Former Gold Coast United coach Miron Bleiberg is understood to be heading up a second Brisbane A-League bid. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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Battlelines are being drawn as A-League club owners unite in taking up arms against the game’s governing body, Football Federation Australia (FFA).

Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer’s appointment of 17-year-old debutant Mitch Cooper as captain, which led to the departure of coach Miron Bleiberg, has created a snowball effect that’s somehow led to talk of a breakaway league, such is the animosity coming from certain club owners.

Following Palmer’s Monday night tirade, it didn’t take long for Newcastle Jets owner Nathan Tinkler to pick up on Palmer’s suggestion that he paid up to 10 times more than the FFA charged other owners for an A-League licence, with the Jets considering legal action.

Owner angst has now manifested itself in the notion that they could create a breakaway league to divorce themselves from the FFA, or, more likely, in an attempt to wrestle A-League power away from the governing body.

Former A-League boss Archie Fraser discussed the contention on SEN Radio in Melbourne earlier in the week; what he called Palmer’s “campaign to do a breakaway league”.

“Some of his antics of the last few days really suggest he is positioning himself and a group to break away from the FFA, which could be the right outcome because the FFA structure is holding back the league,” he said.

Whether this is Palmer deflecting blame for the failings of Gold Coast United onto the FFA or a genuine attempt to take control of the A-League is debatable. The timing is certainly interesting given the events on the Gold Coast. But nevertheless it’s a threat.

Palmer, Tinkler, Tony Sage at Perth Glory and co are crucial to the survival of the A-League. Without their personal fortunes, clubs wouldn’t exist, plain and simple. If Sage, Tinkler, Palmer and co decide to go spend their money in rugby league or elsewhere, the A-League would be in serious trouble as there are very few millionaires willing to bankroll a football club at a heavy loss, so ignore them at your peril.

“I had recent discussions with Clive and he did suggest the idea of a competition replacing the A-League and being run independently of FFA,” Sage said to The World Game.

“I explained to him how that would put Australia outside the umbrella of FIFA and that you wouldn’t be able to sign FIFA-registered players and play in FIFA-sanctioned competitions and he understood that.

“There’s no way it could happen here, unlike in rugby league where of course it did a number of years back. So the idea got knocked on the head pretty quickly.”

Backing up Sage’s point, Adelaide United chairman Greg Griffin told The Advertiser that a complete break from the FFA was not a possibility.

“That process has to involve the FFA. We are not ever going to countenance to be rebels and we have to work with the FFA.

“We have to build a bridge and we want to sit down and do it with all the clubs. We want to see change but in a balanced and orderly way.

“Clive’s comments, while I don’t endorse a range of them, it’s created a reason for them (FFA) to sit down and talk.”

Sage and Griffin’s comments seem to conflict Fraser’s extreme viewpoint: “The prospect of a breakaway A-League competition managed and run by the owners of the existing clubs is not as fanciful as the FFA might think.”

Let’s get one thing straight; the possibility of a rebel league should be taken with a grain of salt. It is merely a bargaining ploy. To setup a rival league to an FFA-sanctioned competition would be tantamount to suicide for the game – and those pedaling those thoughts should realise that.

The A-League is Australian football’s second chance – the clean slate to move on and learn from the failings of the National Soccer League. Any notion that the game can afford a third chance via a breakaway league led by Palmer, of all people, is ridiculous.

And if there is to be a rebel league or even the threat of one, the owners should not unite behind Palmer, who, despite his deflecting, has made a mess of Gold Coast United.

He has well and truly lost a large chunk of what remained of the supporters of his club, as witnessed by the public support he garnered midweek, when, after his insistence that all was well with Gold Coast United, a crowd of just 1141 came out to support the beleaguered club – an all-time club low and the second worst crowd in A-League history.

Working with the FFA is the only tenable solution to issues that can be solved within the current setup of the game, not binning the A-League foundation that, despite the financial and structural model needing reworking, is a relatively strong one.

But club owners, who are collectively losing between $25 and $28 million a year, deserve a say in how the league is governed and which direction it goes in, but not, as Sage said, having “the animals running the zoo”.

He continued: “The guys who have funded the A-League to the tune of $40-50 million since its inception and deserve a say in the running of the game and how their money is spent.

“What Clive is saying is that all they want is somebody on the board promoting their viewpoints. We all support him in that ambition.

“It’s about time all of the owners have a greater say in how the money is spent because, in the end, it’s our money that’s propping up the game.

“If I didn’t do it, there’d be no Perth Glory; if Clive didn’t do it, there’d be no Gold Coast team; and if Nathan didn’t do it, there’d be no Jets team.”

The Crawford Report long ago demanded that the A-League should be run independently of the FFA and, crucially, collaborate to collectively exploit the game’s key commercial assets, backed up by the more recent Smith Report. But this is where direct comparisons with the AFL and NRL’s independent commissions are difficult and the FFA needs to retain an element of control.

The AFL and NRL don’t have multiple national teams playing in major senior, junior competitions across both sexes. The A-League needs to be married to the Socceroos to some extent to feed off their commercial success – to a far greater extent than in England where the English Premier League can stand on its own independently given its financial might relative to the A-League.

Only the FFA can help do that and provide some middle ground between the national team and league, so club owners, who require some representation and meaningful role in A-League governance, are not left totally to their own devices yet can feed off the game’s most valuable asset – its national team.

The FFA has an immense amount on its plate; consumed with all facets of the game from the Socceroos to junior development. So it needs help in addressing issues that club owners and directors deal with on a daily basis in their respective markets, which the FFA could be dismissive of or ignorant to given their total control.

A prime example comes from Sage regarding the league’s archaic sponsorship restrictions that prevent clubs from signing sponsors who conflict with the FFA’s backers.

“The AFL has Toyota as the major sponsor and Ford is allowed to sponsor Geelong,” Sage told The World Game. “In the A-League you have Hyundai as an exclusive backer and no club is currently able to find a car company to support it, or a telco for that matter.

“That needs to change when existing deals come up for renewal.”

Think of the avenues of sponsorship closed to clubs at a time when they are bleeding financially, in a challenging economic climate, when even Sydney FC, one of the biggest clubs in the league, is without a shirt sponsor.

This is one issue where the FFA could be conflicted given its dual role with the A-League and Socceroos. Who benefits most from an exclusive telco deal with Optus, for example? So it’s a clear case where A-League club owners need a say in the decision-making process to wrestle some control away from the FFA.

But these are the types of issues the club owners need to address with the FFA, not separate of the FFA, for the betterment of the game.

With Palmer, Tinkler and co squaring off against the FFA in full public view over the governance of the game, don’t be surprised if there is significant collateral damage in their war for independence. A lot is at stake.

Crowds, memberships and television ratings may be up this season, but the failings of Gold Coast United and Palmer so spectacularly exposing the financial burden on club owners will only perpetuate the notion that the game cannot run itself successfully to wider Australia.

Remember, this is happening at a time when the next television deal, vital to addressing some of the financial concerns of the owners, is being negotiated in a challenging marketplace with the likes of the NRL and V8 Supercars also out there fighting for their own slab of the market share.

“It looks like two sides have gone to their corners and have come out fighting,” Sage said. “It’s not good to see our dirty laundry aired in public. I don’t think it’s the way to do it.”

Australian football’s ability to tear itself to shreds is only matched by the Australian Labor Party at present.

Adrian Musolino
Adrian Musolino

Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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The Crowd Says (45)

  • February 24th 2012 @ 8:21am
    agga78 said | February 24th 2012 @ 8:21am | ! Report

    Well I don’t expect much from Buckley and Lowy, this situation has been coming for years and Lowy especially has done nothing to include the owners as that would mean he gives up some power in the running of football and he has to keep control.

    The owners collective wealth needs to used to fund the league for at least another ten years and they won’t do it if they have no say on the running of the A league and Lowy needs to remember this, but there also has to be the ability to bring owners back in line with the other owners as the fear would be that people like Palmer with his extreme wealth could destroy the league with his power trips he goes on.

    FFA have some big decisions to make in the winter lets hope they get it right unfortunately I don’t see Buckley or Lowy making the right decisions as the last 4 years have been diabolical at FFA after a great start.

  • February 24th 2012 @ 8:29am
    Kasey said | February 24th 2012 @ 8:29am | ! Report

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the path of least resistance is chosen. Sage himself has said the wheels are in motion to follow the Smith report and allow for owner input to decisions regarding the HAL, its just that FFA are taking time to get the model correct. I think this is a good thing, the last thing we need is to wreck the governorship of the league and create an environment of self interest that permeated the NSL and the pre-AFL VFL. In fact the removal of power from clubs has been an over arching trend in sport for 20 years now. Would a club dominated HAL board have approved expansion of the league to include MHT? I venture no and the HAL would have been denied the excellent marquee games that are the Melbourne derbies. I would like to see a separate(from FFA) HAL management board set up with a good balance of seats on it for FFA representation, a club owners representative (or 2), a PFA rep, a referees rep, a marketing/corporate affairs manager. This board would then appoint a HAL commissioner (CEO) to be the face of the league, a competition committee to run the day to day affairs of the league and a promotions/corporate affairs manager to build the links between the league and sponsorship not to mention running fan engagement strategies.

  • Roar Guru

    February 24th 2012 @ 8:33am
    The Cattery said | February 24th 2012 @ 8:33am | ! Report

    Thank goodness most of the owners understand the ramifications of a true rebel league – but do you think Palmer would truly care about that? I’m not sure he would – to date he has not shown the slightest bit of evidence that he cares about the norms of the game.

  • February 24th 2012 @ 8:44am
    Kasey said | February 24th 2012 @ 8:44am | ! Report

    I think Sage is the voice of reason in all this (at least from his public pronouncements thus far on the issues at hand). He appears to have a peer relationship with Palmer and that could be the thing that helps reign in the giant ego of Palmer until FFA can implement whatever strategy they have for owner engagement. Of course I’m not part of the cabal so I can only go on what is reported. The difficulty is that SBS are so anti FFA that it takes a lawyer like mind to sift through the bias to try to find the nuggets of truth. Lucky we have other ways to engage with decision makers, such as directly via twitter or on facebook.

  • February 24th 2012 @ 9:21am
    Johnno said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:21am | ! Report

    Would it be a fair call to say the FFA is broke i think so. I can’t see Frank Lowy having to invest his own personal money into the A-eague now . And they nned a good new tv deal and need some guarantees from from foxtel, otherwise game over A-league and FFA in terms o flanging the A-league. ANd football in this country will either be a remodelled A’league, or that dreaded term semi professional football comp would happen, like sports like netball , or field hockey in this country.

    • February 24th 2012 @ 9:44am
      striker said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:44am | ! Report

      Johhno thanks for the doomsday theories once again the game will be gone by the end of season here comes the NSL again yipee.

      • February 24th 2012 @ 10:09am
        Johnno said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        well why not striker lol, i mean the NSl lasted over 20 years as it was at least run by football people. And the NSL never had pay tv only late in it’s existence but pay tv had no yet totally captured the Australian public, it was young now more people have pay tv . But something has to change and be remodelled if the A-league is to survive.

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2012 @ 9:58am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      So Johnno – the HAL is doomed, is it? You are so knowledgeable about football & the HAL I really feel I can learn a lot from an expert like you.

      Are you the same Johnno, who is a Rugby fan & has never been to an HAL match?

      And, are you also the same Johnno, who claims to follow Sydney Olympic … but you couldn’t be bothered going to watch Olympic in the Grand Final of the NSW Premier League last season?

      And, finally are you the same Johnno, who claims to be a staunch fan of the NSL … but, you’re 25 years old, which means you were barely a teenager when the NSL folded?

      Yup – I’m all ears. Football fans have a lot to learn from experts like you – please share more of your insights … or should that be “incites”?

  • Roar Guru

    February 24th 2012 @ 9:29am
    Fussball ist unser leben said | February 24th 2012 @ 9:29am | ! Report

    As I’ve said right from the start “a breakaway pro-football league” is just nonsense, yet some non-football posters on this forum still tried to perpetuate this myth to further their own anti-football agenda.

    Clive Palmer knows how to set the media agenda and isn’t his timing fantastic? The Rugby Super League starts today, the AFL preseason competition has kicked off & NRL is about to start … yet, the chatter across the sporting world is fully focused on football issues!

    In 40 years of being a football fan in Melbourne, I can’t ever recall football news being so prominently discussed every day.

    Clive Palmer wanted Australia’s attention focused on football … and, you’ve got to give the big man credit, he’s got everyone – HAL fans, people who claim to be football fans but never watch the HAL and even the football haters – talking football!

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2012 @ 10:03am
      SportsFanGC said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Fuss if you think that anything Palmer is doing is for football or the A-League you are kidding yourself.

      Granted its been on the back pages everyday since last weekend after his rant and then his comedic performance on Monday night to explain it all in front of the adoring SBS panel, Fozz being the head cheerleader.

      If he is such a fan of the game lets ask him some basic questions and not accept any fluff or answers in the form of questions from him:

      1. If you were truly upset with the administration of the game why not say so? Why come out to say you don’t like the game and that your club is insignificant? His answer on TWG were simple fluff and spin anyone could see that.

      2. If you are so concerned about giving youth players the chance to play the game why are all these kids not signed up on 3 or 4 year deals? How did you let a good young player like Brown just head down south to Newcastle?

      3. How are you creating stability by leaving everyone at the club in the dark with regards to what the squad will look like next year? Any kid with a decent manager is right now sussing out their options with other clubs – you can guarantee that.

      4. When did you start to think it was appropriate for you to involve yourself in national selection matters? If the kids are good enough they will get picked. It has happened well before you got involved and will continue to happen long after you are gone.

      5, Do you honestly believe that these kids are just happy to play for GCU and not worried about contracts? This is their job and livelihood, they are not going to just continue to turn up to play for GCU because you gave them a platform.

      6. Why suggest the stupid $50K bet winner takes all against the Olyroos? And for that matter learn how to pronounce the name correctly.

      People are talking about the A-League not doubt but the overwhelming majority of the discussion is not positive. It is centred on what a joke GCU is and the possibly that the A-League will lose yet another club in its first 7 seasons. The crowd that turned up on Wednesday night is a clear indication of what the people on the GC think of Palmer and his plaything GCU.

      If you think he has positive motives you are deluded, he is bad for the game, as I previously said not all publicity is good publicity, especially in this case.

      BTW its Super Rugby not the Rugby Super League 😉

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2012 @ 10:23am
        Fussball ist unser leben said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        SFN

        GCU, who are bottom of the table, played CCM, who are top of the table on Wednesday night. Did you watch the game? I did – fantastic football played by GCU and Championship-winning resolve shown by CCM

        We are football!

        • Roar Guru

          February 24th 2012 @ 11:11am
          SportsFanGC said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:11am | ! Report

          Did see the game and some great goals amongst the action.

          However, not really anything to do with my post re: Ask some simple questions to Palmer and stop believing that this guy is some sort of god send to the game in this country

          • Roar Guru

            February 24th 2012 @ 11:20am
            Fussball ist unser leben said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:20am | ! Report

            SFN

            For me, the GAME is all that matters. Everything else is just superficial fluff.

            You should put those questions to Clive Palmer – you can contact him via Twitter on @CliveFPalmer

            • February 24th 2012 @ 11:32am
              Johnno said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:32am | ! Report

              Fuss for the game too matter , you need money it is as simple as this. Pro sport is about capitalism and making money, and nothing else. With no money the game does not matter. You are a bit of a football romantic I feel, not always thinking about the money in making designs letting emotion and love of football over ride financial money making profits that is the only thing that matters in football., making money. Disagree with me, ask the players who play in the English premier league, and the owners of football clubs in English premier league , and the players and owners in England think of one thing only in my opinion anyway and that is making money Fuss. You don’t seem to put making money out of football, a higher enough priority , and fans like you Fuss have to accept pro sport is a business and making money is no 1.

            • Roar Guru

              February 24th 2012 @ 11:40am
              Fussball ist unser leben said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:40am | ! Report

              Johnno

              You are extremely naive if you think anyone invests money to operate a professional sporting club to make money. It simply doesn’t happen.

              Do you think the super-rich, who own F1 Racing teams are engaged in that “sport” to make money? How about maxi-yacht racing – the America’s Cup, Sydney to Hobart, etc. .. do you think people get involved in that sport to make money?

              If I could get 6k people put in $1k each year, they could own/operate an HAL football club. But, you can be sure none would expect to make money from this investment. They’d do it b/c they want to be involved in the HAL.

              The only people, who make money out of pro-sport are the athletes & the employees of the club.

            • February 24th 2012 @ 12:21pm
              Stevo said | February 24th 2012 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

              Johnno, One of the better interviews this week was with Miron on Foxsports FC

              http://www.foxsports.com.au/Football/miron-bleiberg-interview/video-e6frf423-1226278366705?subcat=1225834288523&site=FoxSports

              He mentions talking to Clive about football and telling him that’s it not a simply money making venture because it mixes business with passion. He basically told Clive not to expect to be making money from GCU – not just because it’s GCU but because owners around the world also find that they carry losses. Miron told Clive that what he can do for him is to make sure that his money was spent wisely.

      • February 24th 2012 @ 10:27am
        Kasey said | February 24th 2012 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        SFM: Actually it’s SupeRugby if you read the logo. For a supposed ‘upper class’ sport, the inability to spell correctly ought to be a concern.

        • Roar Guru

          February 24th 2012 @ 11:11am
          SportsFanGC said | February 24th 2012 @ 11:11am | ! Report

          Kasey – Its a fair oversight from the crew that designed the logo!

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