For three years now Australian football fans have lamented the FFA’s failure to attract a major sponsor for their flagship team, the Socceroos.
Since Qantas flew away from a $5 million per annum deal it has been one major cross next to CEO David Gallop’s name.
Now, with the introduction of fuel giant Caltex as the major sponsor until 2020, the Socceroos are finally cashing in on their hard-earned success at the Asian Cup in 2015 and continued qualification for the FIFA World Cup.
It is fantastic news for Australian football, as hopefully it will help the FFA continue to stay afloat, invest in the game and push forward.
For some, however, the introduction of petrol-dollars is an unsavoury partnership. It could be argued, though, that those fans in uproar are in a fantasy land and following the wrong level of football.
Unfortunately, in most cases, football is business. At least at the high end. That is how it is in the modern professional era. If you think otherwise, then you either fail to read football news or you have conveniently chosen to ignore the fact that the top players are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per week.
Those inflated paychecks are largely due to the presence of sponsorship and advertising dollars in the world game. Barcelona’s deal with Unicef or Union Berlin’s stoic insistence that sponsors prove themselves worthy rather than the other way around are bright lights in an otherwise dark corporate world. In most cases you can’t be picky.
If you enjoy the spectacle of watching the best players at the best clubs, then you have to accept the drawbacks. There is always the romanticism of semi-professional football. Unfortunately, football in Australia does not have the support base or infrastructure where it can be picky when it comes to sponsors – as Western Sydney’s recent deal with a bookmakers proves.
McDonald’s sponsor the Olympics. A company that passes off high-sugar, high-salt junk for food is the major backer for the biggest sporting event in the world. Obesity-contributing substances and exercise are hardly a good match. Most choose to ignore that partnership, however.
If VB had sponsored the Socceroos, would there be similar disapproval? After all, alcohol causes much damage in large sections of Australian society.
The new Socceroos sponsor is not ideal for the morally-orientated, yet it is the harsh reality of football’s relationship with dollars. At least take solace that their money is being pumped into something you love and care about.
The majority of fans appear to have embraced the deal, though. This has, after all, been a major sticking point for fans in relation to the FFA’s performance.
To the on-field action, and national team manager Ange Postecoglou is close to announcing his next squad for the final World Cup qualifiers against Tajikistan and Jordan on March 24 and 29.
Three points against Tajikistan will secure passage into the next round of qualifying, while a draw against Jordan would then be enough to secure top spot and a more favourable draw.
These are huge games, and Tajikistan cannot be taken too lightly despite the 3-0 victory in the away leg back in September.
But there is still a chance for Postecoglou to continue his pattern of introducing new players into the squad and broadening the national team’s depth. While the dates are FIFA sanctioned, the hosting of both games means there is a chance to reward some of the A-League talent that has performed this season.
Jamie Maclaren has to be brought into the fold, with the ageing yet seemingly evergreen legs of Tim Cahill still a long-term concern for the Socceroos. Tomi Juric should be in the mix, but getting Maclaren involved as soon as possible can only be beneficial.
The 22-year-old has been in good form for the Brisbane Roar, buoyed by playing under a manager, John Aloisi, who trusts him with leading the line consistently, something Maclaren did not enjoy at Perth Glory.
Elsewhere, Jason Geria would be a decent pick to bolster a long-term problem spot for the Socceroos at full back. For Melbourne Victory’s other promising youngster, Thomas Deng, it is perhaps too early. His time will come.
Craig Goodwin’s form for Adelaide United deserves a call-up, while Mitch Nichols is pushing hard to be reconsidered after a long spell away from the national team – though the Socceroos are well stocked in his position. Then there’s Shane Lowry, who has impressed since quitting Europe and returning to the A-League with Perth Glory.
Overseas, the latest new face emerging is Greek-born, Melbourne-bred Apostolos Giannou, who was playing for Asteras in the Greek Super League before recently making the switch to Guangzhou R&F for the Chinese revolution.
The 26-year-old has represented Greece at youth and senior level, but is still eligible for the Socceroos. Postecoglou met with the player while he was still in Europe, so he looks like a certainty for the next squad.
Brad Inman, former Newcastle United product and current Crewe Alexandra midfielder, is another tipped for a call-up, as is Rostyn Griffiths, a mainstay in Roda JC’s team this season in the Eredivisie.
Another possibility could be Mustafa Amini, who has been playing regular football in Denmark for FC Randers. He has been one of the Olyroos’ best players over the past year or two and most Australian football fans would agree that a full call-up has been a long time coming.
Whichever new faces come into the fold, Postecoglou will still likely avoid any experiments. Defeat to Jordan robbed the Socceroos of breathing space.
Yet integrating new players into the group and getting them up to speed with training and playing styles is part of a long-term plan. It will be interesting to see which uncapped hopefuls get the nod.