Australia's Golden Generation, the Starting XI, and the elephant in the room

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Wade challenges Starting XI: 'Make something happen' (1:16)

Former Socceroos captain Paul Wade wants to believe in the FFA Starting XI's ability to make change, but needs to see action. (1:16)

Forming committees seems to be the most popular pastime in Australian football these days.

As the A-League prepares to return to competition, two new panels have been convened with the intention to reshape the way the game is managed, played and viewed in Australia: The FFA's Starting XI initiative, and the independent Golden Generation advocacy group.

Opinions have never been scant in the round ball game, so scrutiny on football's ability to act on ideas is intense, and expectation is laced with a healthy dose of cynicism for many who have watched re-inventing of the wheel recur throughout the years.

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Right now, the immediate concern for FFA is getting the A-League back on the park to complete the season, but an ongoing tussle with broadcast partner Fox Sports has muddied the waters. Sources have told ESPN that A-League clubs and players have agreed on a pay structure which involves a hefty cut for the outstanding salaries remaining to be paid for the 2019-20 season. News Corp-owned Fox Sports, however, appears reluctant to agree on a broadcast arrangement for the truncated season finale and wants to renegotiate the final three years of the broadcast contract -- at a greatly reduced price -- before a date can be set for resumption of the current season.

Arrangements for the proposed independent A-League are still simmering in the background too, along with an ongoing and robust discussion about the timing for an incorporation of promotion/relegation and a national second division, plus the plans for the future of the W-League not to be forgotten as well.

As ever, it's a tumultuous time for football and, amongst all the future-planning and debate, the Golden Generation has emerged to advocate change.

Lead by former Australian national team stalwart Craig Moore and eight of his teammates from the halcyon period when the Socceroos were the hottest ticket in town, the Golden Generation are advised and assisted by former head of high performance, Dr. Darren Burgess; ex-FFA head of corporate and public affairs, Bonita Mersiades and former AIS head coach Dr. Ron Smith.

Concerned about the state of the game and lack of traction on and off the pitch since the Socceroos' Asian Cup victory in 2015, the group says that it will use its collective voice to develop the best environment for all footballers in Australia. They have also put out a call for input from clubs and associations to glean knowledge about the specific issues affecting those involved at the grassroots level.

It's a consulting process that almost mirrors a nationwide roadshow that the FFA embarked on shortly after the new board was installed early last year. One wonders if the key learnings will have changed significantly in 12 months?

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3:21

Viduka: People running Australian football don't have a clue about the game

Now living in Croatia, the former talismanic striker claims football's leadership in Australia has overseen a grave decline in talent development.

Meanwhile, the FFA-endorsed panel, the Starting XI, has also been working away in the background with their main focus on issues that feel vaguely familiar to those that Moore's group have identified -- namely player and coach development.

Former Socceroos Mark Viduka and Josip Skoko, remarkably, sit on both panels.

It speaks to the oft-confused community that is Australian football. And while both panels surely have the best of intentions, the litmus test for success will be the actual real world implementation of the ideas generated from the collective think-tanks.

Former Socceroos captain Paul Wade is one who has seen it all before, yet remains optimistic that perhaps this time it will be different.

"There are lots of people with lots of opinions. I'm going to sit tight and wait," Wade told ESPN.

"How many times have we seen people say: 'This is what I've done and this is what I can do,' and nothing happens?

"I've seen so many false dawns, but when they get something right, I'll be on the bandwagon."

Like Viduka and Skoko, Ron Smith is in a unique position having been recruited into lending his expertise to both the Starting XI and the Golden Generation. It's a familiar role for the ex-Perth Glory boss, as the 71-year-old was also a part of the short-lived FFA development committee formed by then-CEO David Gallop in 2016.

Smith admits he only agreed to be involved in the latest FFA initiative if there was real opportunity to change the narrative.

"I said: 'Yes I will, as long as it's not like the other committee!'," Smith told ESPN.

"Last time we were presented with ideas for our deliberation but you had the feeling that it was already fait accompli and we were merely rubber stamping.

"Some might refute that, but that was my take on it. I felt that nothing really changed because of anything we disagreed with."

Uniting Australian football with the goal of a successful future is not a new idea -- take the National Curriculum introduced by the FFA in 2009, touted as a "curriculum that will provide national guidance and an integrated and consistent approach to the development of players and coaches throughout the country."

The first edition was the result of on-site research into the development systems in Brazil, the United States, Japan, England, the Netherlands, France and Argentina by the likes of Alistair Edwards, Andy Harper and Rob Baan. It was then rewritten -- of course -- by FFA national technical director Han Berger, in 2013.

The success or otherwise of the players who started their elite development pathway under the auspices of the National Curriculum is the subject of fierce debate and, while arguably those then 14-year-olds who began the program in 2009 should now be at their peak, the lack of depth in Australia's youth stocks continues to be cause for widespread angst among football fans.

"I wouldn't have a curriculum if I had my time over," Smith told ESPN. "We need good coach education, we need to encourage people but don't tell them how to do it. For senior professionals the game is their job but that's not the same for the young kids.

"There's a lot made out of systems and it's a grave mistake to play only one system."

It's a tangled mess that hopefully both the Golden Generation and the Starting XI -- not to mention the litany of other committees the FFA has introduced since the new board was elected in November 2018 - can help get to the bottom of.

As Paul Wade says, we've seen so many false dawns. Now it is the time for action.