he has held that role since arriving at the club in 2014.
He discussed the importance of the FFA National Curriculum and how it has become integral to the development of young soccer players throughout Australia.
“The FFA over four years ago brought out the National Curriculum and some people adhered to the National Curriculum and took it on board but not everybody,” McGrellis said.
“When the NPL started, the feeling was that the technical directors should use the National Curriculum as a tool to deliver through the teams that are going to be playing in the NPL.
“I actually coach all the coaches here and give them direction around the training drills, the passing drills [and] the possession drills, so it’s really along the lines of what the National Curriculum expectation is from the FFA down through the FFV to all the NPL clubs.”
The formation and style of play is fundamental to the Bentleigh Greens playing philosophy at all levels. Greens senior coach John Anastasiadis implements the 4-3-3 formation in his team and encourages a possession-based game.
McGrellis said that it is easier for the Bentleigh youth teams to follow the FFA guidelines and adapt a philosophy similar to Anastasiadis’ way because “it’s just a natural progression to take it from the first team to the [under] 20s through to the junior set-up”.
Currently the Greens under-20 side is coached by former Seaford United coach Kevin “Squizzy” Taylor. After spending six years coaching the reserves and then the senior squad in the lower levels of Victorian football, he is now in his first year with Bentleigh.
His task is to oversee the development of the under-20 squad and to make them ready to play Anastasiadis’ team in the Victorian NPL (National Premier League).
“Once they get to 20, my view is that once they played under-20s, bearing in mind the players range from 16 through to 19, by that age they should be technically developed to the point that they can play senior football,” Squizzy said.
“My job is to get them ready to take that next step to play senior football as in they are tactically aware and they’ll know their job when they push through the senior team, they’ll know exactly what is expected of them in terms of positioning, tactics, application, commitment, that sort of stuff.”
One player who has made the transition from under-20s football to senior football at Bentleigh is Dimitar “Dimi” Mitkov. The 18-year-old represented Australia at under-13 level and he also played for Macedonia’s under-19 squad.
After playing for years in youth teams in England and Macedonia, Mitkov talked about the differences in training methods in established football nations and in a developing football nation like Australia.
“Playing in Europe is definitely on another level compared to Australia,” he said.
“I was 15 when I arrived there and I was already training 6 times a week - two days being double sessions - with a match. I was on trial at some massive clubs like Manchester United, Burnley and Rangers but unfortunately because of passport/visa restrictions nothing could eventuate.”
Mitkov joined the Greens in September last year and he has finally had the opportunity to play senior football and had the experience of playing against players of different age groups.
“Being at Bentleigh has given me the opportunity to experience senior football a lot more. Previously I've always been a part of youth squads, so I've never really had that kind of challenge,” Mitkov said.
“In senior football you're playing against more experienced, older and physically stronger players compared to youth football where everyone is more or less your age.
“Also only the elite young players get to progress into senior football, so if you're not up to the standard you'll be eventually filtered out.”
“Squizzy” Taylor will probably be hoping that not many players have to be filtered out and he believes that Bentleigh prides itself on being a club that relies on bringing up players from its own ranks.
“Bentleigh is a club that is very, very focused on player development and trying and pushing as many players through towards senior football as we can.”