Australian football suffers from a talent drain. The raiding of the country’s promising prospects from their most successful clubs appears an annual event, with the best and brightest heading to Europe and Asia. The A-League is, in essence, a selling league, but with that fact comes positives too in that youngsters are more readily given their chance to shine.

The A-League is now embarking on its seventh season and there is an even greater emphasis on youth given the success of a young Brisbane Roar side last season. Indeed, the 2011/12 campaign could see one of the most exciting developmental periods in Australian history.

But who should be watched closely this year? Inside Futbol introduce the talents that could make a big impression on the 2011/12 A-League:

Marco Rojas – Melbourne Victory – Forward – 19 years old

The young New Zealander was a shining light for Wellington Phoenix last season and showed himself to be one of the best dribblers in the A-League. Deployed mostly on the left flank for Wellington, Rojas’ performances earned him a move to a star-studded Melbourne Victory outfit. Now with Harry Kewell as a mentor, Rojas could make an even bigger impact at the Victorian club. Playing time may be limited if he is considered a reserve for Kewell, but on the left with Kewell running down the centre, the pair could link up well.

Luke Brattan – Brisbane Roar – Midfielder – 21 years old

The departure of captain and long-time servant Matt McKay will surely be a blow for Brisbane. His distribution and technique put a real stamp on the club’s season in 2010/11. Now McKay has departed a number of talents have their chance to succeed the Socceroo – and none more so than Luke Brattan. The 21-year-old played a bit part in the club’s title-winning season and has the potential to fill the boots of his departed captain.

Marked out by his manager as the “best passer” in the team, the English-born Queenslander could provide something that his team-mates cannot. His slight frame may have held back his progress to date, but the time is right for Brattan to make an impact in the A-League.

Terry Antonis – Sydney FC – Midfielder – 17 years old

Lauded as a potentially special talent in Australian football, technically accomplished midfielder Terry Antonis has yet to showcase his ability. Arguably not used in his best position when with the young Socceroos at the recent Under-20 World Cup in Colombia, Antonis will nevertheless be ready to fit into Sydney coach Vitezslav Lavicka’s plans as a first teamer. The 17-year-old will have the benefit of Socceroos legend Brett Emerton to help guide his development in midfield and, as a great tempo-setter and passer of the ball, Antonis, if able to build on his strength and tactical nous, could make a splash.

Ben Kantarovski – Newcastle Jets – Defender/Midfielder – 19 years old

It seems like a lifetime ago that the then-16-year-old Ben Kantarovski made his first team debut for Newcastle Jets against local rivals Central Coast Mariners. Even at that tender age sides such as Bayern Munich were mooted as possible destinations for the defender-cum-midfielder. Still just 19, Kantarovski only has untimely injuries to blame for his modest amount of game time since his debut.

A regular on the international scene with the Under-20s, where he often acts as captain, the Jets star has proven himself to be one of the most talented players of his generation. Staying fit is the key, especially with marquee signing Jason Culina set to miss the entire season due to injury – Kantarovski could prove the difference between a bank or bust season for the Novocastrians.

Mustafa Amini – Central Coast Mariners – Attacking Midfielder – 18 years old

Just up the road from Kantarovski, Mustafa Amini is perfecting his craft. Progress has already been made, with Borussia Dortmund having signed the midfielder and then loaned him back to Central Coast. After enjoying success with Australia at the Under-19 Asian Cup, public pressure was piled on Mariners’ coach Graham Arnold to play the schemer with Afghan roots in the Gosford engine room. With Argentine Patricio Perez playing a pivotal role in the same spot, it was hard for Amini to break through. But, with injury dampening the now departed Perez, Amini seized his chance with aplomb, garnering praise from critics across Australia.

Although at times inconsistent, the afro-haired midfielder showed more than a glimpse of the talent he can bring to the Central Coast table. Vision and passing are the bread and butter of his game and the 18-year-old has one more season to show future coach Jurgen Klopp why he is worthy of a starting spot in the Bundesliga.

Matthew Ryan – Central Coast Mariners – Goalkeeper – 19 years old

There was more than a little panic at Central Coast last season when newly signed former Juventus shot-stopper Jess Vanstrattan found himself sidelined for the entire season. With only the then-18-year-old Matthew Ryan to call upon, it was up to the youngster to prove himself after being handed a baptism of fire. His heroics were one of the success stories of the A-League season and, although he made the odd gaffe, as was to be expected, the Sydney-native produced performances that belied his years; the crowning glory was being handed the Joe Marston Medal in the Grand Final, an award given to the standout player.

Ryan also gained accolades as the Best Young Player of the 2010/11 season and was even shortlisted for inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year. All eyes are set to be on Ryan as the second season is often the hardest for players who have just broken through.

Brendan Hamill – Melbourne Heart – Defender – 19 years old

Much was said about the Australia Institute of Sport (AIS) trio that made their way to Melbourne Heart at the club’s inception, with Kliment Taseski, Eli Babalj and Brendan Hamill landing. Hamill, the more defensive of the three, arrived with a reputation for being a solid defender and the Sydneysider was thrown into the mix possibly earlier than even he expected due to injuries and poor performances from the club’s first choice pairing of Simon Colosimo and Michael Beauchamp. With the latter now having moved on to greener pastures, the time is right for Hamill to claim a regular spot.

Often affected by injuries last season, the defender must now make his way in a very young South Yarra side. With Australia light in talented stoppers, much hope rests of the progress of the 19-year-old.

Matthew Jurman – Brisbane Roar – Defender – 21 years old

Underappreciated at Sydney FC, by the time the club realised what a talent they had on their hands, Brisbane had already stolen in and signed Matthew Jurman to a three-year contract. Now the Roar will be hoping that the defender, who can operate across the backline, will be able to fill the hole left by the departures of Luke Devere and Milan Susak.

However, with the additions of Bahraini international Adnan Musa and the ever presence of captain Matt Smith, the AIS graduate could find his playing time limited. With the form Jurman produced in pre-season though, he could push his Arab team-mate Musa all the way. The departure of Devere generated much pessimism amongst the Brisbane support, the signing of Jurman has brightened the picture.

Aziz Behich – Melbourne Heart – Wing Back – 20 years old

Before his cross-city move from Melbourne Victory, Behich was known for one thing – missing a sitter after coming on as a substitute in the 2009/10 Grand Final which his side went on to lose on penalties. After seeing little future with Victory, the pint-sized left sided player made the move to John van’t Schip’s new Melbourne Heart outfit. Completely under-utilised at the club’s rivals, Behich made his mark last season with a series of inspiring displays playing on the left hand side of defence.

A perfect addition to the Dutch coach’s system of overlapping full-backs, Behich’s devastating runs were of great benefit to a team that often appeared lacking in width. Now having all but cemented a spot for himself, Behich is realistically only second to Central Coast Mariners’ Joshua Rose in the talented Australian left back stakes.

Dimitri Petratos – Sydney FC – Forward – 18 years old

Sydney struggled for firepower last season, particularly when they found their key playmaker Nick Carle out of action for long periods. Goals were at a premium, but the introduction of Petratos seemed to give the side a stronger impetus going forward. Scoring three and setting up three in his 16 appearances to date has been a good return in a team that did struggle somewhat.

Still only 18, the forward with Greek roots could well find himself playing a central role this season if he can manage to convince Vitzeslav Lavicka to throw him into the fray. Not a certain starter, Petratos will be looking to build on a solid 2011 so far with more time in a revitalised Sydney outfit.