Sunday, December 31, 2006

Coaching's links to modern management theory: Part 1

It seems the game is about possession (to set-up scoring opportunities and frustrate the opposition) and taking the scoring opportunities with percentage shots.

This is the 'total football' philosophy of Dutch football. There is a direct link there to the American quantitative management expert Deming, total quality management and the Japanese industrial performance from the 1950s - and what is now known as the business excellence framework). Which in turn has a parallel with Deming's bitter rival the German qualititaive sociologist Drucker - who first defined management by objectives and the knowledge worker (among many other things). Druker was for individual excellence and people, while Deming was for the team and no hero performance - deming believe variation and therefore errors could be eliminated through analysis of their route causes. So Dutch football is about error less team performance (always stretching the possession stat), and Brazilian football, and in a different way, the English Premier League, is about the individual as a hero.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The team I'd play as coach...

As version one drew to a close, the Roar promised a rebuilt team for version two. A team that would take us to the finals. The players of next year would be better than this. During the off-season we saw Miron searching the globe, we saw him eating egg and chips in Israel with a fighting striker from the EPL, who scored a goal and got a better deal from his club. A midfield genius from the Bundesliga. A young Scottish striker. And later, a Chinese David Beckham.

As round one of version two materialised, and other teams solidified and their new players like Milton Rodriguez and Carbone turned games around, what happened? The team that was there, was glimpsed, that showed promised, did not shine through.

The team that Queensland needed to gel and make, and win the finals, was there. Why did it stay hidden?

Fitness was given as an early reason, sorry I don’t buy that. This is clearly the fittest team in the league. Too fit. Key players have too often been injured at training rather than on the park.

Too attacking - could be, but in the 0-0 in the first round with Adelaide they missed 24 sitters. Under coached, yes I am coming round to this view. Certainly in the second half of the season the defence has been layed bare. And Ognenovski’s training injury was partly responsible.

Surprisingly, the players don’t appear to expect to have their tactics layed out for them by the coach. But if not the coach then who? We are told a captain is not that important and we have seen Gibson, McCloughan and McLaren in the role. McCloughan was the winningest but none were particularly spectacular. How about throwing the arm-band to Matt McKay? Of all the players, Matty seems to have a plan.

Version two is tougher than version one and several players are not up to the standard. Under the new coach that had to be proved all over again.

So who is this team?

For me, it needed to be Milicic as the leading goal scorer. Which, as of last night, he is (with Dario) with four goals. I am not sure why he starts on the bench. He needs to be front and centre. Ante has proved, that for the Roar he can put the balls in front of goal in the net. Alas, Mori has not proved this for us.

Centre forward number two - in the team the Roar needed to be champions - had to be Zhang. He needed to live up to his reputation and, as it turns out we needed, and could afford, to give him the game time he needed to learn the Australian way. The reality has been surely slow and dogged by lack of English, but some of the ball placement has been sublime (but his back-heel air-swing in front of goal still haunts).

Striker number three, and in behind the other two, is Reinaldo. He has scored three cracker goals including a penalty that I watched Miron insist he take. And he set up three more plus many others missed by his striking partners (as well as missing a share of his own). In recent weeks he has been sat on the bench or starved of play time till the final minutes. A shame, a waste.

The attacking mid-field should not be controversial. On the left, and of course team captain (every week and calling the plays - like Muscat does to win for Melbourne), Matt McKay. On the right, but destined to be everywhere and trying to get every ball, is Dario Vadosic. Dario needs to be given the lead in the game plan. No player should be left to make it up as he goes along. Particularly not one not used to being goals down.

The central mid-field should be making the Roar the top team in the competition. They should be keeping the ball from the opposition and directing pinpoint passes to set-up the goal scoring plays. Of which there should be less. But resulting in more goals. We have seen glimpses of Spase Dilevski as the best player in Australia in this position. He has scored from a free kick and pounded a couple into the cross bar. But they have been fleeting and marred by time off through injury. And why is he starting off the bench? Marcus Wedau could have delivered the Roar their season. Really he hasn’t played poorly, it is just we have not seen the brilliance. Supposedly he is now injured, will we see him again this season? Like Zhang I hope so, and like Zhang, he had to succeed for the Roar to succeed. Their replacements were not going to have the experience, and probably skill, to carry the required weight.

In defence there are three outstanding players. They have the determination and energy to beat the league’s best strikers. Packer, McCloughan, Ognenovski. A wall of defence with Packer adding strike power options.

In goals I would have Tom Willis. Last season he had the best record in the league. This season a fluke led him to be second keeper. A dispute in Newcastle that drew in a rugby league legend and whose logic had disappeared by mid-season. Tom deserves better. He could take us to the top.

The bench would define this side. Massimo Murdocca promised so much. He had rhythm. He never gave up on a ball. His presence through the season could have made the difference. Simon Lynch offers pace and attacking options - he does not seem to be able to make the most of his skills for 90 minutes. Ben Griffin is an exciting new find. He is of the new breed of versatile players, like Dario and Andrew Packer, that can run over the whole park and score goals. Seo is perhaps a surprise exclusion. However, in this ideal the combination of Matty, Spase, Macus and Dario should be un-best-able. I admit I would rather see Seo cross or chip the ball for the strikers than shoot from 30 metres. And finally, McLaren for squad support.

The coaching spot is critical. It needs an active participant. To be in the players ears at training. Talking to them at the game, shouting if necessary. I don’t like to see them throwing things. That is going too far. But yes I like to see them showing an interest off the pitch as well. Getting to know the players, if only for the 21 rounds of the year. Getting to understand their strengths and weaknesses and their motivations. Using the team he has. Making it work. Getting everyone 100% committed, 100% of the time. Don’t leave them alone. Not even at Christmas. Give them a game plan, get them rhythm. The priority is 1. Develop and lead team spirit. 2. Develop the captain and the game plan for each team - there is only 7 to beat. Know them and how to beat them - backwards. A great frustration is the extent to which the players seem to be left to themselves. What is the point of the focus on fitness without an individualised, for each player and each opposition, game plan? 3. Develop skills, building plays, set pieces and shooting. Aim to have 60% possession. Possession wins games (last night NZ had 60% possession and the Roar had 21 shots). Then ensure they score when it counts.

Friday, December 29, 2006

yesterday, all my troubles..

I have heard the FFA say a number of times ‘someone has to come last’ and someone has to come second last. And when there are only eight teams, 25% of fans are going to find their teams coming last or second last, and 50% are going to find their team not making its promise of finals football.

Fans love their team winning. And winning teams make more fans. Losers can please themselves. Their fans find another team or another sport.

Perth Glory were first by 6 points in 2003-2004. With a team that included Jade North, Pondeljak, Harnwell, Bingley, Despotovski, Mrdja and Mori. The year before they came second in the league but won the final. Harnwell and Mori scored the final’s goals in front of 38,111 at Subiaco. Perth hasn’t seen a football crowd as large as that since. Glory’s team had also included Colosimo, Tarka and Gumprecht. This time North and Pondeljak had been playing for the losing side Sydney Olympic. Another year back to 2001-2002, Glory were first in the league again - by 13 points - but lost the final to Olympic Sharks 1-0 in front of a Perth crowd of 42,735.They were third in 200-2001, and first in 1999-2000 - with a Perth crowd of 43,242. Perth had become Australia’s home of soccer - players were drawn west to play in a winning team.

And so it goes. Perth Glory were the superstar team up until the A-League. They were viewed as the model team for the new league. But in the reduced league size, from 13 to 8, they lost a few players and were not able to find gems in overseas players. In version one they missed the finals by two points, and this season they look like pulling up seventh. At the end of version 1 the owners handed back the franchise and the FFA has been on the verge of an announcement since. Star in the making Nick Ward was lost to Europe and retiring socceroo Stan Lazaridis signed up - but hasn’t made an impression. Former socceroo technical manager Ron Smith took over as coach and the team has looked disciplined and well behaved - picking up few yellow cards.

Well behaved and disciplined until tonight when the highlight of their 0-0 result with Adelaide was after the match when Foxtel caught Perth’s NZ international Adrian Webster (who was subbed on in the 75th) throwing right hooks at Jamie Harnwell before being pulled away by Ron Smith. Something happened before the camera arrived. But there is tomorrow’s headline - not the stuff of building for next year. As 8,226 fans watched Perth’s 2006-2007 season hope close out.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Don't think twice, It's alright...

A ripsnorter. Back to the good o'l days. And at least I can stop soulsearching and know that the Roar really can play great attacking football and win.

When all the fuss was on Chris Grossman I was wondering about Ben Griffin. Ben sat on the bench last Thursday night and came on at half time in place of Chad Gibson. Tonight he started and Chris had his turn on the bench. Ben played well and realised the push forward potential hinted at in the Round 12 loss to Adelaide. Tonight he took a massive run in to side foot in a long, long left field cross from Damian. OK he is back to King Damian. He too cared tonight and wanted, but couldn't find, a goal.

Man of the match went to the other under 20 international, Dario Vidosic. A header and great strike to twice pull the Roar in front after they were behind from a suspect 29th minute penalty, (Ben Griffin equalised just before half time) and then Central Coast had equalised from a Wayne O'Sullivan penalty box dive in the 77th minute.

Interesting performance from Matthew Breeze. Usually Mr Breeze keeps his own council and by and large gets it right. Tonight he allowed his line assistant to call him into, what on replay, was a clear error to give the 77th minute penalty. The same assistant had been asleep when Mori was pulled down in the box in the first half, and the ref and the other line assistant missed a Central Coast hand ball in the box for the corner which led to Dario's first goal. A fifth penalty in which Central Coaster Andre Gumprecht was fouled was ignored to prevent a stewards' equiry into the whole thing.

Anyway, at last after 26 shots in this match, the Roar goals were real and they were the ones who looked like they could have had more.

In the A-League - you seldom get required sleep to go lingering with contentment

The A-League is winning the war for sustainability.

This has been achieved through once-off world cup qualification payments, Foxtel’s ongoing subscription and now access to more funding from the Football Federation of Australia via around $40 million from Nike. A solid foundation and every cent needed. Plus most clubs seem to have been to access reasonable sponsorship and have more or less followed the FFA business model and guidelines for successful franchises. And then there is the gate take breakout that Melbourne Victory has put on. Crowds of 50,000. Wow.

So the A-League has won some major battles. But this week some key battles were also conceded. The FFA is probably picking its timing. This is reflected in the announcement of the Nike deal neatly over-shadowing the collapse of the New Zealand Knights franchise. But even that ownership change that puts the FFA in control of two of eight clubs offers new strategies for growing the A-League.

The NZ Knights business strategy of employing large numbers of foreigners that no-one had ever heard of alienated its potential fan base. Put coming last two seasons in a row with that and the recipe is there for crowds of 1,000 to 3,000. Still it is better than the crowds of 500 that similar teams in the old NSL format attracted. So with the NZ FA managing the team and next year opportunities to either hire New Zealanders or maybe start an Australian under 23 team and relocate to the ACT.

Much more ominous, particularly and initially for Queenslanders, but in the longer term for sustainability, was the leaked news that the Roar are looking at Ballymore Oval. The mid city location of the 50,000 seat Land Park helped the Queensland Lions get the Roar into an A-League franchise. Access to top class pitches was seen as a major problem in the autopsy of the NSL.

Top class rugby union is played at Lang Park. Top class Australian Football League matches and top class cricket are played at the near city Gabba venue. Top class basketball is played even closer to the city-centre at the convention centre. You don’t have t explain to patrons how to get to these venues. And when top class rugby was at Ballymore - their patrons had 40 years of practice getting there. How many of the long suffering Roar fans will treck to Ballymore?

The leak could of course be megaphone negotiation strategy. The Roar have said they don’t want to respond to newspaper reports because they are still negotiating with the State Government owned Lang Park. And adding a bit of spice to those negotiations may help. Worse case is that it is Lang Park's owner saying 'if you can't afford Lang Park try the under-used Ballymore.

In 2005/2006, As the Roar took up summer season residence at Lang Park, Ballymore lost the winter season Queensland Reds to Lang Park. The Brisbane Strikers also played at Ballymore and have also moved, this time to the smaller Perry Park (Brisbane Strikers have used Perry Park for some of its games since 1977). You can bet Ballymore’s board (the Queensland Rugby Union) has been wining and dining the Roar ever since. Queensland rugby has been played there since 1966. The national rugby competition that sits under the popular international super 14s is likely to be played there in 2007. And a state-of-art something has been moted for the site for sometime. Now I’d say it’s feeling a bit neglected.

The Roar are looking because Ballymore is a lot cheaper than Lang Park. But there are good reasons for that. Lang Park is the best stadium in the A-League. It is one of the biggest, alongside the Sydney and Melbourne venues, and every seat has about the same high quality view of the game. It is an outstanding design achievement. Plus, and this is the most important factor, particularly while the Roar are performing as they are, it is really really easy to get to. It is virtually in the city and has great bus and train access. On the other hand, Ballymore has half the capacity at 24,000. I'm not sure that people know how to get to it.

A move to Ballymore would be a symbolic problem for the Roar. The FFA regularly reminds clubs and fans that there are eight clubs and not all are going to finish in the top four. OK but Australian fans expect their turn to come around soon (the national rugby league has had seven winners in eight seasons). I think it is going to be very hard for the Roar to keep their home crowd up. The Roar were trying many things to stop this happening. Now they need to try more. - Go to Ballymore and its hard to see football beating out the other codes in Queensland. Plus the Roar would more like the old NSL format.

Oh there could be another plus factor at Ballymore. Frank has complained that away teams loved playing at the well layed out and easy to get to Lang Park. Perhaps away teams will like Ballymore less than the fans. And if the team wins the fans will like it more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Stand by me, train in vain

I prefer to look at the match-by-match gate take rather than the averages. The one off spikes tend to hide the trends.

Firstly, last season the gate takes were higher before the socceroo qualification than after it. It is footballs version of buy the rumour and sell the fact.

Melbourne have a number of advantages. It is a great franchise to own. Lots of Australians from backgrounds with a football culture. The owner Geoff Lord understands risk and return and despite last year's troubles held on with the FFA support. At the moment there does not appear to be any other Victorian competition applying for a franchise.

In my view the analysis is really about sustainability. So for example, the accepted wisdom is that the Roar must attract 20,000 to make money at Lang Park. They have only done this 3 times in two seasons and that was probably supported by FFA and the Qld branch. So they are sustained by the strength of the Qld Lions club and FFA world cup payments.

No wonder the FFA held back the world cup players pay as long as they could.

Syndey is a good size franchise. It is marginally impacted by Central Coast but really should be getting a bigger crowd and this is probably the point that the journalists are trying to get at. That is to answer the question about why the Sydney franchise isn't a stronger brand. It probably shows the strength of Dwight's and really Man U's brand.

The smaller cities are lucky. The FFA rules requiring certain quality stadiums don't impact them so much in terms of cost. That is they can find a 15,000 seat stadium, while the Roar only really has the choice of 50,000 seat lang park.

The clubs complained last year that the gate take dropped when FFA stopped running the TV ads. And there something in this. There is a huge latent football watching public but they are not all going to go to a website and search for games and times. This is why all clubs are looking for the angle that gets them on the news or on the radio - be heard amoung the news noise. If you are not winning this becomes harder and harder - you change coaches, you admit failure, promise more, and then what?

Round 16 state of the gate take...

The top graph shows the difference in crowd size between this year and last season. It focuses on each home game and the plus or minus 10,000 patrons result. So it cuts off Melbourne's booming gate. The second graph is the crowd per home game and show Melbourne running away, and the up and down trends of the other clubs. Melbourne gate has been limited a couple of times by the size of Olypic park.

More than twice as people have bought tickets to Melbourne Victory’s home games as they did last year. Hats off to Geoff Lord for hanging on when others like the Perth owners moved on, the FFA for their support, Ernie Merrick for holding his nerve, Fred for coming, Archie for coming back and Guus Hiddink for not giving Archie game time.

The crowd performance for 2006-7 over 2005-6 is Qld are down (3,371) on the same number of home games, Adelaide are up 7,959 and Romario can claim around 5,000 of this gain, Sydney are down (4,480) and this is despite a reasonable place on the table - the gap is probably financed by higher ticket prices, Newcastle is down (3,578) due to poor early season form, Perth, still without an owner driving a clear brand strategy is down (16,614), NZ is down (8,644) from a low base, Central Coast with plenty of performance behind them last year and home games in hand is up 8,751 on the same number of home games as last year and Melbourne up 93,378. Melbourne is obviously the runaway. And Melbourne shows what can be done with good attacking and winning football. Plus it is a huge market.

Hit me with your rhythm stick, hit me fast hit me quick...

When in doubt blame someone. Frank's 'crap' comment and Andrew's follow-up - how do you explain that to children. Kids understand playing hard. And losing, what are only, games is a part of life's lessons. But to fire off blame at your own team, particularly when they are advertising the annual dinner - who does that?

'Crap' makes a headline. It doesn't explain what the coach did in advance to try to prevent that outcome. I have not seen unconstructive criticism improve an individual’s performance. Anyway, it is the fans that catch the media message, players may or may not. And the message to fans sounded like ‘this isn’t worth watching.’ And a well coached Roar is worth watching. What these comments did is split fans between 'Miron was better' and 'Get a new team Frank.' that is not helpful and will not grow crowds.

The Roar are not the socceroos. There are not a team of equal quality players waiting to take the whole team's place. If the Roar finish outside the top four, the players that come, given the salary cap, will be about the same quality as this year. Inexperienced young players or overseas players that no longer attract salaries they cannot refuse.

Players choose a club through looking to fit in or taking a step up from where they are now to further their careers. We have had the 'we'll definitely improve and make the finals in 2006-7' call to arms. The next call to arms must be based on results.
And people judge employers by the way the employer treats their worst performers.

Wouldn't it be better to look what is going wrong and what worked this year?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Get rhythm when you get the blues get rhythm

The Roar gotta get rhythm. It was a Johnny Cash night. Thursday night. Down to 10,040. At lang park you seep under 15,000 and it only sounds like 500 there. Except for the 20 visitors. Well they sound like 500 too.

Get rhythm. Now we must win 4 out-of-five to make the finals. Frank says it is possible.

You get 20 players in a squad. 15% were sick or injured, including Matt McKay who ate something bad last night and lost a lot of weight. 15% were foreign and sitting in the stands. That's 30% of our squad and 50% of our reputation. Too many players don't seem to be getting much game time. Can't really expect players who have sat out, or sat on the bench, to win the game for you. That's at least another 15%.

It is telling that the Roar got no yellow cards tonight. Usually you'd expect a team losing like that to all have their hands up to get booked.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I still call Australia home...

Interestingly NRL, which is big here in pineapple land, is introducing a youth league soon. This was opposed by the Broncos because it would mean that their young players would miss out on action against older and experienced players. But rubgy league has few foriegn players in OZ because we have the best league by far - Australian players are sought OS.

Our SBS (formerly known as soccer broadcasting) friend Fossie has been pushing this idea for the A-League.

The problem is that the Roar went for a youthful side last year - invested in the likes of Brosque (whose career in Europe was on the bench of a lower league) and Baird. Stuck with them and then they left. Brosque famously to Sydney where he watches from the bench and Butcher plays 'ground them out'. Anyway, Roar admitted they mistook how intense the A-League was ging to be and looked for experience - letting go a batch of young locals - Jonti, Tyler et al.

Looking for experience leaves few local choices who are willing to move. Even Mori doesn't train here - Sasha P's wife didn't want to leave Sydney (but after the recent Sasha v Butcher press could change their mind?). So we got Ante and some foreigners. Some of these foriegners have suffered more than their share of injuries and others are just not up to it. There is always the question why did they come. On the other hand, the A-League - is an arms race limited by salary cap. Frank has promised to fight with more young Australians.

OS buying is really hit and miss - Fred has been star for Melb but another Brazilian sits on the bench and the other is all but forgotten. But then again Melb have shown that holding the core of squad through thin and thin is the key to ultimate success. Plus of course Archie no getting game time with foreign clubs and coming home - same thing happened to Mori years before.

Apparently, (according to the press) the NZ version of the FA discourages NZders from playing with the Knights. So you get a young NZ talent like Brockie sitting on the bench for Sydney and Christie sitting on the bench for Perth.

Real talent, like Nick Ward, and maybe Dave Williams, are going to go OS. You only get so many years to follow your dreams and pay for your lack of other work experience.

African nations have tried to stop their locals being poached. It doesn't work. This is globalisation at play.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Smells like teen spirit

A key thing that is going really well for the A-League this year is teenage players. Nathan Burns, Ben Kennedy and Dario Vidosic - all 18 or 19 - have been the standouts, and have put older and many of the foreign players in the shade. When these sub-20 players come on the field, even if at the 80th, the game picks up pace. They tend to be unpredictable. The older players just can't rely on standard operating procedures to defeat them. And the crowd like that. The games are getting too predictable and the young players bring the chancey edge that means - for good or bad - the ball might get in the net. And crowds like that. It stirs them to life.

Nathan scored the season's best end to end goal so far. I hope Ben is fit soon he had a real testy start and showed real character. And other young players have certainly got their hand up. Ben Griffin (see holding the green bottle in the photo)has had two good games for the Roar and Chris Grossman - after training with the Roar for two years did not disappoint with his first go.

When Roar captain in waiting Matt McKay scored on Saturday - Dario showed how much he understands this entertainment business. He pointed to Matty, then signalled for the crowd to cheer and we did. Then running back to the kick-off he signalled for the crowd to lift, and we did. That sought of youthful exuberance is required in the A-League - not diving, not 'ground them out' football - we want speed, risk and entertainment.

With acknowledgements to Nathan, an aging Australian workforce has served Adelaide for a season and a half, and Melbourne feel it when Muscat isn’t available. But Perth despite their ladder position look like they are growing some very good young players. They probably felt it most to lose the young talent Nick Ward to the English CC league. And the nurturing Ron Smith - who discovered Frank Farina as a teen - could place them well next year. Like Ernie Merrick did for Melbourne last year.

Frank has stated that Roar can expect more young players next year. And the crowds will like that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

... And the word got around...

Twas his swearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
"Chancy's gone to Queensland, and we don't know where he are."

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Chancy Mori
Sydney's Gone a-driving and Adelaide's "downing Coopers" where will the Western glory go;
As the Rejects are slowly stringing, Chancy rides their singing,
For the Roar fan life has pleasures that the Melbourne townsfolk never know.

And the Roar hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, Matt McKay
In the murmur of the breezes and the river and its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit goals extended,
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars... Stan was not there... Bobby and Harnwell have no bite

Sorry Banjo

Nothing happened in the first half. Then from 45 to 65 Glory put us under the pump. And held us there around the goal. Again and Again, Liam, Andrew, Seo, Grossman, Simon and Stuey saved us ... .... And Damian ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam. He followed like a bloodhound on their track, Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home, Perth... for the word had passed around - 'they're tanked get 'em.' And we turned defence into attack. They burned their 3 subs early but couldn't keep up. Dario and Ante came on for a great debut from Chris Grossman (what has he been doing on the Roar bench for 2 years?) and a back from injury Simon.

Then Damian, blowing up at us not giving him the shot, after shot - have we seen this before?, had a real partner in Ante and it was always on... Matty, Spase, Seo, Ante and King Mori all blasting away. Until, ....
hey its in

We are going to win. We're back. They have no time to waste. Thursday night its Newcastle for our second last home game. Pity we don't have more games in the northern humidity... (blame Robbie Williams) As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,... With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For Roarfolk have time to grow, but they have no time to waste.

Sorry Banjo, just too good to waste...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Football players do the right thing...

It was great to see all the moes for Movember. Yep I joined that. I understand at least as many men die from prostrate cancer as women do from breast cancer. But men do less about it. Beyong blue is also a great cause to support. So thanks all you football moes out their - it reminded me of the 1974 socceroos.

But on a serious note. Do any football players still smoke? A moe isn't enough of a filter if you smoke.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What is the story with the referees?

An interesting point. Most of us think that at home games.

Shouting at the ref doesn't seem to work. But makes us feel better.

I suggested to the FFA that they get marquee refs instead of, or as well as, players. The main problem is that, as I understand it, few if any, A-League ref is full time. This means that they do not get the time to reflect on the last match and prepare for the next. For more on this read the world’s best ref, Pierluigi Collina’s autobiography The Rules of the Game (Pan 2003).

In my view Matthew Breeze is the best ref in the A-League, ahead of Queensland and FIFA World Cup ref Mark Shield. Honestly, some of them just are not up to it. What I like about Matthew is that he is not captured by any player and he shows that he has a firm mind of his own on how the game should be played. He is a professional even if this is a part time job for him. If you watch him closely he actually makes very few mistakes. And he gets the big decisions like penalties and red cards right.

I understand refing is a difficult job. FIFA, because of its politics, just will not allow technology to be used to produce a more perfect game. Rugby league has shown how this can be done without affecting the flow of a game. Without the video ref mistakes are going to happen. It is all going on too fast to see everything. However, what I detest and home fans hate, is the old players of the game interfering with the ref. Talking to him, getting him to question his own mind. Plus some of them may be the refs heroes or they may have known them for years. For some older former NSL players this seems to be their main job now. This must be stopped as it brings the game into disrepute.

Monday, November 13, 2006

So long Miron thanks for all the fish

‘We ground them out… it was a great game to watch’ John Kosmina Or why Miron is the best coach in the A-League

Queensland is the growth market for football. Melbourne and Sydney has dominated football market share (that is viewing audience) in Australia with Adelaide and Perth earning their places through a single team for their segment focus

Roar v Adelaide: John Kosmina said, ‘It was a great game to watch.’ Yeah right. It could have been but if Adelaide had tried to play crowd-pleasing football but then they would have lost 4 or 5 nil. So they are better off sticking to the ‘ground them out’ that suits the hand full of people who will ever watch football in Adelaide rather than die trying to attract the 40,000 plus potential of Brisbane. Last year Ernie Merrick just scrapped home with the germinating seed of entertaining football (thanks Geoff Lord). This year Miron misses out. Well it is hard to buy the exciting players needed attacking football for $1.6m divided by 20. So some teams don’t bother.

Does anyone remember the last few games of last season? When Miron kept believing in the 300 plus shots of Alex Brosque and the developing talents of Michael Baird to get a share of the golden boot and embarrass the $900,000 per year Dwight Yorke and his Sydney champions (2-1)? Then to have both these rising stars decide to leave, and have to start again. And how? 3-0 against Perth and 5-0 against NZ. Could we ask for more? Yes it seems, we could ask for ‘ground out’ football where the action comes from coking your opponent’s stars and missing the plane to defeat in Asia.

Well maybe if you were one of the thirty people at Lang Park supporting Adelaide you would have thought it a great game to watch. Not if you one of the over 14,000 there supporting the Roar. Or the additional 6,000 plus who are not coming any more because they are sick of watching their team dominate matches and then draw or loose one nil. The mood of these people spelt trouble for Australian football and particularly for the possibility of financial success for the A-League.

The A-League is the latest of many iterations of a national football product. The A-League is distinct because of its major sponsorship backing and because of the creation of home crowds of over 10,000. However, given the FFA’s home ground requirements, crowds in the major market segments, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne must be over 20,000 to provide a commercial return. Three factors have ruled this out for Brisbane this year:

1. Too few teams in the league. Seven teams by three games means that all the teams have learnt the others tactics and players and know how to play ‘ground out’ football football. They all know all the referees and know what they can get away with including fouling their opponents.

2. ‘Grounding out’ football is boring but it suits a win at all costs mentality. And it is very viable if you only have to attract 10,000 home fans per game.

3. Because of the strange way the home-away season has been commissioned Queensland’s home season is almost over this year.

4. Poor reefing. Andy Packer breaks through - and it’s a hand ball - yeah right ref. Dario is through - no he is barged from behind by Travis Dodd and it’s a red - no wait a yellow thanks ref. (at this point the match ref was lecturing Miron who, with the home fans, were in apoplexy. But then again, as John said ‘we ground them out.. it was a great game to watch.’

5. Experienced players taking the ref out. I have sat at Lang park and watched first Lazaridis, then Mori and this time Aloisi walk around the field talking to the ref. At times the refs stop watching the game to continue these conversations. So interesting eh?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Knights. Should I stay or should I go? If I stay there will be trouble. If I go it will be double...

This is the problem for Swiss Roar defender Remo Buess. He has had the call from the NZ Knights Paul Nevin and Miron has told him he is free to go if he wishes. But wish he does not. As he said on ABC radio this week, he will listen to what the Knights have to say but the Roar have the chance of being a championship winning side and he wants to be there for that.

His problem is not getting game time, and, perhaps as a result, looking out of form when he does. But with only 20 spots in a squad and the Roar only up to 19 so far, and with 21 games injuries and suspensions can change the face of opportunities. Ask Sydney FC. And Remo seems to be holding out for his chance to win back his spot. Miron says he can stay if he wants but perhaps should take the opportunity for game time and to impress the Roar and other clubs - ouch what a compliment.

Chad Gibson seems to have also been called by Nevin. But Miron wasn’t listening to that call. Chad, a one time finalist with Sydney United and now captain of the Roar, is to be found a place. Where we are not sure. But Miron sees the A-League as an entertainment arena and Chad is a key piece of the Roar media image and well known as a public figure.

Anyway. The real issue is the problems of the Knights. Frank Farina wants them to go (Courier Mail 3 November), in my view the Foxtel commentators have hinted that it is getting hard to talk them up. And in round 10 showed their game against Melbourne (the most popular team in the league) on replay at 10:30pm.

Paul Nevin has said he wants to get more Australians to play for him. Frank Farina says there is a rift between the Knights and the NZ FA and indicated that NZ stars have been warned against playing for the team. Why did rising star Brockie leave to sit on the bench for Sydney FC? In any case, the FFA is publicly backing the Knights and expecting them to fill another 2 seasons of their 4-year franchise. But at 2,000 fans per game who will finance that? One idea is that the Knights becomes an under 23 Australian side. But why would it be located in NZ?

The other side of the story is that the FFA has said that the bids from Wollongong and North Queensland can not expect to kick an A-League ball until the 2008-2009 season. Oh no. This too far out. The reason given is that the financial viability of the current clubs is the FFA number one priority. Well this season could be a peak for FFA funds given the FIFA world cup payments that FFA has passed onto clubs to pay this year’s salary cap.

To promote the A-League to none football fans the repeat games just come around too fast to hold interest. I have done my best at work to convert NRL fans via footy tipping but they are starting to complain about the lack of variance each week. Particularly as they are hardly likely to watch any of the games on pay tv, they miss the subtleties of developments and tactics of the given small number of teams. We need new teams I new territories next year.

Clearly, Victoria is a market that needs to be tapped with a new team. After all this seems to be state league where the exciting new Australian players are being found. Is further stretching the Sydney market the answer? Clearly, the far north of Australia is untapped, particularly the indigenous athletes that currently live and breathe Aussie rules from up there will one day provide Australia with a new inspiration and competitive advantage. But will there be big enough home crowds to sustain the required stadiums? And what about the summer heat - even at night must southerners will find these conditions unbearable.

Real challenges but we need answers to sustain our sport. Leaving it at 8 for next season isn’t going to work. Come on FFA let’s get to 10 and quickly to 12. How about a Korean, Chinese or Malaysian team? Or at least regular season round robins. And Foxtel - how about televising the young Socceroos - after all Burns and Dario are among the A-Leagues most exiting players. Perhaps we see some youth from other Asian countries to recruit here?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Crowd size is important

Half the teams in the A-League play ten home games and the other half eleven. After round ten, six teams have played five games at home, Perth and central Coast only four, and Newcastle seven of their ten.

The franchise teams that had ten games last season get eleven this season and vise-versa.

The birth of the A-League had a significant impact on crowd sizes in the first half of last season and in the second half they tapered off a little. The victory against Uruguay and qualification to the world cup had no impact on crowd size.

Clubs are funded by sponsors, club activities (pokies), FFA distribution of Foxtel funding, FFA distribution of FIFA world cup performance funding, shareholders funds, merchandise, and gate-take. The FFA has rigid home ground requirements which, given stadium availability and costs, may advantage some clubs' cost structure over others. As a result, some clubs breakeven point for the home ground is much higher than others. For example, the Queensland Roar has been quoted as requiring 20,000 people to break-even at Lang Park, while clubs in smaller cities may only need 10,000 or less. In any case, reaching breakeven size crowd is key for each team to turn home grounds into positives for A-League and club sustainability. Further, together with the Foxtel audience, the gate take is a critical measure of the success of the A-League .

So how are we doing after round ten of a 21 round competition? Overall, crowds are up 35,252 on the same home fixtures last year. However, that improvement is largely down to the performance of Melbourne. Victory have already attracted 131,417 fans from five home games. This is an increase of 54,155 on its first five home games last year. Clearly, the Melbourne franchise has been a bonanza waiting for the team to hold together a winning streak and promote star players and major match-ups. I predict Melbourne will attract around 250,000 fans this season. Last season it put in 141,632. Sydney attracted 183,355. My prediction would be a great performance for Melbourne and well done to Geoff Lord for hanging in there and to the FFA for backing them last year. Victoria is looking like a great site for a new team next year. I would favour an all under 23 local squad.

Thanks to the grudge match with Melbourne in round nine, Sydney has attracted more fans (5,167) to its first five home matches than last season. Crowds from the first three home games were disappointing and only the 20,881 against Melbourne pulled it out of the negative compared to last season. However, Sydney has been a big contributor to crowds for its away games particularly the 39,730 achieved by Melbourne. And the Carbone appearances also helped the turn out for away games. Overall, Sydney has a long way to go to promote the gate take in NSW.

If the two leading crowd attractors from last season, Sydney (183,473) and Queensland (162,636) could each match Melbourne the future of the A-League would be secure. A range of major potential sponsors could no longer ignore the leading position of football as a participation sport and an expanded division, expanded Asian champions league, and most importantly, dramatically expanded salary cap would be viable. Harry (in a seat next to Joey Johns at Newcastle’s round 10 win) could come home.

No doubt Queensland Roar has the potential to move its crowds from the mid teens, to the twenties and ultimately to fill Lang Park (50,000). Melbourne has shown the way. I expect that Queensland will do what it takes to secure a top four spot this year. Queensland is 6% below last season’s first five rounds crowd. I put this down to a lack of major fixtures so far (it only plays Sydney once and on the last game of the season) and the unfortunate spreading of home games. It now has 4 in the next 6 games. What ever happened to one game at home and one away to build crowd interest? However, I expect the club to do what it takes to keep its average above 15,000 this season.

The smaller clubs from Newcastle, Adelaide and Central Coast all made the finals last season. Central Coast was able to build its crowd up to 12,000 for its last league game last year. While not matching this mark, Central Coast, despite some wet games and loses, have been able to increase its crowd year-on-year for the first four games by 6,000 in total. Adelaide has also increased its crown on last season by over 6,600. However, Newcastle is already down over 11,000 year-on-year for its first six matches. Its good performance this week may prove critical to the shape of its home crowd for the remainder of the season.

Perth is under the management of the FFA. It is 18% down on last year’s crowd for its four games. I feel that last year the home crowd’s expectations were built on the financial advantage that the one WA team had in the National Soccer League, building a powerful winning team. And the results from last year reflected an averaging out of that advantage as all states (bar NSW) were reduced to one team.

What can you say about NZ crowds? They were low last year and lower this year.

Home crowd stats

A-League Version 1
Home game 1 2 3 4 5 6
Qld 20,725 15,444 23,142 13,195
Adel 11,020 8,785 7,013 13,182
Syd 25,208 15,614 18,276 11,836
New 13,160 9,127 7,495 7,436 5,868 9,371
Perth 11,113 8,509 8,052 13,157
NZ 9,827 4,938 3,558 4,182
CC 5,917 5,261 9,313 6,494
Melb 17,960 13,831 11,010 18,260 16,201 13,239
Total 114,930 81,509 87,859 87,742 82,674 76,635

A-League version 2
Home game 1 2 3 4 5 6
Qld 20,606 15,517 16,143 16,061
Adel 8,785 11,474 10,493 11,600
Syd 19,274 15,488 17,274 20,881
New 7,304 7,276 7,961 7,309 4,635 5,725
Perth 7,229 8,052 7,983 9,978
NZ 4,100 2,107 2,764 1,632
CC 4,644 8,439 11,567 8,496
Melb 15,781 39,730 17,617 25,921 32,368
Total 87,723 108,083 91,802 101,878 37,003 5,725