Kossie’s 50th – Part One

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Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame member John Kosmina will take charge of his 50th game in the National Premier Leagues for Brisbane City on Saturday as his side look to extend their unbeaten run to three games.

In part one of a two-part series, the former Adelaide United and Sydney FC coach spoke to Simon Smale ahead of his milestone game – giving his in-depth thoughts about what matches like this mean to him, youth development in the NPL, getting out of your comfort zone, Arsenal FC and the Brisbane City season so far.

In part two Kossie gets into the problems in promoting talented youngsters into the senior side, the ever widening gap between the NPL and the A-League and whether a second tier would help bridge it.

Milestones and millstones

John Kosmina patrols the sideline during an NPL Queensland match for City. Photo by Scott Norrish.

Australian football milestones and John Kosmina go hand in hand, as a list of his numerous achievements attest.

The scorer of the first ever goal in the Phillips National Soccer League – a 7th minute volley from inside the penalty area for West Adelaide-Hellas against the Johnny Warren coached Canberra City at Manuka Oval – the start of a prolific NSL career that saw him score over 130 goals in the competition.

Winner of two NSL Championships (1981 and 1982) and the NSL Cup (1986) with Sydney City.

Scored a total of 25 goals in 60 appearances for the Socceroos, making him the 5th highest goalscorer in Australian national team history.

Coach for over 100 games in the Hyundai A-League during spells with Adelaide United (with whom he won the 2005/06 Premiership) and Sydney FC – winning a round 50 games.

And on Saturday, Kossie will take charge of Brisbane City for the 50th time in the National Premier Leagues Queensland when they take on Redlands United at Corporate Travel Management Stadium.

But does Kossie pay any attention to such trivialities as milestones?

“No.”

Really? Not even a cursory glance at them throughout his illustrious career?

“No.”

Resolute silence followed this second affirmation of Kossie’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge this milestone event, prompting some hurried glancing at notes before the Hall of Fame inductee added,

“It’s never really bothered me. I don’t even think about it.”

However that statement appeared to soften Kossie’s stance as he caveatted.

“I suppose, on the other side, that I’m grateful that I’ve got the opportunity to make 50 games, so there is a part of me that thinks that. But that’s because you mentioned it that I thought about it. Before that I had no idea.”

Development in the NPL?

Kosmina joined City in 2016, with a specific focus to concentrate on developing their youth and creating a genuine football pathway for the club. Despite missing out on Finals football in his first two seasons, Kossie has achieved great success in promoting young players developed through the pathway system at City and giving them an unparalleled opportunity in the first team.

Tom Aulton is one of 12 pathway players who have played minutes for City this season. Photo by David Lobwein – DSL Photography.

Additionally, he lead the side to 5th and 6th placed finishes in the National Premier Leagues Queensland in his first two seasons thanks to an unbeaten rate (65.3%) remarkably similar to that which he recorded in the A-League (66.1%).

One of the key purposes of the NPL, Kossie’s commitment to promoting and developing young talent should be admired and respected, although whether that purpose is being adhered to is something Kossie questions.

“Is it? The NPL?” Kossie flat-batted back at me when I suggested the NPL is about developing players. “A lot of teams don’t seem to bring players through.”

“They blood a few, but they’ll go and shop around from one season to the next. Players move around like I’ve never seen before. And that’s not endemic to Queensland, I think it’s happening everywhere.” Kosmina continued.

“I coached in the NPL in Adelaide before it became the NPL (with Croydon Kings in the FFSA Super League) and we had a group that had probably been together for a while with a few younger players, but guys started to… they’ve been jumping ship for the past five years because it’s easy money. And clubs – foolishly I think – offer big rewards for what is – in the bigger picture – not a great amount of success. The outgoing’s no way what you get back from it apart from a little ray of sunshine at the end of a season that no one will see in years to come.”

Kosmina’s blunt appraisal of the ‘state of the nation’ when it comes to player development in the NPL will not come as a surprise to many in the system, but it is a trend that Kossie has been steadily bucking with Brisbane City over the past couple of seasons.

Kossie has handed plenty of players their senior debut, highlighting the development pathways that are on offer at Brisbane City. Read about the magnificent seven who made the jump this year by clicking here.

This year, 12 of the 22 senior players have come through the youth development pathways at the club, an impressive success rate, but one that Kossie believes should improve over time.

“I’d like it to be higher.” Kossie stated emphatically. “It would be great one day if you could have pretty much a team of all players that have come through Brisbane City’s Youth ranks.”

“But there is a downside to that,” Kossie added, “I do actually think players need to go out of their comfort zone.”

“That’s why I can understand a lot of Queensland players moving to Victoria. It’s a different culture down there completely, so it takes them out of their comfort zone and I can see how that would benefit some players.”

“Or they might be at Brisbane City all their life and then just move somewhere out of the blue. That might not necessarily be a bad thing, players need to get used to new environments.”

“So it would be ideal if we could (have a squad entirely made up of pathway players) but I think you need a bit of seasoning in the stew – so you have a couple or three or four blokes from elsewhere. Older players, visa players of that sort who can just add to and give a bit of colour to it all.”

Comfort zones and Arsenal

Kosmina understands more than most the challenges of moving away from home and into a vastly different environment. In 1978, a 20 year old Kosmina flung himself out of the NSL frying pan and into the fiery challenge of the English First Division, moving half way around the world to London giants Arsenal.

Kossie got his chance by impressing against the Gunners for Australia in a friendly match as part of the ‘World of Soccer Cup’ in July 1977 – a tournament featuring Arsenal, Australia, Celtic and Red Star Belgrade. Kossie caught the eye of Gunners boss Terry Neill by scoring the opening goal for the Socceroos in their 3-1 win at the Sydney Sports Grounds and was heading to Highbury just six months later.

In London, things didn’t quite go to plan. Kosmina made just one league appearance for Arsenal as they finished in 7th spot in the league behind a rampaging Liverpool side, however the young Aussie made more impact in the UEFA Cup (Europa League), making 3 appearances as Arsenal made the third round.

Joining an Arsenal team featuring the likes of Pat Jennings, David O’Leary, Liam Brady and Malcolm MacDonald was a big challenge for Kossie, and the Australian Hall of Fame striker admits to the change being a shock to the system.

“Oh hell yeah, for me it was.” Kossie agreed vehemently. “I was completely out of my comfort zone. I had no idea what it was going to be like. It took me probably a couple of years after I got back from it to sink in what I’d been through and what an opportunity I blew, but that’s another story.”

Season 2018

City currently sit in 10th spot on the NPL Queensland ladder, having won just a solitary game after five completed rounds.

But City’s coach and his players believe that his side have turned the corner having gone two games unbeaten in the past fortnight. Kossie acknowledges though that in this – the first season of the expanded Football Queensland competition model – the league has become a whole lot more competitive.

“Ye I think it is.” Kosmina agreed. “The standard is a lot better. It’s gone up progressively each year that I’ve been involved and I think it looks good so far this year.”

“Teams are hard to break down, but you have to be smart and this is where the mental side of the game comes in.” Kosmina rises in his chair.

“I mean we should never have lost to Toowoomba, we shouldn’t have been beaten by Moreton Bay, but that’s just players… we’ve got players that are still trying to learn their trade.” he stated.

“You can practice things all you want, but there’s nothing like the heat of battle that can put yourself through that kind of test.”

Despite the tough start that saw City lose their first three games, Kosmina has seen steady improvement in the side and expects that to continued throughout the remainder of the season.

“Yeah look it’s improved already. We made a lot of mistakes against the Roar last week, but there was a lot of stuff that was a lot better than it was the week before.”

Brisbane City earned a 2-2 draw against Brisbane Roar Youth last week, with Scott Halliday – another of City’s pathway players – playing a key role in the midfield. Photo by Paul Smith.

“We had a preseason that ended up being a bit all over the place. We got surprise suspensions with players that I wanted to use, then James (Meyer) not being available for game one because of the International Transfer Clearance issues, so it was up and down like a yo-yo, but now things have settled down, you need to go through that.

“We played in the Silver Boot and the Macron Cup, at times at the same time! It was always going to be difficult to juggle the numbers (and) it was a little bit chaotic for a while, but we got through it and that’s behind us now.

“Condition wise we’re ok and we’ve just got to get the football side of things right and that’s something that we have to work at every game, every session.”

“I tell the players, if you could measure it in centimetres, if you’re one centimetre better on Tuesday night than you were on Monday night and you do that every session, you do have three sessions a week, you’re halfway through the season and you’ve had 50, 60 sessions… You’re a lot better than you were.”

“You’ve got to go to training and come away improving, you don’t come to training and don’t think about improving.”

“It’s about quality as well with training. More is not necessarily better, but when you train you’ve got to train with quality and intensity, and that’s what I keep pushing.”

 

Part two of the John Kosmina interview will be published early next week.

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