O’Rourke’s real challenge to unite A-League owners

Listening to Greg O’Rourke take his bow as the Head of A-League in Sydney on Thursday, it was easy to make some positive assumptions.

David Gallop and Greg O'Rourke

FFA chief executive David Gallop and A-League head Greg O'Rourke Source: A-League

First and foremost, he’s a football person, of which we can’t have enough and historically have been quick to overlook. He said all the right things, very much straddling the now-entrenched party line of Football Federation Australia: stability and optimism.

However, this is no easy time for O’Rourke to take over.

The game is entering a critical strategic phase - and the next few years will probably determine whether the sport takes the great leap forward we all hope or continues on its current trajectory. That plane is certainly upwards, but, if we’re honest, maybe more horizontal than vertical.

This is an appointment overseen by both chief executive David Gallop and chairman Steven Lowy, so one can expect O’Rourke won’t be rocking the boat soon - if at all.

O’Rourke is a former president of the Sutherland Shire Football Association and chairman of Football NSW, but his ties to the grassroots are unlikely to lead for a push towards promotion and relegation. 

If anything, based on his initial speech, the opposite will be true. O’Rourke will be looking for safe bets, and a second division won't be on his wish-list.

For now, another professional tier remains the domain of those with a long-term, frontier vision for the sport. The FFA still wants to put all their eggs in the A-League basket.

O’Rourke did, however, flag expansion as an inevitability, something the FFA is keen to keep dangling out there. As a man with roots in Sydney’s south, it will be hard not to draw conclusions about where the next team will be.

After all, Gallop’s favourite saying about expansion is that we need to “fish where the fish are” - and there’s plenty swimming between Coogee and Cronulla.

Expansion is never easy but the Wanderers' experience has laid a sound blueprint for getting it done. There’s no fears about a third team in Sydney or a second team in Brisbane, especially on the back of China's booming football investment.

With a new TV deal on the horizon, two more teams would add an extra game to the weekend’s schedule and if there’s one thing broadcasters want, it’s more live content. So the extra teams are a matter of if, not when.

But O’Rourke has a problem in the present. It won't be long before the A-League owners are again on the march.

Sometimes, these owners raise valid points. Other times, it makes you wonder why some of them bother in the first place.  Either way, there's ongoing discontent, and when they get unhappy, the purse tends to snap shut. And it’s at that moment the game and the fans suffer.

Going into this next round of wheeling and dealing on TV rights, it’s imperative that everyone starts singing from the same songsheet. The whole game needs to look more polished than ever before.

It’s not about a “get in line” mentality - actually the opposite. We need to make sure as many of our stakeholders are listened to.

Fans. Players. Member federations. The grassroots. The media. Sponsors. Broadcasters. Stadiums. State governments. Local councils.

But it’s the owners who have the power - and the moral responsibility - to make sure the clubs are as healthy as they’ve ever been this year.

We need to drive the focus back towards what’s happening on the field. Disruption in the stands and disharmony the boardroom may be notable news stories but continue to affect the game’s perception.

Among the A-League money men, O’Rourke needs to find out what the problems are and who is up for the fight - rather than sparking another war among ourselves.

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4 min read
Published 15 July 2016 at 7:16pm
By Sebastian Hassett