The unheralded yet serious threat to the Australian game, a youngster finding a home at Adelaide United, contextualising Sam Kerr's achievements and much more. It's all here in ESPN's Australian Football Wrap!
Cavallo and the recycling of A-League players
One of the most widely heralded aspects of the 2020-21 A-League season has been the opportunities afforded to youth; a much-appreciated palette cleanser from the perceived constant recycling of older, established players in seasons gone.
On some level, it's completely accurate -- and welcome -- but it also somewhat glosses over that many of these youngsters aren't playing with their first A-League clubs, either.
Macarthur FC's Denis Genreau, for example, made his way to Campbelltown by way of Melbourne City, while City's Marco Tilio arrived via Sydney FC, and the Central Coast Mariners' Gianni Stensness has previously been with Wellington Phoenix.
It appears, then, that not all "recycling" is created equal: a youngster finding their pathways at one club blocked and moving on is a much different proposition to a replacement-level veteran moving onto their innumerable club due to risk aversion from coaches.
To conflate the two is, at best, lazy or, at worst, intellectually dishonest.
Helping his side to a 1-0 win over Brisbane Roar on Sunday evening to give their finals hopes a major boost, Josh Cavallo has experienced his own winding path; his A-League journey taking him from Melbourne Victory to City to Western United to, finally, Adelaide United.
"I think everyone would rather just be at one club for their whole career but there are different circumstances, different things happen, coaches change," Cavallo told ESPN.
"Every coach has a different opinion of you. You've got to find the right glove that you fit in. Unfortunately, this is Australian football, that's how it happens. In Europe, you might move to another league or country but in Australia, you can't do that, you have to move to another [A-League] club or state.
"[Western United coach Mark Rudan] had a chat with me at the end of last season and said that he wants me to grow as a footballer and he wished me all the best, but that I wasn't in his plans going forward. I totally respected his decision and it helped me grow as a person because he told me the truth -- he didn't lie to me.
"Adelaide invited me over for a three-day trial. [Western] said if the opportunity didn't work they were happy to have me back. I had nothing to lose, so coming to Adelaide I was really excited and ambitious.
"But now, four months down the track, I couldn't be any happier. It's been worth it and it was worth the risk."
Since arriving in the City of Churches, 21-year-old Cavallo has seemingly found a fit that will allow him to thrive: starting 12 out of 14 games he has dressed for and playing both a central midfield and left-back role. Named in the A-League's team of the week for matchweek 20, he signed a two-year contract extension with the Reds in early May.
"I think the biggest factor [in his success] was having a coach [Carl Veart] that had trust in me to play. He sends me out there without fear," Cavallo said.
"Carl tells me that I'm good enough to go and that trust means a lot."
Now, helping Adelaide achieve silverware -- outside of their ubiquitous FFA Cup triumphs -- is at the forefront of Cavallo's mind; the youngster telling ESPN he had been blown away by the support from Reds' fans since his arrival.
But beyond that, the youngster also has an international future on his mind -- be it for the Socceroos or another national team.
"Personally, I really want to look at pushing for the Olympics or the Maltese national team. I've had a few talks going forward with the Maltese national team so I want to look at taking a step into their first team or look at going to the Olympics with Australia," he said.
"I got a phone call from [Australian-born, Malta international] John Hutchinson, he was mentioning that Malta is very interested."
Hemed's goal celebration
Tomer Hemed proved vital for Wellington in their 2-2 draw with City, scoring both of his side's goals as they took a point from the runaway league leaders. But the celebration of his second goal became a talking point.
The Israel international produced a hidden kippah from his jersey in the wake of the equaliser, donned it and then put a hand across his face in an apparent gesture of prayer, earning himself a yellow card.
The 34-year-old wasn't booked for the act of prayer itself but, instead, for his use of a kippah. According to FIFA rules, "a player must be cautioned, even if the goal is disallowed" for "covering the head or face with a mask or other similar item."
There were suggestions online that referee Alireza Faghani's Iranian heritage played a role in the decision. However, Faghani is one of the A-League's best officials, and any referee would have made the booking. Hemed appeared to be well aware and accepting of the coming card even before Faghani produced it.
Hemed had celebrated with supporters bearing an Israeli flag after scoring his first goal on Sunday, as he has done on multiple occasions this season. These celebrations don't go against any A-League rules since the abolishment of the NCIP policy, and teammate Ulises Davila has done similar with a Mexican flag in season 2020-21.
However, with the striker recently posting on Instagram a story carrying the message "Israel has a right to defend itself" and sharing posts from the Israel Defense Forces, his choreographed second celebration was quick to be seen as a message of support for his homeland during its bloody and ongoing battle with Hamas in Gaza -- opening the door for controversy amid the conflict's rising death toll.
The Phoenix declined to allow Hemed to answer questions from journalists after the game.
AP has reported that at least 188 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since fighting began and that at least eight Israelis have died.
Respecting the referees
Australian football has a recruitment and development problem. Not in its youth ranks (ok, that too), but in the engagement and retention of referees.
As football at a grassroots and NPL level emerges from COVID-19, the task of sourcing officials for games at the lower tiers and the youth ranks is proving more and more difficult. Referees are frequently being required for several games a weekend and, if they become unavailable, games often have to go without a full contingent of match officials.
Some of this is down to the reorganisation of life forced by the pandemic: officials taking up employment during football's absence that now commits them to Saturday and Sunday work. In other cases, there is a lack of investment in the recruitment, training and remuneration of referees to attract sufficient numbers.
Please read 👇 pic.twitter.com/gzLoUVVDwn— Del Dimoski (@DelfinaDimoski) May 16, 2021
Beyond this, prevailing trends of abuse, sniping and Dunning-Kruger induced second-guessing of referees -- a culture of which permeates the game from the professional ranks to, sickeningly, its junior levels -- does little to induce an individual to pick up or keep working with a whistle.
"There's a multitude of factors for the shortage of referees," Victoria-based grassroots referee Damir Kulas told ESPN.
"Refereeing is primarily weekend work. Over time, many referees give it away due to family, work and other commitments in order to keep their weekends free.
"Having said that though, the lack of respect and abuse directed towards referees is not helping the situation. Just like any other workplace, individuals do not want to go to work and get abused, bullied and threatened. This happens on an all too frequent basis.
"This from my understanding is the primary factor in younger referees leaving within their first few seasons of officiating. We as a game need a cultural shift in how we regard and treat referees. Greater empathy and understanding is required. The mistakes of players are rarely ever given the same weight as that of referees."
For all the talk about how the game in Australia can improve at the professional level, its treatment of referees is something that the entire ecosystem needs to improve -- or else serious damage could be done in the long run.
Good Football Thing of the Week
Andy Keogh. Damn son.
Kerr is a global force to be reckoned with
Superlatives for and articles on Sam Kerr are legion but, even if she may have run into a Barcelona juggernaut in her quest for a treble of trophies with Chelsea in Sunday's Champions League final, they still feel insufficient in capturing and contextualising the scale of her achievements over the past year -- especially for a broader Australian audience.
At the peak of her powers and playing the world's most popular sport for one of its biggest clubs, ESPN recently ranked the 27-year-old as the second-best player in the women's game. To repeat, playing easily the world's biggest sport, there is only a single player better in 50% of the world's population.
She was not only a part of a team that won an English title but also led that league in goals and as a frequent face of Nike and EA Sports, amongst others, advertising campaigns, she is rapidly becoming Australia's most famous international athlete -- simultaneously benefiting from and being a major driver of the rapid growth of the women's game in Australia and around the world.
She's a big, big deal in football circles, and she should be a bigger deal outside them.
W-League building behind the scenes
But with a Women's World Cup on the horizon and Kerr and her Matildas teammates forging paths in Europe, the question confronting footballing administrators in Australia is if they are willing to do what it takes to invest the monetary and intellectual capital and sit at the table that has been laid for them.
Progress on this front was made on Sunday with the announcement that funding had been secured for a "Home of the Matildas" in Melbourne -- securing the game a much-needed infrastructural win.
Elsewhere, Australian Professional Leagues commissioner Greg O'Rourke told ESPN in April that the organisation planned to expand the W-League to "12, potentially 13 clubs," in the coming seasons and that "there is intent that next year you'll see more than nine W-League teams." ESPN sources are optimistic this goal remains on track.
One prospective W-League team has already actively commenced laying the groundwork for recruiting a 2021-22 side and assembling a coaching staff even without an official announcement of their addition to the league.
In other W-League news, Melbourne City officials have told ESPN that, though speculation had mounted that he was to move aside, Rado Vidosic will return as the club's W-League coach for the 2021-22 campaign.
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