There are few people in Australia who can match the contribution to football of Aytek Genc, the former Socceroo and current Head of Football at St George City.
He has been an ever present in the game since he first played senior football in 1986 until he retired in 2002 and entered the coaching ranks, where his most important roles were assistant coach at Sydney FC under Branko Culina and head coach at Blacktown City where he enjoyed great success.
He has also been an authoritative radio and television commentator over many years.
The fact he only played four times in the 90’s for the Socceroos was a reflection of the high quality footballers he was competing against like Mori, Tapai, Aurelio Vidmar and Corica.
However, this never affected his performances in the N.S.L. and I clearly remember the solo run he made from half way on the 31st January, 1993, playing for Parramatta Eagles against Sydney United at Melita Stadium.
Leaving all opponents in his wake, he ran the length of the Sydney United half and planted the ball in the back of the net.
The jubilation shone on his face and he raced to the fence behind the goal and embraced his two brothers.
When he returned to the field, the referee showed him the red card but Genc had already inflicted considerable pain on the Sydney United defence and Parramatta Eagles ran out winners 3-0 on the day.
Genc was employed by the St George Football Association eight years ago to oversee the development of young players in the district and with the entry of St George City F. A. in 2016 to State League competition, he realised his dream to guide a senior club on a pathway to success.
In 2016, the club won the State League treble and were promoted to NPL 3 NSW Men’s.
After a consolidation season in 2017 when they finished third in the League, this year the club came out all guns blazing and has dominated the season.
With two rounds to play, St. George City FA only requires nine points from a possible forty two to claim promotion to NPL 2 NSW Men’s and if this occurs, Genc has solved one more piece in the puzzle to take St. George City to the highest level of competition and guarantee a pathway for young players in the district.
In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Aytek Genc discusses the state of Australian football at senior and youth level, his activity and achievements at St. George City and future plans.
Looking back at the great players who you played with and against e.g. Patikas, Katholos, Kalantzis, Soper, Raskopoulos, Spiteri, Viduka, Farina, Zelic, Ollerenshaw, Okon, Wheatley and Carter, where are we going wrong that we can’t match this production line?
The landscape has naturally changed from those days when there was more natural talent and players were allowed to express themselves with more freedom, rather than being stultified by rigid formations.
We played football in the streets and were never overcoached which enabled us to develop our own special character.
However, we had to perform and if you didn’t, the coach would let you know without holding back.
Today, the coaches look at the team formation and as long as you play within that space, the individual performance isn’t so critical.
We always played the ball forward and knew where the goal was.
Also, the home environment is different today where the players are spoilt and parents try to influence the kids’ pathways and are happy if the child is content.
The young players need to have it in them to succeed and critically we always played, even with injury because it was embarrassing if we didn’t.
The Socceroos weren’t expected to achieve wonders in Russia and unfortunately fulfilled this prediction.
Can you explain why?
Compared to other countries on the world stage, our teams lack quality in the front third.
Leckie and Rogic tried hard and Arzani at least tried to take players on.
I remember the former England flanker, Chris Waddle, who would tease defenders before beating them.
We need young players who aren’t afraid to try things and take opponents on at speed and make proactive runs off the ball to keep opponents guessing.
Also our national team needs more mobility and should get more bodies forward in support positions to get on the end of crosses.
The question of the failure to use Luongo, Petratos, McClaren and the limited appearance of Tim Cahill has been debated for many months since the World Cup.
What are your thoughts?
Despite the balance provided by Jedinak, Mooy and Rogic, I believe Luongo should’ve been used because he is quick thinking, good on the ball and can open up defences.
Petratos is a clever player with a great shot on both feet and was one of the few players who competed in the drubbing by Norway so he could consider himself most unfortunate not to play in the Group stage.
McClaren is predominantly a goalscorer so he needs service from a dominant team to be effective.
Nevertheless, he also deserved an opportunity to play.
There were times Risdon got forward and whipped in some good crosses but there was nobody there to capitalise as only Tim Cahill can do.
Tim also hit the only decent shot from range in the three matches which was blocked by the Peruvian defender.
In a nutshell, I believe these players will not look back at the tournament with any fond memories.
Where is our youth development going wrong, and what should be the role of the technical director?
In the first instance, if you don’t have good identification with competent talent scouts, you can’t get past first base.
These scouts should preferably be former professional players who can identify the qualities of a young player but they have to be compensated adequately for their expertise.
At the moment, I rely on speaking with coaching directors and clubs to source players but the weakness is you could be missing out on seeing a lot of talent so a rapid injection of funds is required to conduct a fullproof selection process.
The technical director should be playing a key role in providing the best coaching structure for our youth players and most importantly provide the very best of input.
They need to work with the coaches, set the playing philosophy, drive the style of play and control individual and team development.
An influx of former professionals into coaching would also fast track playing standards but once again, more money needs to be invested in this area.
What are your objectives at St. George City F.A.?
This has been part of a long term project as I started in a part time role for the first two years and in the last six years, I’ve been employed in a full time situation.
At grass roots there are twenty two clubs and the development program caters for under 8’s , 11’s and 12’s in Centres of Excellence, 9-12’s in SAP, 13-16’s in Association Youth League and 13-16’s in N.P.L.
All these players have a pathway now which has been reinforced by the success of the senior NPL club and once we’ve gained promotion to NPL 2 NSW Men’s , we would like to think the top division is clearly in our sights.
The senior club has experienced a marvellous year in NPL Men’s 3.
Who were the key players in this success?
It’s been a great team effort but if you’re going to single out individuals, special mention must be made of fullback Sean Thomas, flanker Sam Messar, striker Emmanuel Loumis who plays a similar role to Mark Viduka, Geoffrey Lino who is big and fast but unfortunately missed seven weeks of the season after scoring freely before being injured and Steve Kuzmanovski who also has scored some vital goals.
Also, the great contribution of Manny Spanoudakis as head coach has been critical to the first team success and in encouraging attacking football which has realised the team a goal difference of 50+.
Your club is one of the signatories to Southern expansion.
What merits do you see in this bid?
We signed a memorandum of understanding twelve months ago with Southern Expansion and Sydney F.C.
Expansion is important for the A-League as there are huge catchment areas like Bankstown and Canterbury which need to be catered for.
Southern Expansion can provide more opportunity and pathways for aspiring players but in the end time will tell if the bid is successful.
You are achieving great things at St. George City but would you contemplate a return to A-League coaching?
At the moment I’m very satisfied with my life in football and if the club can secure promotion to NPL 2 NSW Men’s, it will be a vindication of the investment made by the club.
The next target will be NPL 1 NSW Men’s.
However, in the long term if an opportunity arose in the A-League, I wouldn’t dismiss it.
This article first appeared on the Johnny Warren Football Foundation