Monday, June 25, 2007

FIFA Player restrictions

I have been thinking about how the FIFA restrictions of 4 foreign players per club will impact football and, in particular, the A-League. Of all sports, football has the attributes of a commodity market - few trade restrictions on movement of players and fans, huge numbers of fans, huge numbers of players, international product sponsors, played by all ages, played across the globe, standard rules ...

It is difficult to find the actual foreign players regulations. We tend to get journalists reporting that player movements are happening or not happening because of these restrictions. My understanding is that the limits result from concerns from some countries administrations that their talent was being attracted away at a very young age, decimating local leagues and impacting on 3rd world countries ability to pull together a national team for world cups. I have read this viewpoint. And I think it probably is this viewpoint that has caused countries to lobby FIFA for restrictions. However, I do not believe that it the rule changes will either bolster local sport in these countries nor that it causes talent drain impacts on world cup performance.

It is more likely that England, with its EPL attracting the best talent and richest club owners from across the world, has had its world cup hopes hurt most by unlimited trade in the best players. And the FA has to be constantly on its guard to protect the EPL through auditing and player trade investigations. The benefit is that the EPL is the richest league in the world. But the real impact is being felt by the England team fans - far fewer English born young players are now given the volume and depth of exposure they require to evolve into world class players. On the other hand far more Africans, Brazilians, Australians, eastern Europeans, and now Chinese, are getting that exposure, grooming and training, that will ultimately lift their country of original at the world cup.

What would happen to Chelsea if next season it could only have 4 foreign players? Well that is where I need to do more research as I don't see that happening.

As far as the A-League goes it is going to a have an impact. Teams have already let foreign players go. The more ruthless ones have ensured that lower quality players have gone home early for better replacements (last season Adelaide switched Qu for Diego). Others have stuck with their current four despite coaches leaving most on the bench or in the stand - contracts either solid or low cost. The Roar have heavily publicised their push for foreign players to get citizenship in order to open more opportunities (Korean Seo to become an Ozzie for a space for a new Brazilian).

As the 4 player restriction bites internationally, the top flight from Africa, other parts of the 3rd world world and Brazil will become even more highly prized. The 2nd tier may be forced out of the top flight and seek opportunities in Australia, China, Japan and elsewhere. The 3rd tier and players looking to tail off their careers in style may find it harder. The A-League may have less foreign players, but over the next few years they may be higher quality and more experienced.

Ultimately, I see player restrictions being bad for the 3rd world. I hope they are removed before they get to a stage where as offshore escape opportunities decline and young potential stars look to other more certain, less satifying, perhaps more dangerous sources of income.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Roar v South Africa's SuperSport Lang Park July 1

On Tuesday I went out to Richlands to get my first sight of the Roar for the 2007-2008 season. The Mt Gravatt goalkeeper (see photo) is McMaster - the Roar's regular 3rd choice who was very disappointed to be chosen behind Ham. However, now Ham is out for the season with injury it is McMaster vs version 1 no 2 keeper Higgins for the 2nd spot behind Reddy. The guy with the hair is regular Roar squad member and new signing Robby Kruse. Reinaldo came off injured in 20 minutes (before I arrived) but is said to be OK for 1 July. New signing Mitch Nichols played a full game. As did Marcus Wedau, who got no game time under Frank last year, who dominated the middle of the park - passing wide to the left and right.

While Frank did tell us late last year that too improve he may need to change the team, so we have had the well telegraphed departures of Dario Vidosic, Spase Dilevski, Zhang, Chad Gibson, Remo Buess, and alas Tom Willis.

Fans of Adelaide, which seems to have had a wholesale change after building its success on stability and experience, and Newcastle that has lost its three top fan draw cards Rodriguez, Okon and Nicky Carle, will feel more pain.

Obviously, Dario is a big loss for the Roar and its fans. And Spase did not, or did not get the chance, to live up to his promise. But the stability in the rest of the squad should pay off. And some of the new signings offer real potential. Tahj Minnicon wasn't there on Tuesday and I am keen to see him. Neither was Danny Tiatto.

The first chance to see the full squad against quality opposition will be 3pm on 1 July at Lang Park against SuperSport. The event has been under played in terms of promotion. However, seats look cheap and the 6th placed South African team should provide another test for the A-League.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lessons from other codes: AFL

The Australian Financial Review Boss magazine volume 8 for June 2007 ran an article by Andrew Burrell Team Players Pages 22 to 26 about chairs of 3 AFL clubs - Dalton Gooding from West Coast, Richard Colless from Sydney and Eddie McGuire from Collingwood.

The AFL is under pressure from bad player behaviour and drug taking, and weak responses from clubs. But it was some of the other things these successful people said about their code that caught my attention.

The leadership challenge comes at a time when the AFL has never been better off financially. Crowds and TV viewers are flocking to the game, and it has a five-year $780-milliontelevision deal with Seven and Ten networks... Last year revenues rose 6 per cent to a record $215 million and the league's operating surplus jumped 8 per cent to $140 million. Other measures, such as aggregate club profitability (up by $2.9 million to $11 million) and record memberships (up 1.95 per cent to 519,126)... page 22

Eddie McGuire advises that Collingwood is set up as a '52-week event company'... and 'you probably have more people on your staff than you would if it was a privately run business ... it's all about winning games of football, and giving your supporters something to enjoy on the weekend and something to talk about through the week... Match days are like staging 11 Rolling Stones concerts a year. We run the biggest restaurant in Australia 11 times a year... We're an internet company, we're a gaming company, we're a hotel business, we're a travel agency... ' page 24

So for McGuire the financial performance is a means to and end. And I think this is true for all A-League team owners who crave that something that owning and controlling a successful team brings.

Sydney Swans' Colless talks about the directors role in keeping the club solvent balanced by protecting its 'history and culture... as long as you're not in danger of going out of business, the members will take the P&L and the balance sheet for granted.. ' and focus on 'players and coaches' Well all codes know this. Lose a few games and the coach gets hammered.

Colless was brought into Sydney in the mid 1990s when 'We had a 26-game losing streak, turnover of about $3 million and around 3000 members.' An A-League club would be out of business if it lost 26 games. These guys backed their product. We need to be prepared to do the same for the A-League.

Colless also talks about the establishment of the player leadership group in AFL teams as opposed to a single leader. Last season when criticised for not naming a captain, the Roar's Frank Farina asked rhetorically why you need a captain. Colless and other AFL leaders have thought about this issue. They see a clear role for a group of senior players taking the weight off the coach and mentoring junior players and even making some decisions.

The author also make the point that 'at most AFL clubs there is a high level of clarity involved in the organisations' reporting structure and demarcation lines.' page 25 This does not appear to be the case for most A-League clubs, where the owners seem to get to say a lot about who they buy and how the coach operates. In the AFL, the Chair and Board would talk to the CEO, like most companies. I am not sure this is the case in football - from Chelsea downways (ah Mourinho?).

West Coast Eagles Gooding - who I understand to be backed by key WA mining industry participants plus Hungry Jacks and SGIO - and is the wealthiest AFL club ($40 revenue) - says emotion is the difference between a listed company and a club. He says that a listed company is about share price, but at a club it is about performance. 'You get a flogging on the weekend and the whole world is calling for the coach's head - that's a fairly big crisis for your organisation.' page 25 I agree and I have seen it at A-League level watching crowd behaviour turn on Miron and, perhaps in a more ugly way by parents at junior level.

Gooding points out ' We've tried to instill the factors you'd use in running a business into running a football club. Ever single person at the club has Key Performance Indicators, and we try to make everything measurable and accountable.' This is easier said than done. But if you can set it up in a meaningful way it is the way to go. You get clarity on what is working and what isn't.

Support your A-League Team - ticketing time

Ticketing time is approaching. Season 3 will be a difficult year for A-League teams. If you want to see them next year, they need your support now.

The Roar have released their season ticketing prices.

A single adult can get to see 11 games this year (teams take it in turns to get 10 or 11 home games) for only $176. At $16 per game that is pretty good value that won't be repeated at the turnstile. Parent child minimum priced tickets are $216 (under $9 per person - better than the movies), and Family minimums are $390 for 2 adults and 2 by 15 years or less (again under $9 per person).

There are no bad seats at Lang Park and the higher levels are unlikely to be used - and certainly won't be for season tickets. So minimum prices are good value. Having said that, the Roar are aiming for at least one 50,000 crowd this year. Last year's top crowd - the last game v Sydney was 32,000. If they are to make this, then the Roar will need to put on a show.

Now. If you want to do more than just watch. And really I want to be playing. But given Frank isn't set to pick me, then the Foundation membership is the go - an extra $125 for an adult, or $150 for an adult and child, or $195 for 2 adults and 2 children - you get to meet the players after each home game, an invite to lunch with the players and 20% discount on team stuff. By the end of the season you will know most players and they will know you. Does any other club offer this?

And a message to you Roary on this - work the Football Brisbane connection and the local clubs, particularly youth and junior teams. After all I understand that the Queensland Lions sell down and your research shows that you think broadening your appeal is linked to distancing Roary from one club. However, without poker machine backing it is a leap of faith. You need to get into inboxes like the 'Football family' does for national team games. Go all out - don't hold back.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The journey so far...

I am getting psyched. Three years ago I was given a ticket to a Roar game. Some deep cultural switch in my part of the collective unconscious was turned back on. I went out and kicked a ball with my son. I started connecting with the ball in ways that I had forgotten that I knew how to do. I started searching for more information, started reading my old football books, rang my dad and asked him a few questions about what it used to be like...

Got my son into the sport and watched his games. Realised I knew a bit about why they were getting beaten and it wasn't just because they weren't as skilled as the other team. I could see what needed to be done.

I went to more Roar games. Listened to people around me who knew everything and wondered how they learned that. Got to know the players names, the refs... the moves, started reading the game. Started going to watch some 'open' training sessions and trial matches. Got season tickets in season two, my son got to be a ball boy. Started to Started going to pubs to watch the away games. Moved up from a Roar tee shirt to the real thing. I was getting hooked. Started to read peoples' bogs on the games and tentatively provided my views.

Was given Foxtel. Watched all four games every week. Recorded the Roar's home games and re-watched them on TV when I got home from the match - it is amazing how different the experience is live v TV - each viewpoint has its pluses. Got a blog and started to say a few things.

Got to know all the A-League players names - their strengthens and weaknesses. Got to meet the Roar players and to know the talkative ones. This was getting serious. Realised just how much you could get to learn about football.

Went and got my junior licence - which nearly melted me under the Queensland sun. Read more, learnt more. Started coaching and realised that knowing what needed to done and persuading young people to do it were two things. Let them do their thing. Tightened the reins as they got to know me.

Started seeing football as a way to learn life's lessons rather than an end in itself. Looked for ways to pass these onto the team. Learnt that parents also fell into this category. Training day started to become more purposeful. Saturday the best day of the week no matter what the result.....

Realised it is just a game. But a good one.