Coming into Season 11 of the A-League, there’s just as much that the FFA has got wrong as it has got right.
I think with a few more tweaks to the current setup, this I’ll go a long to improving the football landscape in Australia, and help take the game to the next level.
Some of these may come across a touch critical, but the game needs to be brutally honest with itself, if it ever wants to grow to its full potential in Australia.
Here’s my first five points that need to be looked at and improved.
1. Start the season earlier
This much talked about ‘clean air’ in the media is a total myth, it simply doesn’t exist!
Football still doesn’t get the media attention it deserves, for a variety of reasons, and it should stop waiting for that time to miraculously arrive.
The season is way too short as it is, so we should start at the start of September, which is the beginning of the AFL/NRL finals. There will be less games from the other codes, meaning more ground availability.
A September start to a grand final on the first Sunday in May is a longer season, which is much needed for a number of reasons. I feel this us versus them mentality, and being constantly worried what the competitors are doing is actually now slowing us down and potentially stunting the growth of the game.
2. Fully legitimise the FFA Cup
The cup competition has been a fantastic success, but it can still be better.
A-League clubs need to enter the competition at the Round of 64, and the state-based teams that are drawn to host A-League opposition need to play them either at their home ground, or if that’s not up to scratch, at their closest local ground possible.
Also, the current rigging of the draw needs to go, I feel the comp is past that stage already, anyone should be able to draw anyone at any stage. The draw should be 100 per cent random, that is a genuine cup competition.
3. Allow for a true football economy
Since the inception of the A-League, a huge bone of contention has been the pittance paid by A-League clubs to state league clubs to sign up their players.
A system needs to be drawn up, where depending on how long a player has been at a state league club determines how much they should be compensated, with a max payment of say $50k for the best players.
State league clubs should be compensated appropriately, as they also have clubs to run, they have their own ambitions and competitions to win. The current $3k-$10k just isn’t enough in some cases, and in other cases it is laughable.
Also, allowing A-League clubs to pay transfer fees between each other is also a great idea. This brings in more money for clubs like the Mariners, who develop plenty, but have not always been duly compensated.
Too many decent players are allowed to walk in this league, most of the time to whatever team they want to, with no money involved. Some players have played for 60 per cent of the participating teams which is joke.
Transfer fees would probably stop much of that. I feel this gives the league a Mickey Mouse feel, and it should look and feel like a proper football league.
Transfer fees also bring in a busy and much anticipated off season with transfer speculation, rumours etc, just like everywhere else around the world. It helps to build the hype for the coming season on its own, gets people talking, without the expensive advertising.
4. Setup a national second division
The talk of promotion and relegation just won’t go away, and that’s a good thing, it needs to be spoken about and discussed at length. But it’s safe to say that it won’t happen anytime soon, as every A-League club has been given a 20-year license until 2034.
While I completely disagree with this action from the FFA, I do understand why it was done at the time. And, it also gives us a goal to get everything else up to scratch and ready to go by then to properly set things up for promotion and relegation.
But that work needs to happen now!
This could be setup as a semi-professional competition, at least to start with to get it going. It could be introduced in two to three seasons, if the work for it started now.
TV rights can be sold for this, or simply include this onto the A-League TV rights, to add content which equates to more money. Second division clubs probably wouldn’t need that much, maybe $500k-$1m per club per year.
Current state league clubs nationwide could bid to be a part of this competition. This would bridge the quality gap between the A-League and the current state NPL comps, and give many more players a pathway and a vehicle to star, to be seen, to get to the top tier or go overseas etc.
5. A-League expansion
This is a must, a non-negotiable. The introduction of the FFA cup in last three years has added a freshness to the football landscape, which has been great and long may that continue. But this needs to be put back onto the agenda, and very quickly.
Currently, ten clubs is just not enough, another four teams in the long run is ideal for the Australian market IMO. But two new teams within the next three to four years if not earlier needs to happen. This is not only increase the season, increase the number of players, coaches, physios etc, but further legitimise the competition and also add content and value for future TV rights.
It’s a no brainer, it just has to be done right. There’s no doubt in my mind that the time is right for this to happen. Things can change very quickly, but if I had to pick two new entrants today, it’d be Wollongong and either Geelong or Canberra.
Knowing the Victorian market pretty well, I’d probably favour Geelong. The Queensland market isn’t ready for another club right now, and neither are Adelaide or Perth. But they will be in future.
Geelong would attract decent crowds of 7000-8000, plus another 5-10k or more for the games against the Melbourne clubs which is an hour down the freeway.
These are my points, and I realise that many are much easier said than done, but I think the game needs to have these discussion. The FFA need to have these goals, and need to start spruiking their message and their plans.
I also dislike the football media not questioning or touching enough on many of these subjects, and pushing the FFA on these matters.
Do you agree with my points? What tweaks or changes would you like to see?