Former Knights and Victory playmaker Tom Pondeljak has criticised the modern trend of “overcoaching” young players, which in his view is stifling their creativity and decision-making on gameday.

“Nowadays we’re turning kids into robots. We’re thinking too much for them,” Pondeljak told FNR’s The Knight Train, in an interview alongside his older brother Ollie.

“We’re not allowing them to think for themselves. I think that’s where we’re getting lost a little bit.

“The talent’s fantastic. The coaches are a lot more educated. But in some aspects we’re overdoing it – we’re not allowing the kids to work things out on their own and express themselves on gameday.

“In my day, we were left to our own devices and I think we worked out football ourselves at a younger age.”

Pondeljak – who is now a junior coach at St Albans Dinamo – also criticised the inactive lifestyles of today’s kids outside of formal training.

“Back in the day as kids we were just a lot more active, outside of football. We were just physically stronger in all aspects.

“Through the summer you’d be playing cricket, you’d be riding your bike…

“Kids are a lot more focused now on football, but only when they’re training.

“What they do outside of that, I don’t know.”

“I think they’ve got Fortnite,” chimed in Ollie, with a wry smile.

“The injuries the kids are getting these days,” continued Tom, “at a younger age – it’s ridiculous to be honest.”

“For me that all comes down to their physical fitness. Riding your pushbike, playing cricket, climbing trees. We were physically fit, top-to-bottom. It wasn’t just about football.

“In my day I never heard of 13, 14 year-old kids getting ACL reconstructions done. It’s ridiculous!

“I think a lot of it comes down to the physical aspect of what the kids are doing outside of football.”

In a 40-minute retrospective on his 20-year senior playing career, Pondeljak also spoke about his famous goal in the 2009 A-League Grand Final – and whether he intended that ball to end up in the net.

“That’s the beauty of the goal, because still to this day people ask me. Whether it was a shot, cross, pass, whatever – I just leave it up to the person!

“In all honesty, I was going for goal.

“But if you look back at the vision and you watch what Carlos Hernandez does in that moment, it’s a very pivotal moment. He actually just moves slightly at the last second, holding off a defender, and it’s just gone within an inch of his leg.

“So he backed me, he thought it was going in, and luckily for me and team, it did.

“He was one hell of a player, Carlos. If the guy was three quarters fit… he was European standard in my eyes.”

The Knight Train is the official Melbourne Knights club show, broadcast live on FNR every Monday from 8pm AEST. 

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Josh Parish