Five Years On - The Cornerstones Of Academy Success

Nearly five years after the inception of Sydney FC’s Academy, Technical Directory – Youth Kelly Cross has revealed the keys behind the club’s youth success.

With a raft of junior titles to Sydney FC’s name, Cross said there are three key principles underpinning the Sky Blues’ Academy as the premier youth setup in the country.

Cross is one of Australian Football's most successful developers of young talent, and the former Assistant National Technical Director of Australia has described how he built Sydney FC’s Academy from the ground up.

“When I started the role, there was absolutely nothing in place, no coaches, no players, not even one piece of paper,” Cross said.

“[Sydney FC Chairman] Scott Barlow and [Sydney FC Director] Han Berger gave me the freedom, entrusting me with a rather unique project.

“I started by establishing three cornerstones for the Academy: Clear Philosophy, Good People, and Learning Environment, believing they would be the vital ingredients for a foundation. Five years later, guided by those three things, we all feel we’ve moved forward into an exciting position.

“We only allow good people into this environment, especially when we recognize that we are basically looking after someone else’s children. Coaches and support staff at Sydney FC have the perfect personality to nurture young players,” Cross continued.

“Also, to be selected as a player here, it is important to have the right personal attributes, so we look closely at school reports for any red flags. In terms of a learning environment, it’s in a fantastic space, but we continue to ask questions and seek advice from academic experts in order to improve it in any way we can.

“We guide players with an Individual Action Plan, and each player has a ‘mentor’, not a coach; this mentor builds a personal relationship with the boy, forming a caring bond which then allows the player to be guided and even pushed if necessary to reach a higher level of individual performance.

“By working hard at bringing those three things to life we are now very encouraged by the success our players are achieving and the feedback we get from players and parents.”

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Sydney FC's Academy stars celebrate a goal at Lambert Park, Leichhardt. Photos by Jaime Castaneda (@jamcas50)

Cross is also one of FIFA’s High Performance Experts, currently engaged in the global eco-analysis project aimed at improving Talent Development around the world.

And he believes the Sydney FC Academy can become the Australian equivalent of partner club AFC Ajax, with progression of players through the ranks a key component of that.

“The most pleasing, and most important, success is that we have created a very special environment and a true culture of excellence in only five years, completely from scratch,” he said.

“On average all our teams are made up of 50% younger players. Our current NPL 1st Division men’s team is made up of four U19’s, six U18’s and one U17.

“Also, we are regularly seeing a large number of our players gaining selection in national teams, including a batch of nine selected for an Australian U18 camp last year. Four of our lads played just about every minute of Australia’s four games at the U17 World Cup in Brazil last year.

“We believe in a ‘family’ atmosphere and prefer to promote our own players and staff.

“We would like to be recognized as the leader in player development in Australia, the same way Ajax is in Holland: developing a significant number of players for our first team, but also seeing other graduates in overseas clubs, even other clubs in the A-League,” he continued.

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Sydney FC Technical Director - Youth Kelly Cross s also one of FIFA’s High Performance Experts.

Cross said he’s pleased with the direction that Sydney FC’s Academy is heading, and also indicated his hopes for the future, including an expansion to developing the next generation of Australian female footballers.

“All we did was to start with a set of beliefs and values, and then set a direction, not a destination,” Cross said.

“We still hold those beliefs at the core of what we do, and we are still heading in the same direction. That in itself is an achievement. To see how our approach now seems to be bearing fruit, with all the signs pointing to continuous improvement, is very satisfying for everyone that’s been involved over the last five years.

“It seems to me that every player and every staff member loves coming to training, they look forward to getting together, they are enjoying their football: that alone would have to be the most significant thing that we have achieved to date.

“I am also totally convinced that by creating that situation, you provide the perfect platform for a high level of achievement for every player.

“When our Centre of Excellence is completed next year, we will be able to take our operations to another level,” he continued.

“We will really be able to develop a sense of belonging, connection to the whole club and especially a close link to the first team.

“In the future, I’d also like to one day see a Sydney FC girl’s Academy, feeding through to the W-League squad.”

Sydney FC will be producing a range of content in recognition of five years of the club’s Academy. Visit sydneyfc.com/academy to stay up to date with all the latest content.