“You can’t win anything with kids.”
Over two decades have passed since Alan Hansen uttered these infamous words on BBC’s Match of the Day after Alex Ferguson’s youthful Manchester United line-up were defeated 3-1 by Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995/96 season.
The former Liverpool and Scotland defender would live to eat those six words as the graduates from the Class of ’92 – including Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt, and the Neville brothers – would go on to lift a league and cup double that very season and provide the backbone for what would become the most successful side in English history.
Today Robbie Stanton is fighting a different battle as he guides Sydney FC’s development squad through the top flight of football in New South Wales.
With what is essentially an Under 20s side at his disposal, Stanton’s focus is divided across not only being competitive in the league, but also nurturing the futures of Australia’s brightest young footballing talent as they face the arduous jump from the junior game into the harsh realities of senior football.
Speaking after his sides immensely entertaining 1-1 draw with Wollongong Wolves, Stanton discussed the situation of his side and their ambitions for the future.
“We try and do things differently here,” explained Stanton.
“We work at a higher level for these kids so that the outcome will be that we might get an A-League player, we might get an international player, we may one day get a world class player.
“We’d love to (get them there).
“It’s really, really hard because I think for kids today it’s a bit of a letdown in what lies ahead for them in opportunities.
“For us now, we want to stay in NSW’s top tier NPL competition because it’s the toughest we can play in.
“Here we have the challenge, so for them this is really good, and I’m happy we are playing against competitive players because we want to be tested.”
Despite sitting at the foot of the NPL NSW Mens’ table, six points shy of their nearest opponent in Bonnyrigg White Eagles, Sydney FC are 22 points clear of the bottom-placed White Eagles and level with Marconi Stallions in the Club Championship, providing an intriguing race for survival as we push deeper into the back half of the season.
While results in 2018 haven’t smiled upon the Young Sky Blues, their performances have continually turned heads as Stanton’s kids have kept the most experienced of teams in the league on their toes, notching up two wins and a trio of draws along the way.
Blessed with pace and technical skill, Sydney FC are not to be underestimated as they play their dynamic passing game whilst looking explosively sharp on the counter.
“I think the way we play is very entertaining for a group of young kids,” smiled Stanton.
“They’re very brave, they don’t alter, they take very literally what you say to them.
“Sometimes you’ve got to allow them to think for themselves, and they make some very good decisions, they’re just a little short on execution at times.
“I enjoyed the game (against Wolves), and if the crowd didn’t then I don’t know what to say, because it was a cracker.”
The youngsters are also well-drilled going into each match as they look to execute Stanton’s in-depth game plan as best as their youthful footballing brains can.
Without the crucial benefit of experienced heads on the pitch, senior guidance comes direct from the sideline.
“Going into the game we’ve already analysed our opponent and presented it to the players,” said Stanton.
“Everything we do is around how we beat them, and their movements, and if they do something different we make an adjustment on the run.
“As they mature and get to a higher level then they will make the adjustments themselves.
“It’s a bit more detail than usual for kids, but we’ve got to aim high.
“If we aim small in this country then we’re just going to be nobodies for the rest of our lives, so you’ve got to aim to do things at another level.
“If we don’t, then what are we doing it for?
“If you come and do the same thing again and again expecting a different outcome, well that’s just not going to happen.”
While the adage of ‘You can’t win anything with kids’ perhaps rings true in NPL NSW Men’s competition, the Young Sky Blues are hugely entertaining, possessing an abundance of potential future stars such as Patrick Flottmann, Sam McIllhatton, Jeremy Cox, and Cameron Devlin.
Time will tell if these promising youngsters make the grade, but through the exposure of competitive senior football and under the progressive guidance of Stanton they certainly find themselves on the right track.
Next up Sydney FC host Sydney United 58 in Round 15 this Saturday night. Kick off at Lambert Park at 7.45pm.
– By Michael Shoolman