Many seem to be writing off the current dramas at Gold Coast United as nothing more than the whims of a man too rich for his own good.
But comments made by that very man – Gold Coast chairman and wealthy businessman Clive Palmer – during a live interview on “The World Game” suggest that football in Australia might fast be heading toward a watershed moment.
The on-and-off-field dramas of Gold Coast have been well documented and do not need repeating here. In recent times this turmoil has claimed the scalp of Miron Bleiberg and the future of the club now looks to be in grave doubt.
Things have come to a head with the troubled club, and the death knell seemed to have sounded when Palmer was quoted as saying that he didn’t like the game, and that the NRL was a better sport.
Yet when given the opportunity to speak live on “The World Game” Palmer was adamant that the future of Gold Coast was anything but bleak, and that he was still totally committed to the club.
Apparently what he meant in that now infamous interview was that he thought the administration of Australian football was a joke. He used the NRL as an example of a much better organised and administered code.
He also claimed that he was disgusted with the underhand payments or bungs to agents and other parties, common in player transfer negotiations. He said his decision to promote the youth in his club was to directly combat this phenomena.
Interestingly, none of the SBS panel took issue with the validity of this statement which he repeated a couple of times.
He further went on to suggest that several private owners of A-League clubs were unhappy with the way the sport was being run in this country and that he was in contact with them. Without actually saying so, he further implied that there might be some truth to speculation that the owners could break away from Football Federation Australia (FFA) and form their own competition, similar to the formation of the Premier League in England back in 1992.
Potentially this that could see the biggest change in Australian football since the Crawford Report effectively killed the National Soccer League.
The FFA runs both football and the A-League in this country. The FFA has steadfastly refused to give any control of the A- League to the clubs and the business individuals that run them.
The FFA currently controls the purse strings in Australia. Monies generated by the A- League and the rest of the sport goes into one big pot, which is then distributed to the A- League, the national sporting teams, “grass roots” football, and of course wages for the administrators of the FFA. It is my understanding that all the revenue from the finals go to the FFA, rather than directly to the clubs participating in them.
With the current contract coming to a close soon, future TV rights have been a looming issue in our sport. Clive went on to ask the question, who would be best placed to negotiate a new TV deal? Would it be CEO Ben Buckley and the FFA, or a group led by experienced businessmen such as Tony Sage, Nathan Tinkler and himself, men experienced in negotiating multi-billion-dollar deals in some of the toughest and most competitive markets in the world.
The FFA of course will not wear that suggestion as it takes away their primary source of income, one of the major reasons why Buckley remains in his role.
While in a utopian world, it would seem that the interests of the A- League and football in Australia should be one and the same, this is not the case.
The A- League was created by the FFA, and certainly needed the FFA to get it up and running. But for the A- League to reach its full potential now, it needs to start taking care of its own interests first. Unfortunately those will not always be in the best interest of the FFA; during the failed World Cup bid, the FFA demonstrated that its priorities were not always in line with the A- League.
To suggest that individuals such as Sage, Tinkler and Palmer would sit idly and have their businesses dictated to by the likes of Buckley seems to me to be extremely naïve.
Clive Palmer claims to have invested $18 million in Gold Coast over the past three seasons. While it is easy to sit back and write him off as ill-educated in the ways of the sport, his commitment has been as substantial as anyone. He certainly seems genuine in his future commitment to both Gold Coast and football in Australia.
You can write him off as a joke, but his business record certainly suggests he is anything but. I have a feeling that we will be hearing much more on this issue before very long.
Indeed, Clive Palmer might turn out to be this decade’s most important man in Australian football.