Adelaide United’s decline is a problem for the whole of the A-League

Gary Andrews Roar Rookie

By Gary Andrews, Gary Andrews is a Roar Rookie

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    Just as Leicester City are now looking over their shoulders as relegation looms, Adelaide United are making space for a wooden spoon to sit next to their 2016 Championship in the trophy cabinet.

    Outplayed, out-muscled and severely out of sorts, the Reds’ 5-0 thrashing at home to Perth Glory must surely rank as one of the lowest points in recent years, less than 12-months after their astonishing run from basement boys to Australian champions.

    Yet while Adelaide’s decline has been dramatic, the signs were there from the minute after the trophy was hoisted.

    Like other teams before them, the Reds have fallen victim to a very A-League problem: post-season squad gutting.

    The decimation of a successful team is not uncommon, not in Australia, nor overseas, where it’s especially the case in Brazil and the Netherlands. Celebration hangovers have barely cleared before foreign teams swoop for title winning stars.

    In a ten team division in a relatively young league, it’s particularly pronounced.

    Adelaide would have expected a number of their side to depart, but what was notable was the nature of the players to depart.

    Craig Goodwin, often at the heart of all that was good about the Reds play, departed for Sparta Rotterdam just four days after winning the title. Club legend Bruce Djite soon followed for another spell away from his spiritual home, while veteran Pablo Sanchez reached the end of the road.

    Yet some of the younger talents that coach Guillermo Amor would have hoped to blood also departed. Amor surely wasn’t planning to dispense of Stefan Mauk or Bruce Kamau, while throw in the earlier departure of James Jeggo meant the Reds lost the players who could step up and make a case for becoming the heartbeat of the side.

    Thirteen new signings and 12 losses tell their own story. Rebuilding does not appear to be Amor’s forte and new recruits are vastly inferior to the title winning side.

    This is not a uniquely Adelaide problem. The Western Sydney Wanderers embarked on such an extreme level of rebuilding almost every summer that it’s a wonder they aren’t sponsored by Grand Designs Australia. The Central Coast Mariners have never really recovered from the squad gutting after Graham Arnold departed, and many would have loved to have seen the 2013-14 Brisbane Roar vintage challenge in the Champions League. The Newcastle Jets have haven’t approached the heights they reached since winning the grand final in 2008.

    Unsurprisingly, it is the biggest clubs with the deepest pockets who are less affected, with Sydney and Melbourne Victory able to either hold onto their bigger stars or have the cash to spend on adequate replacements.

    And cash is a big issue. As former Red Bruce Djite told the Off-Field podcast: “In the four months that I’ve been there [Suwon FC] I saved more money that I have in my last five years in Australia. You can’t compare. The A-League is one of the most underpaid leagues in terms of what you earn compared to the quality of football you produce.”

    Footballers, like anyone else, will want to earn as much as they can, especially with short careers. Who can blame the likes of Djite for taking a bigger paycheck over a crack at a title defence or Champions League campaign.

    Does this mean the A-League’s salary cap should be scrapped? Arguably not currently, as it would as likely hurt Adelaide further. But if Australia wants to hold onto its stars and for fans to gain any kind of empathy with their playing roster, there is an argument for reform.

    Poor pay and big clubs snatching young starlets are not the only reasons for Adelaide’s decline and Amor must take some responsibility for the lack of fight displayed on the field.

    But ultimately having your league’s best clubs pushed into a season of flux and decline doesn’t help a ten team competition battling for spectators, doesn’t help Australia’s standing in Asia, and doesn’t make for a happy Hindmarsh Stadium.

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    The Crowd Says (21)

    • February 13th 2017 @ 4:14am
      Swanny said | February 13th 2017 @ 4:14am | ! Report

      If u scrap the cap , u will end up with a competition like Scotland where only one team , the richest can win it .

      The cap must stay , with room for local and international marquees .

      • February 13th 2017 @ 4:25am
        lesterlike said | February 13th 2017 @ 4:25am | ! Report

        There are heaps of professional leagues that don’t have a salary cap and are perfectly competitive but clearly our future is set and we can only go the way of Scotland for no good reason.

        • February 13th 2017 @ 6:11am
          Gossie fan said | February 13th 2017 @ 6:11am | ! Report

          point one out

          • February 13th 2017 @ 6:31am
            lesterlike said | February 13th 2017 @ 6:31am | ! Report

            There are many quality leagues which feature no restrictions and plenty of mobility across the table which you should be well aware of. My personal favourites are the Brasileiro Série A, Liga MX in Mexico and Argentina’s Primera División.

            Even close to home we have the J-League, who’s lead we certainly should be following. They have teams flying up and down the league every season and certainly no ridiculous cap system.

            Screaming that the cap is the only thing keeping the league competitive is utter nonsense pushed by people who are clearly aren’t real football fans.

          • February 13th 2017 @ 8:34am
            Lesterlike said | February 13th 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

            There are many quality leagues which feature no restrictions and plenty of mobility across the table which you should be well aware of. My personal favourites are the Brasileiro Série A, Liga MX in Mexico and Argentina’s Primera División.

            Even close to home we have the J-League, who’s lead we certainly should be following. They have teams flying up and down the league every season and certainly no cap system.

            Screaming that the cap is the only thing keeping the league competitive is utter nonsense pushed by people who are clearly aren’t real football fans.

            • February 13th 2017 @ 1:35pm
              Arky said | February 13th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

              Those leagues tend to be full of extremely well established, equally backed clubs.

              If the salary cap is taken away in the A-League, only certain clubs have the financial power to take advantage while remaining profitable.

            • February 13th 2017 @ 7:15pm
              Gary Andrews said | February 13th 2017 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

              I definitely wouldn’t say the cap is the only thing keeping the League competitive, but I do understand why it is in place. When you have a young league with a small number of clubs, it needs careful management and it’s understandable why the FFA established it.

              There will be a time, probably after a few expansions, where the cap can be substantially altered or scrapped. Currently, though, it could use some tweaking to evolve where the league evolves.

              Interestingly, the Football League in England is starting to get a little hotter on their own salary caps. It doesn’t act as a complete deterrent but it probably has pulled in some of the more wilder excesses of Championship and League One clubs.

          • February 13th 2017 @ 8:36am
            Lesterlike said | February 13th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

            Happy to do so once the mods stop blocking every damn comment on these articles.

            • February 13th 2017 @ 11:00am
              Gossie fan said | February 13th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

              everyone of the countries mentioned has over a 100 million people and with the exception of probably japan, they are out right the number one sport. all sporting investment is in the one sport.
              in contrast, Australia is trying to cultivate a competitive league without the luxury of frivolous spend possibly endangering the viability of the franchise/clubs futures. imagine though stupid spending Sydney FC was to go insolvent, what then?
              I would like to see interclub trading allowed before a scrap to the cap. At least then that allows smaller clubs another form of income

      • February 13th 2017 @ 7:16am
        Gary Andrews said | February 13th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

        Hi Swanny, I totally agree.

        The last thing the A League needs is a system like Scotland, or some other leagues across Europe, where one team dominates. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet, although Victory and Sydney are both well poised to dominate should circumstances arise.

        I also agree the salary cap should stay in the immediate and mid-term future – to remove would be suicidal for Australian football. That said, when you have teams constantly turning over a high level of players and can go from champions to wooden spoon in less than 12 months, it also causes issues.

        I certainly wouldn’t advocate a removal of salary cap currently, but I think there are nuanced reforms you can make.

    • February 13th 2017 @ 4:22am
      lesterlike said | February 13th 2017 @ 4:22am | ! Report

      Salary Caps and Floors are non football constructs designed for non football fans and need to be removed from our game. The market decides what players are worth, not Lowy and Gallop.

      • Roar Guru

        February 13th 2017 @ 8:15am
        Ben of Phnom Penh said | February 13th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        The football player market is distorted by a combination of emotionally driven capital injections from wealthy owners and the pursuit of short term gains over long term viability from management who are measured by short-term success on the field. As a result fiscal prudence has proven elusive in an open market due to market distortions, something which the Germans identified earlier than others.

        Whether the cap and floor are the answer (I have reservations as to the latter), is a matter of continual debate however an unfettered, laissez-faire approach has been tried in Australia and found wanting.

        • February 13th 2017 @ 8:30am
          lesterlike said | February 13th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          The market distortions might disproportionately affect the top end where the competition for top players tightens but for the most part at our level of Football, things remain pretty stable.

          Outside of stupid big name marquee purchases, no owner around the world is blowing significantly over for players at A-League level, nor would A-League teams be blowing money they don’t have on transfer fees whilst the free transfer market remains lucrative.

          Allowing us to simply work with the market will give clubs the flexibility they need to hold onto the players they can afford whilst not overpaying the spuds at the bottom end. Throw in transfer fees and it will also give the smaller clubs the opportunity for some much needed revenue.

    • Roar Guru

      February 13th 2017 @ 7:45am
      Mister Football said | February 13th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Losing players to overseas clubs with deep pockets is one thing, but a real feature of the A-League is the intra-league movement, with large numbers of players changing clubs every 1 or 2 years. It’s hard to imagine any other club competition on Earth that has such a massive merry-go-round.

      Someone like Reddy must be getting close to having played for 7 clubs, plenty of players have reached five clubs.

      I don’t think it’s very healthy for the league as a whole, IMHO.

      • February 13th 2017 @ 9:15am
        Nemesis said | February 13th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

        ” It’s hard to imagine any other club competition on Earth that has such a massive merry-go-round.”

        You must have some statistics? What is the % of movement between players within the ALeague? Is it 90%? 50%? 25%? 10%? 1%?

        What is it in the EPL?

        What is it in the AFL? AFL has only 1 league in the whole world. Players have nowhere to play other than that 1 league.

        • Roar Guru

          February 13th 2017 @ 10:38am
          Mister Football said | February 13th 2017 @ 10:38am | ! Report

          It’s a question of degree. In the A-League we have players who have played for 5+ games (half the competition).

          You regularly have one third or more of the list moving on at the end of each season.

          In the case we’re talking about, over half the list moved on – after winning the double!

      • February 13th 2017 @ 11:53am
        Sydneysider said | February 13th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

        “but a real feature of the A-League is the intra-league movement, with large numbers of players changing clubs every 1 or 2 years. It’s hard to imagine any other club competition on Earth that has such a massive merry-go-round.

        Someone like Reddy must be getting close to having played for 7 clubs, plenty of players have reached five clubs.”

        Doesn’t the same thing happen in the AFL and NRL?? At least rugby league has the UK Super League as an alternative for rugby league players (and also has rugby union eg. Radradra and Barba going to French rugby), but AFL players only have the AFL…. Also doesn’t the AFL have squads of up to 40 players??

        “Someone like Reddy must be getting close to having played for 7 clubs, plenty of players have reached five clubs.

        I don’t think it’s very healthy for the league as a whole, IMHO.”

        LOL…LOL….

        • Roar Guru

          February 13th 2017 @ 12:28pm
          Mister Football said | February 13th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          As this article states, AU turned over more than half its list during the off-season. That’s a lot. I can’t speak on behalf of the NRL, but it certainly doesn’t happen in the AFL.

          Can such high turnover affect the loyalty fans feel for their clubs. In my view, yes.

          I was just noticing the very low ratings AU got on Friday night on Fox: 41k. No FTA figures are available.,

          I note that the Friday night AFL Women’s game got 155k.

          • February 13th 2017 @ 6:14pm
            pauly said | February 13th 2017 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

            There it is.

      • February 13th 2017 @ 1:33pm
        Arky said | February 13th 2017 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

        It’s easier for A-League players to move because if they’re out of contract, they’re free agents. They don’t have the restrictions that many capped leagues have (whether it’s the AFL or the NBA) because football doesn’t have drafts to restrict where talent goes.

      • February 13th 2017 @ 7:11pm
        Gary Andrews said | February 13th 2017 @ 7:11pm | ! Report

        I would agree with this. There are plenty of individual clubs around the world who go through a high turnover of players, but it’s quite unusual in a league to see the majority of clubs lose such a significant number of players each year.

        Typically, a club that’s had an off-season of a revolving door policy can take a while for new signings to gel or, in extreme cases like Adelaide, go backwards.

        The only league I can immediately think of where its common place is in the non-league game in England, and that’s not really comparable.

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