By MARK ROBINSON
A FIRE burns within Craig Foster.
Fueled by a desire to see Australian soccer reach its full potential on the world stage, the former Socceroo spoke passionately about his vision for the future while visiting family in his home town, Lismore this week.
Most know Foster from his playing career, here and in Europe, and in his role as an SBS commentator, but he now fills the position of interim chief executive officer of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) in Australia, placing him in a unique position to comment on the state of the game.
"We have a golden opportunity to start a revolution here in Australia, but the key is lifting our coaching standards across the board," he said.
"As a quirk of history, we're still locked into the old English style of play and coaching, but it's now time to open our eyes to the rest of the world and make some fundamental changes."
Foster was a leading critic of recently departed Australian coach Frank Farina, saying: "He was still very inexperienced in international terms and we need much more stringent standards for our national coaches."
Speculation on his replacement being Dutch coach Guus Hiddink has Foster both excited, yet wary.
Hiddink currently coaches successful Dutch club PSV Eindhoven and took minnows South Korea to the semi-finals of the last World Cup, after also guiding Holland to the last four of the World Cup.
"He is the sort of well-credentialed, internationally experienced coach we need, but he must spend enough time with our squad to achieve results," Foster said.
"If he tries to split his commitments between the Socceroos and his club side, I can see potential problems."
On the future of the new A-League starting next month, Foster sees both sides of the picture.
"There is certainly a pent-up demand for a viable national league and it is going to be well marketed, but I'm more cautious than most," he said.
"My biggest concern is improving the overall playing and coaching standards; we need a second tier of youth league and state league as a backup for the top-level players.
"We're working on that now through the PFA and there's sure to be some growing pains, but I'm extremely hopeful it will be successful. Having overseas players like Dwight York coming and homegrown talent like Ned Zelic and Paul Okon returning, can only help the game."
On the local level, Foster lent his support to changes introduced this year by Soccer FNC for talented junior players to play in an expanded representative competition, rather than at club level.
"This is what you see overseas and it's especially important for country regions like ours for players to experience the highest level of competition and coaching as early as possible to reach their full potential."