Technical Director Melvyn Wilkes caught up with Carlos Alberto Diego from Football Nation Radio to discuss the upcoming NPL season, player development, and the future of the club.
Diego: Sunshine Coast FC was founded in 2007 and had incredible success both in the men’s and women’s in the Queensland State League; over 10 years on what does a club look like today?
Wilkes: It’s a very different story if I’m being honest. Obviously with the inception of the National Premier Leagues the success you’ve just spoken about was in the Queensland State League, the QSL, so with the NPL coming online obviously a new level of competition so things are very much different in terms of where we need to be and where we’re currently at so it’s very much a work in progress.
Diego: Absolutely Melvyn, and just on that point there, last season was pretty much a forgettable one for the club finishing last and experienced some heavy losses at times but you’ve got a new coach and recruited well in the off-season what’s your target for 2018?
Wilkes: Yeah, I’ve literally just got in the country I’m from 8 months away so I left the season relatively early. But that said I was a part of the plans that put a lot of the measures in place last season. A lot of young players that were given an opportunity to play at National Premier Leagues level and that is what the competition is; not solely supposed to be about but that’s what it’s about to develop the players for the next generation.
It wasn’t the type of season that the football club wanted, again that said a lot of players that did come through, the younger ones, have obviously moved on to bigger and better things. This season the signs that we’ve got and the indications we’ve got from the pre-season friendly that we’ve just had and are currently having, the team’s a lot stronger and obviously with a new coach Ali Demircan and Assistant Coach Alex Smith, who is an ex-Hyundai A-League player, is very encouraging to say the least.
Diego: Tell us about that transition from the successful Sunshine Coast FC to the one that sort of struggled a little bit last season. In the end you can look at the results is was a pretty poor season in the end. Tell us what happened there, is the competition of the NPL so tight and so competitive that the money comes into it and perhaps you don’t have the money to recruit those big name players that make you compete against the likes of Brisbane Strikers and those sorts of teams?
Wilkes: No it’s far from the truth actually I mean you look at the team that played in the QSL and I don’t want to mention too many names because it would be unprofessional. There’s players that are currently playing for South Melbourne and for Strikers that were in our QSL team that were paid really good money and really as with any football club that have reasonable success like we did, it gives an opportunity for the other clubs to come and cherry pick the best players and try and take them to their clubs which in fact happened with Sunshine Coast FC.
Now on top of that, what then needs to happen is you have to have a junior section, a conveyor belt of players that is the next generation of players ready to step into the breach when players move on and that’s inevitable in any football competition that any successful club in the world with players that are operating at the very top end in performing then they’re going to be subject to moves from other clubs and money talks in football. If somebody offers a player an extra $50 or $100 down the road then generally speaking what tends to happen is players go.
Diego: The thing about having a club that has had success really from its inception is you know what success looks like and you know what you need to do to get back to success if things haven’t gone all that well for you. You started up a professional development academy a few years ago and it sounds like one of those modern state-of-the-art type academies where you get an assembly line of kids coming through. How’s that operating that program, have you seen the success that you hoped for when it first started.
Wilkes: Absolutely, again you know when the club had its success they only operated with seniors with so when the juniors came online it took a little bit of time to get everything in place in terms of coaching staff, infrastructure, technical syllabus, etc. I’ve been here just over two and a half years and when I was employed by the club my remit was very straightforward in that they wanted players from the junior section coming through and getting into the seniors which did happen and has continued to happen.
What happens is, lot of people that are listening to this will understand fully, that we produced in excess of 90 players male and female that have represented State, Federation, rep, schools football and actually gone on to W-League and A-League youth teams and because of that they again get cherry picked for the W-League and the A-League youth teams and the state league teams so even with the senior players I’ve just spoken about that move on for bigger money, it’s a similar sort of effect for the junior players. When you produce good junior players they move on to private schools with the likes of the A-League youth teams so you still actually lose the junior youth players. We’ve had a lot of success, probably the most in Queensland, over the last two and a half years but we’re a victim of that success because of the natural turnover and the high volume of the players that we’ve produced.
Diego: There are clubs out there Melvyn that actually look at that as their remit, there’s their charter just to develop players that can go on by way of A-League youth teams or maybe play a-league football or go overseas and they see that’s their purpose. What does Sunshine Coast FC see as their purpose, do you need to keep a hold of these players? Is that something that you’re going to be looking at in the future to try and keep a hold of them so you can be successful and a high-ranking team in the NPL and maybe even down the track look at second division type spot in any professional second division that might start up in Australia?
Wilkes: Yes, we actually explored that and we were still in advanced talks and are still in advanced talks to put that measure in place. Once you start talking about a potential second tier competition and us being a part of that second tier competition is then very much a hold to keep your players on the Sunshine Coast and keep them with the football club. Without going into too much detail we just signed a memorandum of understanding with an organisation in Europe that will see us working very closely with over 100 professional teams from Premier League to Football League in the UK where we will be taking players in the first instance from Queensland to play a lot of the Premier League clubs and actually bring the Premier League clubs on to the Sunshine Coast initially before we roll out nationally. There’s a little bit to do but we’re very much in the final stages of making that happen before March.
Diego: I’m sure we’ll speak again later on in the NPL season but just in closing today obviously you got to recover from a pretty awful season last year to being competitive this year are you looking for more than just being competitive, do you want to make finals, do you want to try and win some silverware this season?
Wilkes: Yeah every club’s dream remit at the beginning of the season is to get to finals and try and get some silverware. We’re very realistic, we had a very heavy season last season in terms of senior football so you know first and foremost we’ve got to put some runs on the board in and get some traction with the senior men’s team but with the players that we’ve currently got and the success we’ve had in pre-season we would be looking for that sort of mid-table finish and I wouldn’t count us out of getting into finals but it would be silly for any coach or technical director to start to say ‘we’re gonna be in finals’ because you can’t guarantee that in football and when you do guarantee that in football people start to get the sack. We’ve just got to be realistic and terms of making sure that we’re competitive and we are first and foremost we’re aiming to climb the ladder and then see where the season takes us as the season develops basically.
Diego: Good on you Melvyn, like I said we’ll definitely chat to people there at Sunshine Coast FC during the NPL season. Good luck. Big mountain to climb this season but I’m sure you’ve got the right structures and you’ve got the right pedigree of success to be able to get back on track this season.
Wilkes: Yeah, no doubt I’ll be speaking to you very imminently with the progress on the new development because it’ll be an Australian first, it’s actually worldwide first which will encompass the Premier League so we’ll see what happens there will be exciting times ahead so I’ll speak to you soon.