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Puppet master FFA must cut new A-League head's strings

Damien de Bohun has announced a new A-League ranking system. (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon)
Expert
10th March, 2016
61
1270 Reads

Throughout Damien De Bohun’s reign as A-League head, there were undoubted highs and lows.

At the end of his tenure, it would be fair to say he was not excellent, but nor was he poor. De Bohun did a decent job in a difficult environment.

In a role where autonomy was questionable and the amount of power and influence uncertain, De Bohun’s four years in charge saw the introduction of the FFA Cup, the marquee boom of 2012, the introduction of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the growth of the W-League.

However, events over the past year have unfortunately, yet justifiably, tainted the report card for De Bohun’s time as A-League chief.

From the messy stoush with the PFA over a new collective bargaining agreement to the grand final scheduling debacle and that infamous clash of kits between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix, De Bohun’s reputation recently took a heavy blow.

He looked out of his depth on too many occasions during the 2015-16 season.

Without a doubt, De Bohun contributed to the divide between the FFA and football fans during the walkouts and boycotts and was conspicuously absent in the peace treaties. The roasting he suffered from Mark Bosnich was telling.

That inability to connect with the game’s major stakeholders – the supporters – will be the lasting memory of De Bohun’s four-year tenure.

That would be unfair on the man, who contributed to the aforementioned positive developments in Australian football. And as mentioned it is uncertain whether he was just a puppet or was truly empowered in his position to enforce his desired objectives.

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Now, attention turns to whom the FFA appoint as his successor after De Bohun finishes up at the end of this season.

If one lesson is to be learnt from De Bohun’s rule, it is that the next A-League head must be a football man or woman. The FFA has enough business acumen already and what the sport needs are people who not only understand the game but breathe it.

The next chief must be able to work with all ten clubs, broadcasters, media, players and sponsors. But they must also be able to connect with the fans, something De Bohun never managed to achieve.

If crowds are to continue to grow, the A-League head needs to understand what fans want from a gameday experience. If the A-League is to ramp up its promotion and marketing – something highlighted in the FFA’s recent four-year plan – then the new A-League chief has to recognise what sells.

If the league is to expand in the future, there has to be an ability to interpret areas with potential – not just in a business sense, but also in terms of building a lasting football community. If they are to work with clubs to identify and fund marquee signings – another new initiative introduced in the four-year plan – then they need business acumen but also knowledge of the football market.

It is yet to be seen how the FFA plan to delegate to their new A-League chief, and whether the position’s importance is lessened or not. De Bohun left due to family reasons, but perhaps he also envisaged a decreased role in this new direction.

That would be a concern, because football in Australia has to start moving towards implementing a major recommendation from the Crawford Report – creating an autonomous league.

In recent talks with A-League clubs, the FFA reportedly quashed talk of introducing a separate entity to oversee the competition – much like the models in place in England, Germany and Spain. But there must be a move towards such a system.

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Introducing a new A-League head who has experience dealing with clubs, fans and the media, as well as possessing business smarts is the first step. The second is to give them more power and influence than perhaps was afforded to De Bohun.

So who can the FFA turn to? A first rule should be that it cannot look within its current office.

A-League club chief executives Tony Pignata (Sydney FC), John Tsatsimas (Western Sydney Wanderers), Peter Filopoulos (Perth Glory) and Ian Robson (Melbourne Victory) would all be astute and popular choices, but do we want these men ripped from their clubs?

If the FFA are looking for someone with no affiliation to any A-League club, the names of Brendan Schwab, Francis Awaritefe and Craig Foster have been put forward in fan forums and on social media.

Whoever they choose, the appointee must be independent of the FFA, able to express their own strong opinions and stand up for clubs over the governing body behind closed doors. Under Frank Lowy that would have been impossible, under new chairman Steve Lowy we can only hope it is different.

If the position is not diminished to a ceremonial role, this next appointment will help the FFA connect with major stakeholders where it has previously failed. This is an important step for Australian football and one which hopefully can push the game forward.