Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Put your hands up for the A-League: A fragile eco system

This off-season we are getting almost as much A-League press up here in Queensland as we do during the home and away matches. What happens in Year 3 is the key for the A-League. By the end of version 3 we should know the fate of this approach to football.

‘We’ve set up something which Australians and football fans can be proud of but it’s still a bit fragile, the league will continue to bed itself down but it will all come apart at the seams if [clubs] lose their discipline’ Matt Carroll quoted in Soccer International Vol 15 No 4 ‘The Enforcer’ pages 54 to 67.’

Ben Buckley and his new management team will be able to show what they can do. By the way has anyone noticed what a mess the Australian Rugby Union got itself in in its three years without John O’Neill and Matt Carroll - and the current machinations to get them back in charge (Australian military hero Peter Cosgrove has been drafted in as the mediator and unifying force to sought it all out). The influence that O’Neill and Carroll had by moving from ARU to football on both codes highlights how limited our sports administration talent pool is, and probably how counter-productive the internal politics are. Who would have thought that in a nation known for its sporting focus and its expat business managers?

Ben Buckley could also represent a shift to towards matching AFL in a more direct way. It is lamentable that so much Australian sporting talent is drawn into a sport where there is no international challenge or interest. Ultimately, this will limit the broadcasting value of AFL, while if Australian teams can make it in Asia, football’s broadcasting dollars will increase. And local football will bridge the salary gap for its players on AFL and open up new career choices.

A decade long effort to move young players from AFL to football will lift the quality of our game and our players available for export (particularly to Asia). It will allow us to follow Australian basketball and place teams in Asian countries with interest in top quality live sport (Singapore Slingers). This will also be the force behind Australia moving from 40th (FIFA ranking April 2007) to the top ten. Apart from China and the USA, most countries in FIFA’s top 100 are probably doing the best they can do. The focus of many countries outside the top 10 is on getting better coaches or, particularly in Africa, getting FIFA to stop European taking their players away (something we see as strengthening out squad). But Australia has a more fundamental and fixable limit to progress, the diversion of audience, and dispersion of talent, across so many sports (ARL, ARU, AFL, swimming, hockey). Fix this and our ruthless cultural approach to winning will take over.

On the 2008-9 new A-League team front, Townsville, Gold Coast, Wollongong and Brisbane have all shown a corner of their hand. I think that Victoria should also be encouraged to find one or two nominees. The more choice, the more likely we will get strong and innovative approaches. Victoria and NSW are generating most of the new talent, and a new Victorian team would be best placed to find these players. New teams would also include more innovative ways to pull in the best overseas players.

Clearly we need more teams. Eight just is not enough. Fortunately, so far, all the teams, even NZ in the latter part of version 2, have shown they can be competitive. But the crowd gets bored watching a repeat of the fixture list every 7 weeks. And if teams start to breakaway, if we had four doing that instead of just the way Melbourne did last season, it is going to be all too predictable. As much as anything, my reading of the National Soccer League history is that this predictability of results, particularly when it came down to Perth Glory, Sydney and Adelaide dominating, led to the lack of interest of fans. These teams even seemed to shared players and coaches over the years.


wayne said...

Hi John, I think the salary cap is important to maintain an equal footing between teams and keep an edge to the league results (like last year), and Im happy for the FFA to be some sort of financially fascist overlord to curb individual club tendencies (Sydney breaking the cap even before the first game had been played, for instance). I also agree with keeping a team in N.Z for market purposes, as there are only a limited number of areas that the league can expand into, and once an region has tried and failed, it is near impossible to return later, leaving an ever smaller pool of potential teams/regions to draw from. A perusal of the history of the NSL (like the American counterpart of around the same time) is a story of failed clubs and constantly changing formats that does not make for a popular sport - a team/sport is like your mom and dad, they are there to give one a constant in life.

john said...

good points Wayne