The failure of Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace to agree terms over a transfer fee (or rather the structure of it) has certainly got tongues wagging in Association football circles.
Certainly amongst the Sydney based commentariat, who have been inclined to take a dim view of the outcome and claim the players interests haven’t been in honoured in some way.
But the Milligan affair is rather complex, some have pointed to the fact that in the great ecosystem of the football world, Australia’s is in essence a selling league.
They also like to raise the notion that Melbourne’s stance may be somehow off-putting to any promising youngsters (or rather their parents) from choosing Melbourne over other clubs.
Clubs like Central Coast for example who are under Graham Arnold are developing a reputation for setting players up for successful moves abroad – with Crystal palace captain Mile Jedinak being a good case in point.
Perth under Alistair Edwards may enter into similar territory as “youth development” comes into vogue in the A-League.
As for Victory, the proof is in the pudding, several youngsters like Connor Pain, Scott Galloway, Nick Ansell and Jason Geria all made their first team debuts for Melbourne last season with encouraging signs they will be able to make the grade under Ange Postecoglu’s tutelage.
The mid-season transfer of Jesse Makarounes from Perth suggests that Melbourne is hardly an outfit that is off-putting to promising youngsters.
No the real issue is an inferiority complex that seems to permeate much of the Australian football scene that appears to lead some people to think that Australian clubs are obliged to sell as soon as the first offer comes in.
Perhaps this is a relic from the old amateur era, perhaps it is a sign that the local football fraternity in Melbourne and Sydney are at different stages of maturity.
A good sign of this was shown by the fact that one Exhibition match played in Sydney needs to involve a “league All-Stars” team (which is akin to an admission of inferiority), while an Exhibition match played in Melbourne is able to be set up against a local club side which is to contest the challenge as a form of equal.
At least they both constitute progress from the days when the Socceroos had to play such teams.
And so it should be in the transfer market as it is on the football field, as an exercise in attaining credibility and respect in the football world, A-League clubs need to learn to negotiate in an equal footing rather than just get stars in their eyes whenever a small to middling club from a large European league comes knocking.
Perhaps it’s easier for Melbourne to do this given the average attendances are on par with many of these clubs, with their 40-50,000 crowds on occasion even eclipsing many of their European counterparts.
Either way, Melbourne have shown great maturity in being able to to lay out their terms and have the confidence to assert them.
Far from being petty or anything of that ilk, it is a good sign of self-assuredness that Melbourne Victory should be able to turn around to an EPL club set to get tens of millions in TV broadcast revenue to not have to pay a fee in the region of $1.5 million in installments.
Melbourne’s detractors should also consider that a possible reason for Melbourne having to adapt an assertive stance lies firstly with missing out on a sizeable fee for their role in developing Marco Rojas.
More significantly though, Melbourne’s experience in transfer negotiations and the scenario of being used as a ‘leverage’ club by their prospective marquee acquisitions has taught them to wisen up to the world of player transfer fees.
Part of this lesson that Australian fans need to appreciate is the art of the opening derisory offer. The purpose of this offer which is clearly too low is to formalise a clubs interest in a given player once news of the offer hits the press.
The reasons for this is that clubs can’t approach another teams player without formal permission, so clubs signal their interest to the given player via making a bid. The purpose being to unsettle the player and compel him into making firm noises about being keen on a move if not directly handing in a transfer request.
Having an unsettled player can have a detrimental impact on the team, so clubs reluctant to sell are compelled to be open to the overtures of the often larger club making a bid, but the bargaining position of the prospective buying club has been improved given the player has become unsettled and the transfer price is lower than what it could have been otherwise.
The mooted transfer of Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle to Arsenal in the latest edition of the European transfer window is a good case in point and there is an argument that Crystal Palaces previously low bids that purportedly didn’t even match Billy Celeski’s transfer fee to a Middle-Eastern outfit is of a similar ilk.
Understanding the art of the transfer market is vital to a mature club and a mature league, Manchester United new Chief Executive Ed Woodward has become the target of ridicule and anger given his perceived failures in the transfer market and the perceived lacks of skill and experience in comparison to his predecessor.
So, Just like Tottenham who used all of their skills to wring a record breaking transfer fee for Gareth Bale, Melbourne have taken some important steps to showing they have learned lessons in their handling of the global transfer market.
The remaining length of Milligans contract means that Melbourne should not be in any hurry to sell, Melbourne may even be able to command a much higher fee for Milligan in the future depending on performances for club and country.
Not to mention the fact that much of the debate is missing the point that there is dual interests in winning the competitions in which a club competes alongside of that of trying to develop and generate good transfer fee revenue from players, and as a player who makes up the core of Melbourne Victory’s trophy campaign, Milligan should not be let go of lightly.