It's time for the A-League to take a leap of faith

The football media are turning. The fans are fed up. The mainstream media have barely noticed the sport, well, apart from that banner thing, but best we don’t get swallowed up by that again.


A-League captains at this year's season launch Source: Getty Images

Football appears to be beset with problems at the moment. But is it the sport itself that’s in such a dire state?

Our senior national teams are competitive, with our men on course for a fourth successive FIFA World Cup and our women a genuine world class team. Grassroots participation is going crazy. And Brazil, Argentina and Arsenal have all decided to come for a visit in our winter. 

Football itself isn’t struggling, but significant areas of the game vary between 'needs work' and 'calamity' – I’m looking at you, youth development.

The A-League certainly falls into this spectrum. Whereabouts, depends on your view. 

Football Federation Australia’s press release proclaiming that expansion would be more of a slow burn drew an exasperated response.

But are we surprised? 2018-2019 was always slated to be the year of expansion, but the issue is complicated further by last month’s summons to Zurich. 

In failing to devise a new FIFA-regulated governance structure, prior to the signing of the new TV deal, the FFA have created a problem that will take a lot of fixing.

Most agree that expansion needs to happen, and quickly, but with the finances for the next six seasons pretty much set, either the governing body, or the clubs, need to take a leap of faith. 

The pot will increase, with Fox rumoured to be tipping in upwards of $5 million a season for new clubs from the three major metropolitan areas (sorry Tasmania), but with the club owners already wanting $6 million a year out of a $57 million deal that actually delivers closer to $52 million in cold, hard cash, the sums clearly don’t add up.

More clubs equals more risk, equals less money.

Of course, the free-to-air component has not been concluded, but talk around that particular deal has fallen silent.

Nine’s decision to put the national team on their secondary channel does not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement for the game, and with limited commercial opportunities and AFLW and Netball moving into the FTA space in February/March, the options are shrinking, along with the cash. 

So the FFA are over a barrel. Expand now, knowing it’s the right thing but face resistance from the clubs until there’s more autonomy. Or wait and watch interest in the competition dwindle further. Damned if they do ...
The competition has become increasingly ho-hum, despite a potentially record-breaking leader.

Western Sydney's halo effect has worn off, with the same match-ups time after time, but it’s a handy closed shop of guaranteed cash for the clubs.

It’s a similar story with promotion/relegation. It has to happen, anyone can see that, but are turkeys really going to vote for Christmas? 

The salary cap is another bone of contention. In my view it’s broken. A device required in the days of new beginnings and uncertain futures. But now it’s a handbrake for well run, financially viable clubs (G’day Victory).  Let them spend.

The problem for clubs doesn’t lie with overspending. It lies with bad decisions over spending. Be that coaches, players, facilities. Run your club well and the cap shouldn’t even come into the equation. 

Some point to the equalisation effect. Yet between the Glory, the Mariners, the Jets and the Phoenix, there’s been four finals appearances in four years. Hardly a measure of success. 

So where to from here? 

Hopefully the season comes to an end with a crescendo, our clubs in Asia show more spirit, the fans behave, there’s a bumper new commercial TV deal and the Socceroos win the FIFA Confederations Cup after securing World Cup qualification and a win over Brazil. 

It’s nice to dream. 

But really, at some point over the next six months, that leap of faith over expansion must be taken. For the good of the game.

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4 min read
Published 2 March 2017 at 1:44pm
By Stuart Randall