As the moon plods through its celestial schedule, filling up and slimming down, ticking over through the months, so too do the ebbs and flows of the A-League.
In football, international breaks come and go to a pre-set schedule as well, and yet – not unlike the lycanthropes among us, or those who enjoy (or suffer through) particularly hirsute genes – there are some who can’t help but get riled up, howling in anguish, tearing at their bodies as the bilious fury rises.
Like the new moon, it feels as though FFA scheduling gripes pop up every month or so.
Last month it was Brisbane’s Asian Champions League mauling that prompted quivering pointed fingers – John Aloisi’s, in fact – all of them trained on the lumps, scuffs and scratches on the Roar squad, and those were just the injuries inflicted on their egos.
This month it’s the Wellington Phoenix, who once again have been hamstrung by the schedulers, playing as they will be on the 25th of March shorn of half a dozen of their players.
All-Whites manager Anthony Hudson named a full strength squad this week, in preparation for his team’s World Cup qualifier against Fiji on the 26th.
To add further absence to absence, Roy Krishna has also been called up for Fiji, meaning he will miss the Phoenix’s match against Western Sydney as well.
The Phoenix fans, incredibly, are actually pleased. They were expecting to lose more men. Kosta Bararbouses was not called up, leaving the winger no doubt disappointed but his team somewhat relieved. Barbarouses’ spot has been filled by Melbourne Victory’s Jai Ingham, with the All-Whites apparently keen on luring him into representing them at national level, not Australia, a country for whom he is also eligible.
Still, Vince Lia, Shane Smeltz, Glen Moss, Thomas Doyle, Michael McGlinchey, and the aforementioned Krishna will all be absent for the crucial tie against Newcastle.
With the Western Sydney Wanderers barely holding onto sixth place, and the Phoenix and Newcastle both teams breathing down their neck, this is a grandstand fixture in the Jets’ and Phoenix’s seasons. The fact that scheduling made in apparent indifference to the New Zealand national team commitments has crippled the Phoenix’s ability to compete at full strength is – however mundane an insult at this point, for long-time Phoenix fans – fairly appalling.
There aren’t that many interesting story lines to follow over these last five league fixtures. This final post-season spot is one of them, and if the intrigue is dampened by something as frivolous as poor scheduling, then it’s the figures in charge of such things that should be blamed for any loss of momentum heading into the finals.
The Phoenix have been scorned for poor attendance this season, as a petering out of crowds following the surge that occurred in response to their license renewal has cast the club into alienation and despondence; in a tie so consequential, a bumper crowd might normally have been anticipated. But who can blame the Phoenix crowd for feeling a little peeved, and a little sluggish, when they know their chances have been handicapped so unnecessarily by the governing body?
The Victory, who stand to lose Marco Rojas and Ingham to the All-Whites, as well as Besart Berisha (called up for newly formed Kosovo, how wonderful) and James Troisi (who deservedly earned a Socceroos call-up, and will likely make the 23-man squad to face Iraq), have also been affected by the internationals, albeit with much less to play for over their final five regular season games.
That’s the entire starting front four gone, and Kevin Muscat must be exasperated, and more than a little annoyed, at being forced to reshuffle and reassess to such a degree in preparation for the March 25 match against fourth-placed Brisbane.
Would anyone object to a break in league proceedings to accommodate for these qualifiers? New Zealand football fans, already living in a lonely place, straddling confederations between league team and national team, now have to temper their excitement at one of the strongest All-Whites teams in memory – Chris Wood, scoring for fun in the Championship, and West Ham’s Winston Reid would walk into the Socceroos – because their only professional league football club is being punished in the process.
In the wider context of the A-League, with expansion on the mind, and the FFA congress about to be restructured, there are bigger issues to ponder over than this. But not many bigger issues in New Zealand, and if we want the Phoenix to be a successful, present member of the A-League over the next handful of years, then more support must be given to them.
The Roar aren’t playing this weekend because they have an ACL tie against Kashima Antlers next week; allowances have been given to them, a team currently bottom of their group and with a goal difference of -6. An already beleaguered team, however, struggling to prove their validity, must play shorthanded.