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Steven Lowy will be judged on how he collaborates

What has Steven Lowy actually achieved for football in Australia? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Expert
18th November, 2015
57
1757 Reads

It’s been a few weeks since my most recent post on The Roar and as always there’s so much to talk about in Australian football.

Whether it’s been the talk of ditching the Nix for a Sutherland-based team led by an FFA friend in Lyall Gorman, a senate hearing into the over-policing of Western Sydney Wanderers fans or ongoing friction with the players’ association over pay, controversy is never too far from the surface of Australian football.

But this week it’s been the 10th anniversary of the famous night John Aloisi thrust Australia through to a first World Cup in 32 years and the handing over of the football chairmanship from one Lowy to the next that have been the biggest talking points.

It’s been a fascinating week of retrospection and projection.  

The FFA had carefully orchestrated a public relations exercise to say farewell and thanks to Frank Lowy, and usher in what they claim is a new regime, doing it at a time there is emotion and rejoice around the 10th anniversary of the night the Socceroos smashed Alvaro Recoba’s devine right to be in Germany.

What better way, it seemed, to pay homage to Lowy than to do it at a time when Socceroos fans are swept in the euphoria of one the greatest nights in Australian sporting history.

Evidently, this was part of the thinking.

A well produced documentary by the FFA’s broadcast partner, Fox Sports, re-living November 16, 2005, set up a feel-good mood, and the FFA used the opportunity to kill two birds with the one stone, honouring the class of 2005 and farewelling Lowy at the same time.

Little doubt he has played a huge and significant part in the birth of the A-League and growth of football over the past 12 years by getting Australia into the Asian Football Confederation. Yet, throughout, Lowy hasn’t built a great reputation for working with the football family and keeping them onside.

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Indeed, a large part of the recent criticism of him is that the FFA want to control everything and don’t have enough football and people nous to deal with the breadth of work required across the game.

Most recently his legacy has been tarnished by a failed World Cup bid in which some of his decisions and practices were questioned.

So there was one last bit of PR required to ensure Lowy’s legacy was projected in a positive light, and that he’d be remembered as the victim of Sepp Blatter and Mohammed Bin Hammam’s evil games.

Enter “Played”, a documentary which aired on the ABC on Tuesday night.

It painted Lowy and his “team Australia” as being on the receiving end of some mightily sinister and dirty FIFA games, and there’s no doubt they were.

But there’s also no doubt Lowy was totally out-played in the ugly world of football politics. After all, he was the man charged with overseeing the $45 million of government funding, and setting up a team to use it wisely. On this front he failed.

To think that he would let the bid team come up with a disrespectful video depicting an animated Kangaroo stealing the World Cup, or, even worse, it being hand-passed and kicked around the MCG as if it were a Sherrin.

‘Cringeworthy’ was the term used at the time by most who saw it and there’s no doubt Lowy and his confidants made a grouse error of judgement in letting it go through to the keeper.   

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Played depicted Lowy as the one who was manipulated, betrayed and lied to, and there’s no doubt Australia’s bid was eaten alive.

But he and the bid didn’t appear to do itself many favours, and as the leader Lowy was the man ultimately accountable for it. This point wasn’t strongly represented in Played.  

And there’s another juxtaposition at play here.

If the FFA are accusing football’s governing body of running a pre-ordained race for the 2022 World Cup, then they can be accused of exactly the same thing when it comes to the baton change at the top of the game here.

Steven Lowy was keen to stress at his inaugural press-conference on Tuesday afternoon that nothing was handed to him, but only a fool would believe that.

This was far from an exhaustive search by a consultancy company hand-picked by Frank Lowy to install his son to the throne and continue his so-called legacy.

While Frank has done so much for the game, ultimately his legacy was tarnished by an inability to connect at all levels.

Yes, he might have wined and dined John Howard and the well-to-dos in Sydney’s east and north, but his rule of the game was often perceived as autocratic and dictatorial.

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Consultation wasn’t a big strength of Lowy Sr, and it seemed he always wanted to have control, even ignoring a key Crawford Report recommendation around the establishment of an independent commission to run the A-League.

Such has been the level of micro-control under his leadership that it’s impossible to think he won’t continue to pull his son’s strings.

Indeed, for much of his reign there was a tense standoff between him and a multitude of A-League club owners who felt it was his way or the highway and that they had little autonomy.

I remember in 2012, copping backlash for his lack of engagement with A-League owners, Lowy announced the establishment of the Joint A-League Strategic Committee (JALSC). Did we ever hear much about this initiative which was touted at the time as a new era of FFA-club collaboration?

In recent times it’s been the Professional Footballers’ Association, fans and even broadcasters that have been offside with the FFA.

Give and take hasn’t always been his greatest strength and he has looked increasingly ruffled in recent years.

I remember being at Lowy Sr’s A-League announcement press conference all those years ago when he urged Australia and football fans to get behind it. In the main they have, but there is still so much room for improvement, only that fans and stakeholders feel their voices aren’t often heard.

Steven Lowy now talks of listening, consulting and building or mending relationships with football stakeholders, perhaps an admission his dad didn’t do a great job on this front.

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The test for Lowy Jr is whether he’ll still be listening and consulting in three or five years time, or however long he is in the chair. The other test will be to prove he’s his own man.

Steven’s time as FFA Chair will be judged on his ability to get his organisation working together with fans, media, A-League clubs, their owners, the players’ association, state member federations and their broadcast partners.

Very few like the way he has ascended into the top job, but it’s now over to him to win over hearts and minds and make the A-League and football in general more viable, stable and united.

Behind him appears to be a very inexperienced board, and David Gallop this week touched upon an apparent need to bring them up to speed with the breadth of issues across Australian football.

This lack of genuine football knowledge on the board appears worrying at first glance, particularly when it seems the guidance will come from below.

Undoubtedly they deserve some time to listen and survey the scene, but with such a misguided process the pressure is on to get it right and ensure that Steven Lowy’s time at the helm is more about working together rather than controlling everything.