Australian soccer just getting started: Craig Moore
A DECADE on from the birth of Frank Lowy's baby, the A-League is finally starting to stand on its own two feet.
But former Socceroo Craig Moore said compared to major competitions around the world, Australia was really just starting out.
"In the 10 years of the A-League there have been so many positives, but we are still very young in terms of what is happening around the world," he said.
"Some countries' leagues are more than 100 years old - we are at the beginning of the journey."
Moore, who played 95 times for his country from U17s through to the Socceroos, was part of the A-League's formative years when he signed for the then-Queensland Roar in 2007 and stayed for two years as captain.
He also watched on after hanging up his boots, taking up a mentoring role for Football Federation Australia.
The 39-year-old is now three months into his new role as football operations manager with the Brisbane Roar, and said the A-League had come a long way since its inception in 2005.
Before the competition started Australia had only qualified for one World Cup (in 1974) but Moore said the domestic competition had improved so much the national team had been the beneficiary.
"Since the A-League began we have qualified for three consecutive World Cups, where we competed well, and we have also won the Asian Cup on home soil, which was fantastic," he said.
"Now we are in a much better position in terms of coach education, sports science, high-performance managers - none of that was there from day one, but it is now.
"We have hit a few speed bumps along the way - the collective bargaining agreement is a challenge - but there has been an out-of-sight improvement."
Moore said the visits by mega-clubs such as Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City for friendlies was also good for the domestic game.
"We now have more job opportunities at all clubs and some of the best clubs in the world are coming here now to play pre-season tournaments," he said.
"We have just introduced three full-time referees and now we have a very valuable global product.
"It's never going to be roses all the way but we are taking big steps forward as a nation."
Moore, who played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, said to help the Socceroos to continue to improve on the world stage it was important the A-League continued to be the breeding ground for international players.
He said when he left the Australian Institute of Sport as a 17-year-old to join Scottish giant Glasgow Rangers there was no national league in this country to speak of, and he was forced to cross the world to follow his dream.
Nowadays, he said the next generation of Socceroos had the chance to play at the highest level on the club stage, adding the A-League had a big part to play in that.
"Players have an opportunity to build a resume and put runs on the board," he said. "The A-League has given them a higher profile and they can go overseas.
"We need our players in the best leagues in the world and to be playing week in, week out.
"If we can get 40-50 players doing that then I am sure (Socceroos coach) Ange Postecoglou would be a happy man."
Moore did have a word of caution for players who did make the move to different shores, however, using the example of goalkeeper Mathew Ryan as the blueprint for success.
"The timing of the decision to move away is crucial," Moore said.
"We have had some players have a breakout season in A-League and then find things difficult away from home.
"When you leave Australia you don't want to leave as a fringe player, you want to go in as a starting player - that's key.
"Mat Ryan is a fantastic example. He stayed in Australia with the Mariners and performed well week in, week out before making the move to Belgium where he found a window of opportunity.
"He did have a time where he was unsure of whether to sign a new contract, but then signed for Valencia."
Moore said it was important for the A-League to continue to nurture talent such as Ryan.
"The A-League is a development league, and that's not being disrespectful," he said.
"It's all about getting the best players going to the next level, and we want that to continue."
As for this year's competition, Moore says Melbourne Victory is the favourite to defend its title, but he wasn't prepared to write off the Roar if new coach John Aloisi could get the players he needed.
"Victory will be hard to beat - they are the benchmark," he said.
"Arnie (Graham Arnold) will have Sydney going okay and we (Roar) have a good roster.
"The (financial) situation at the moment is not ideal (at the Roar) as we have our hands tied somewhat. If we don't get what we want we could be in a year of transition."