Salary cap a blessing for the A-League
Fans during the 2013/2014 A-League season (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Several weeks ago, while scrolling through a raucous Twitter debate surrounding the quality of the A-League, I stumbled across a suggestion from a notable football identity which left me aghast.
His proposal, designed to “improve” the competition and save it from international “embarrassment”, was to completely remove the existent salary cap in the A-League.
It was this man’s assertion that such a measure was necessary in order to allow Australian clubs to become more competitive when battling it out in the Asian Champions League.
Immediately taken aback, I retorted with an outline of some of the detrimental effects this move would have on the local game.
Initially, I assumed it was a lone voice advocating such change. However, in the weeks since, I have heard numerous football fans from various quarters calling for similar transformations.
While, in the broad scheme of things, the range of advocates for scrapping the A-League salary cap is seemingly minute, the airing of the suggestions did spark greater appreciation within me for the current system.
In modern football, all over the world, money has become an overbearing factor for what takes place on the pitch. One must only glance across to the top leagues of Europe to see this effect in full swing.
Of course, this influence is well known, and hardly disputed.
In England over the past decade, for instance, football fans have witnessed clubs virtually purchase titles after being taken over by mega-rich billionaires. In leagues such as these, salary caps are almost non-existent.
Fortunately, in Australia, such a conundrum has been avoided through ensuring sides stick to a stipulated budget.
Even better, clubs are still provided the capability of attracting up to three “marquee” players whose salary is exempt from the salary cap. This has proven enough to boost the on-field quality, yet avoid introducing unfair advantages.
What this has effectively meant is the A-League has remained an intriguing and even competition throughout its eight-year existence.
Since 2005, seven different teams have been crowned as either champions or premiers. In fact, the only sides out of the current crop to not feature in an A-League grand final are Wellington and Melbourne Heart.
Without the salary cap, it is extremely likely the more-profitable sides will dominate.
If that is not enough, given the continued fledgling state of the clubs within the competition – with sides often struggling to turn a profit whatsoever – fears for the survival of some sides would be very real.
Moreover, the idea that greater expenditure is the only way for Australian clubs to achieve success in Asia seems far-fetched.
Aside from the fact several A-League sides have performed admirably in the regional Champions League, including Adelaide reaching the final in 2008 and Central Coast progressing to the Round of 16 this year, a change in attitude is likely to bring about more benefits than the lifting of the salary cap would.
Ever since then-Melbourne Victory skipper Kevin Muscat declared “playing in Asia is not all that enjoyable” during his side’s 2010 campaign, it has been difficult to shake the perception that failure to progress out of the group stage is borne out of A-League teams not taking the competition seriously.
Of course, the football played by top A-League sides in recent years has, at times, been phenomenal, and there appears to be little excuse for local clubs not to be claiming results on the international stage.
As such, the calls – albeit minor – to scrap the salary cap are unfounded, and do not take into account the negative effect such changes would have on the domestic competition.
So, to the Football Federation of Australia, as well as the administrators of the A-League, here is something I do not say to you very often: thank you, and please do not ever consider loosening the salary cap to the sort of levels seen in parts of Europe.