While last week’s announcement of a new, $160 million TV deal for the A-League was a big step forward, another development from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) was not helpful.
Recently, the AFC stripped the A-League of one of its spots in Asia’s premier football competition, the Asian Champions League, due to the league not meeting the AFC’s league benchmark of 600 points for an automatic two places in the championship.
This means that only the Central Coast Mariners have booked their chance for glory. The AFC do not recognise the finals series as the decider in who is the best team from one nation, so only the premiers will have a place.
The champions of the A-League, Brisbane Roar, will be forced to fight for their spot in playoff matches against a team from Thailand.
For the past few years, the third-placed A-League team has also been offered a place, via a play-off against lowly-ranked Asian sides.
Adelaide United have always been a good match-up against the giants of Asia and took this opportunity, due to other teams dropping out of its play-off group, earlier in the year. The Reds eventually made the quarter-finals before losing out to Bunyodkor, however the experience gained is invaluable.
There are many reasons the AFC has taken this spot away, some of which are fair.
A major issue is that the competition is not run separately from FFA. Considering how old the A-League, and to some extent FFA, is this really should not be expected.
Another big issue is the lack of a national cup competition. ‘New football’ and ‘old soccer’ fans have been calling out for and FA cup type competition for years to try and re-unite professional and semi-professional football, however it has been recently put on the backburner by FFA head Frank Lowy after the TV rights deal.
Prior to that it had also been postponed due to the failed 2022 FIFA World Cup bid. To be taken as a serious footballing nation by FIFA and the AFC, we really do need to establish a competition like this.
Later on down the track, FFA will also need to start the promotion and relegation system, another sticking point for the AFC. Earlier in the year they did announce the state-based Australian Premier League, a possible precursor to the system that operates in almost every football country in the world.
Another contention facing FFA is the Wellington Phoenix and the number of teams. Eventually the Phoenix will have to leave the competition, due to New Zealand being in the Oceania confederation. The AFC currently recognises the A-League as a nine-team competition due to the inclusion of the side from New Zealand.
FFA will also need to boost the number of teams to at least 12 to be on the same page as the rest of the world.
Australia are the third biggest country in terms of rankings in Asia. We may not have the same money as other leagues from our region but we certainly are up there with our crowds, despite how mediocre they can be. Some crowds in other nations can reach as low as only 50 people.
In 2015 we’ll be hosting the Asian Cup. This will be our chance to say to the AFC that we are the dominate footballing nation in your confederation.
In the meantime, all we can do is focus on our national league and hope we can have some champions league success with the Mariners and most probably the Roar, as the Aussie underdogs in Asia.