The A-League and W-League seasons are drawing ever closer but, unfortunately, one of the ugly sides of the game came under the spotlight this week after Josh Hope announced he was stepping away from the game due to social media abuse. Elsewhere, Perth Glory CEO Tony Pignata answered questions about his side's coming season, Daniel Georgievski has a new role, and much more!
Hope quits over social media abuse
Last week, the PFA released its annual A-League report, which highlighted how the COVID-altered landscape looked set to shake up the competition's aging demographics. It offered a silver lining to the current travails of the game, but also highlighted the need for those involved to provide tailored support and care for the mental wellbeing of young players.
Unfortunately, that need was reinforced this week when 22-year-old former Melbourne Victory midfielder Josh Hope took to his Instagram account to reveal that he was stepping away from the A-League due to online abuse he has received. Hope's representative, John Grimaud, said on social media that the youngster needed time away from the professional game to fall in love with football again and is likely to sign with an NPL side.
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Well I never thought I'd be typing this one up but here we are. Some 4 years it's been, the life of a professional sportsman. Geez its been good, the people you meet and the memories I've made, I won't ever forget. Football has been such a big part of my life ever since I can remember. But it's time for me to call it in, for now....it isn't all smooth sailing and I just wonna put my experiences out there so that if anyone ever feels like they are the only one! Ya not! The anxiety that comes with this shit is crazy, I never thought it would get to the point it did. I kept pretty quiet about it for a long time but I started to see it creep into my day to day life. And at the end of the day it made me not enjoy my football.. at all. Critics come with all sports and only the strong survive, (so they say) but some of the shit is relentless. I was so over being treated like just a 'player'. We aren't just someone you see on the TV screen, we are people no different to anyone else. It didn't just stop after the final whistle, it's a constant battle with people who are supposedly meant to be supporting you. Some of the things I would see not only regarding myself but others was nothing less than abuse. And I'm not talking Football related! Ofcourse there's going to be clueless people saying the first thing that pops into their head. But when it gets personal, to the colour of their skin, to how they talk, to a haircut. I get it, it's a cruel world but geez if that's how it's going to be I don't want to be a part of it. Without a doubt this is the hardest decision I've ever made but I hope at the end of it I'm going to come back stronger. Mind and body. And be the player i know i am before this shit took over. In the mean time, I am so keen to focus on myself and spend some time home with family & friends! And ofcourse this cutie. This isn't the end... we only just getting started mf's! Remember it's ok to not be ok, no matter who you are ❤️ #speakupstaychatty
Regrettably, it's a problem that extends beyond the club scene and online comments about two Young Matildas defeats during AFC U19 Women's Championship qualification in 2019 was so vitriolic that the official posts were removed from Facebook and Instagram.
"If a team loses or a player plays poorly there's definitely going to be 100 comments on them," one young A-League player told ESPN. "If a kid sees that and reads it ... you can just imagine the pressure they're put under. They're a teenager or in their early 20s and they're thinking 'f---, people already hate me. People don't rate me'
"As a young player, you don't want to be that guy that's always upset or asking for meetings and telling people how they're feeling, because it's a sign of weakness. All young players are taught not to show weakness, whether it's physical or mental -- just stay strong. But sometimes you can't stay strong, you feel like s--- and you just need to tell someone."
The perception, right or wrong, that young players are in an environment in which they cannot seek support only emphasises the need for readily available and tailored responses.
"The adolescents and Young Adult (AYA) period is an extremely vulnerable time for mental health issues," Dr Pandora Patterson, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney and practising clinical psychologist, explained to ESPN. "We have about 20% to 25% of mental health disorders diagnosed in adolescents and the period that we call emerging adulthood -- which is that young adulthood stage -- and, compared to other periods of life such as childhood and adulthood, the AYA period is the most vulnerable in terms of mental health concerns. It's arguably the most rapid and qualitatively changing developmental period throughout life."
Despotovski leaves as Glory move forward
On Monday, it was announced that Perth Glory W-League coach Bobby Despotovski would be stepping down from his role, the 49-year-old stating that "people step in and step out of football for a number of different reasons and I'll definitely still come to games and support the team."
Though it ended without silverware, Despotovski's tenure did include two Grand Final appearances and brought a number of promising West Australian youngsters into the Glory setup. Glory's all-time record holder for goals, he also played a key role in the honing of Australia star Sam Kerr during her time at Glory, during which she became the W-League's first ever marquee player.
Questions had begun to be quietly raised over the ability of the Glory to fully compete in the 2020-21 W-League season due to COVID-related issues even prior to Despotovksi's exit; a lack of clarity over the border situation hampering efforts at squad retention and building. But, with the recent announcement of the limited relaxing of WA's hard border, club CEO Tony Pignata has told ESPN that any such fears, assuming current trends continue, can be allayed.
The Glory executive said a recruitment process for a new W-League coach was now in motion, with a decision targeted for the next three or four weeks and an Australian coach all but certain to be named. Experience in the WA scene wasn't a requirement, but was described as a "positive" for any application.
"There was discussion with the W-league whether we relocated over east or whether we skipped a year," Pignata said. "But with the borders opening up, at least we can get the league up and running in December and we can play teams such as Adelaide and Brisbane. Hopefully by the time it comes to play teams from the other states the borders are opening around late January or early February.
"It's a little bit different then the men's, it's hard for a W-league team to hub because a lot of them have school and work and other commitments -- so that wouldn't be an option. But unless [new border restrictions] happens, we'll have a season with the W-league team being based out of Perth now.
"More likely that it will be mainly local players [that are recruited] -- giving an opportunity to local players to play. Because at the moment getting people into the country is difficult because you've got hotel quarantine and a host of issues so it's fair to say we'd be looking at local players. It gives people a chance who may have not yet had a chance to play in the W-league, show their wares and who knows what happens after that. So that's a positive thing, definitely."
With the W-League season less than two months away, Glory are one of three sides -- the others being Melbourne City and Newcastle -- yet to publicly announce any players for the coming campaign.
Sources have told ESPN that City has, however, monitored Katrina Gorry with a possible view toward bringing her to Bundoora, and are also keen on former Brisbane prospects Hollie Palmer and Leah Davidson. Elsewhere, Melbourne Victory announced the signing of former FC Bulleen Lions defender Kayla Morrison on Wednesday, while Brisbane secured the signature of returning Matilda, Tameka Yallop.
Sam Kerr: Australia's home-grown hero
Matildas captain and star striker Sam Kerr sits down with ESPN to share her journey from Aussie rules to soccer and what coming home to Perth truly means.
Georgievski's new job
It's been an eventful year for Daniel Georgievski and his Western Sydney Wanderers; coaching upheaval and the COVID-19 pandemic playing havoc with a season that began with so much anticipation. But now, entering his sixth A-League preseason, the defender says that the return to routine is a welcome one.
"After 14 years of preseason, I don't want to use the word enjoyable but, without taking the p---, it's going well," he told ESPN. "The gaffer's come in and has been firm, friendly and given it to us straight. He's been quite vocal, given us a lot of communication."
Off the field, Georgievski is one of the most affable and charismatic players in the A-League, going so far as to pinch hit on A-League media coverage when not indisposed. But in the coming years, any burgeoning media career will need to be balanced with another commitment as, putting an FFA/AFC B license earned while at Newcastle to good use, the 32-year-old was recently named as Technical Director for boy's sides of NSW NPL3 side Inter Lions.
"While we were just laying around and doing nothing [during the league's COVID break], I was training with a few of the boys around Concord," he explained. "They must have seen us around and found out that I live in that area and I just got a phone call; they had a proposal for me and I said I'd come and sit down.
"They just built a new training facility and pretty much everything, and they said we're looking for a TD with my qualities -- a winning mentality. I thought 'eh, why not?' I spoke to someone at the Wanderers and they were fine with it because it won't get in the way of my training and Inter Lions have been quite good with everything with the Wanderers commitments.
"I've got four coaches under me and I'm trying to implement a firm mentality and policy there. We'll see how it goes! They've been very good with it."
Nisbet's hope for the future at Mariners
Central Coast Mariners' Josh Nisbet may be most well-known for *that* photo next to Usain Bolt, but the youngster is hoping to let his play set a new narrative in the season ahead.
The diminutive midfielder, who is listed at 5-foot-2 tall, signed his first senior contract with the Mariners in March; a pact that will keep him in Gosford until the end of the 2021-22 season -- or potentially earn his side a transfer fee should he attract overseas interest before then.
"To me, it doesn't feel that different, I'm still trying to do my best and keep the same mindset that I had on the scholarship: try to play as much as I can," he told ESPN. "I guess there maybe is a bit of pride knowing that I am on a full deal and am considered a fully professional footballer. The main goal [for 2020-21] is to play as many minutes and start as many games as I can and if I can get that first goal that would be great as well."
Nisbet is one of a number of younger players with a clear pathway towards regular football in 2020-21, with COVID-19's economic impact forcing a focus on player development that was already being reinforced by Alen Stajcic.
"Mariners has always been a club that promotes the youth and wants them to do well," he said. "The current staff believe in that and that's why they've been promoting a lot of youth. You can see with Dan Hall and Matt Hatch, they've been promoted and hopefully they'll play. We understand we've got a young group and we're sort of seeing that as a positive thing, because if we can get to know each other well and get things happening we could be together for a few years."
Mawith heading for Europe after AFCON qualifiers
Previously on the books of Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and NPL Victoria side Port Melbourne, goalkeeper Majak Mawith arrived in South Sudan last week as one of six Australia-based players set to represent their nation in back-to-back AFCON qualifiers against Uganda.
Part of a growing bastion of players of South Sudanese origin that are based Down Under, the youngster is relishing the chance to pull on the Bright Stars shirt again as he and his side look to get their qualifying campaign, which began with losses against Malawi and Burkina Faso, back on track in Kampala on Nov. 12.
"Since first coming to the camp, the team's been looking pretty sharp," Mawith told ESPN. "They had just arrived back home to South Sudan from Cameroon after two well played friendly matches. Now that 90% of the players have arrived we're buzzing to get the games underway. We're pushing each other each day, on and off the pitch and looking really strong for the upcoming matches. Uganda is going to come out strong but we're fighters and are going to do everything to get those points up for grabs.
"Every day there's improvements being made, not just from the players but also from the federation and coaching staff. When I first came to camp there was quality in the team but comparing that to now, we have come a long way. The biggest improvement so far is the new training facility based here at home in South Sudan. Before we had to travel to other countries to do training camps and to play our games. Now we also have a new stadium being built and hopefully finishing by the end of the year, inshallah."
Mawith won't be returning to Australia at the conclusion of the Bright Stars slate of coming games, though, with the 21-year-old having made the decision to try his luck in Europe after securing trials with a number of clubs.
The life of a semi-pro is tough
Ahead of the 2016 NPL season, Josh Wilkins transferred from WA powers Perth SC to Heidelberg United, hoping that a move to the high-quality Victorian league would help propel him into the sights of A-League clubs. On the field, the transfer brought almost nothing but success, but a foothold in the next level, as it has for many NPL Victoria standouts, has proved frustratingly elusive.
The right-back previously secured trials with Wellington Phoenix and Central Coast Mariners, but the logistical challenges of uprooting himself during the final stages of a Masters of Exercise Physiology and his work in construction without the safety net of family and friends around him made it too tough.
It's understood that Wilkins has recently attracted some level of interest from Newcastle Jets, dependent on border restrictions, but as he explained to ESPN, his mindset surrounding A-League opportunities has evolved. It's not a simple task for a semi-professional to drop everything in the hope of maybe securing a contract -- especially in the time of COVID.
"A lot of the time you can spend AU$4,000 in flights, accommodation and work losses to go and trial for two weeks and the only hope you have for reimbursement is if you get a pro contract," he explained to ESPN. "I've spent over AU$6,000 of my own money in the past going on trials and it's a big task.
"This time around I need to know that I'm not wasting my time, I need to know that I'm going there as a trialist that they're actually interested in before I possibly pay for flights and accommodation and possible quarantine. As a defender, I'm not going to turn up and wow them over one session. My job is consistency and defending well for a long period of time. It's not my job to score worldies that get me signed then and there.
"Of course, you have to take a risk and roll the dice, but you also have to know where you stand and know your worth so you're not wasting your time. There's a lot more opportunity for younger and semi-pro players this year. But actually facilitating that movement, that's the struggle because of the restrictions -- especially travelling interstate."