How the A-League got it all wrong

Ben Sewell Roar Pro

By Ben Sewell, Ben Sewell is a Roar Pro


45 Have your say

    With the ongoing feud between the FFA and A-League owners continuing this offseason, perhaps this has distracted many A League fans from the real issue facing football in Australia today – The A-League’s inability to distinguish itself between a fully fledged independent league or a nursery for bigger European clubs.

    As the dust settles on an offseason which saw many of the A-League’s finest depart to Europe in search of footballing glory, the question must be asked, is this really what’s best for the A-League?

    Should clubs be attempting to build their own rosters in the hope of keeping them together for seasons at a time? Or should the A-League turn into a full-time nursery for bigger European clubs? At the moment, the A-League is stuck in between both of these models and it’s to its own detriment!

    Riley McGree, one of the finest youngsters in the A-League and a member of the Socceroos squad was transferred to Club Brugge. On the surface, this was an excellent move, but Adelaide United were paid a mere $100,000 for the transfer. That’s a laughable number for a player of his pedigree and Adelaide should be ashamed for letting him walk for that money.

    Likewise, the joint Golden Boot winner from last year Jamie Maclaren banged in 40 goals for the Roar in his two seasons with the club. Most analysts had his price tag pegged at over a $1,000,000 in terms of transfer value. Instead, the Roar showed zero urgency in what should be considered a crime to football and didn’t bother re-signing the star striker. As a result, Maclaren was allowed to walk for free this offseason and the Roar were left empty handed.

    Jamie Maclaren Brisbane Roar portrait

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    If the A-League is truly going to become a nursery for the bigger leagues in Europe, then it must place more emphasis on maximising its returns. It cannot just let their best players be poached for cents on the dollar!

    It’s an outrage that Brisbane and Adelaide were left with nothing while losing two very important players. What should be considered an even bigger outrage is the lack of care in the A-League community that these sides were robbed of their stars for basically nothing.

    It’s a growing trend in the A League which cannot seem to identify where it stands on nurturing talent for overseas clubs. Some clubs let players walk too soon in search of receiving a small transfer fee, and some clubs wait for their player to be off contract before seeing them walk for nothing. Most fans are just used to seeing A League clubs completely fail when it comes to transfers, it has become second nature for the League.

    Compare this to the English model. The average footballer would be forgiven for not knowing who on earth Nick Powell is. In 2012, he was having an absolute belter of a season for Crewe Alexandra in Fourth Tier English Football.

    What happened next will shock most A-League fans but when the big club (Manchester United) came knocking, Crewe Alexandra stood their ground and demanded a rightful fee for their star. As a result, they were rewarded with a six million pound transfer fee!

    Powell proceeded to play three matches for United in all competitions but the point stands and Crewe Alexandra should be lauded for their determination to be compensated for losing their star player.

    This is common practice in Europe. If a team works hard to develop a star player, they should be rewarded for that. Instead currently A-League clubs are bending over backwards to accommodate the bigger clubs and it’s just not good enough.

    Six million pounds for a guy who never did much at all for United is an astonishing figure. That could do so much for a club like Brisbane or Adelaide in terms of grass roots funding and player development.

    If the A-League is truly to become a developing league than it needs to place a higher price on its stars heads!

    Start placing in contracts a mandatory higher buy out price. No young player should have a buy out price of below $500,000.

    That number might seem like a big leap but it’s still a drop in the ocean for bigger European clubs. If the player if good enough, they will pay the price for them.

    The A-League has got it all wrong on transfers, right since its inception. It’s time it takes a step in the right direction before it loses the next Tim Cahill or Mark Viduka for nothing!

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • August 11th 2017 @ 8:14am
      Buddy said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      It does seem bizarre that there isn’t more revenue coning from overseas transfers, especially to europe although Just as worrying is the number of players that transfer to parts of asia and the middle east and then return within 12 months. I am sure there are some stories to tell relating to the sojourns!
      There is no getting away from the fact that just like so many other countries, the top league is in many respects a showcase and an opportunity for players to be noticed, scouted and recruited by clubs from the richer leagues of the world. We just have to enjoy them while they are here and be mindful that in spite of our belief that this is sport, it is all about a business and the buying and selling of players who are little more than commodoties…. so get the best return possible.

      • Roar Pro

        August 11th 2017 @ 8:33am
        Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        I Agree, but currently we’re not getting the best return possible. We’re getting cents on the dollar and for our league to survive long term, we need and deserve better.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 8:16am
      Fadida said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      Thanks for the read.

      – a league can both be a “fully fledged Independent league” and ” a must for bigger European leagues”. Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Norway, Sweden etc all are

      – short term contracts in our league,, a necessity in a strict cap, reduces club’s bargaining power.

      – $500k per player would see the likes of McGree, Mabil, Rogic, Mauk, Da Silva, Amini et al never be recruited by “stepping stone” small European clubs who can’t afford to pay that money to speculate. The only place they’d be moving is the oil leagues,and we don’t want that.

      Sell on fees for future moves need to be written into contracts

      • Roar Pro

        August 11th 2017 @ 8:35am
        Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

        Da Silva and Rogic are different, i think they were actually sold for decent coin. But as for the others, I say tough luck. We deserve better than the pittance we got in return for them. They’re better than 100k IMO.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 1:19pm
          Fadida said | August 11th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

          “tough luck” isn’t how the market works. Small and financially weak Danish, Belgian and Dutch clubs simply won’t pay half a million upfront for gambles. They’ll look to Africa instead. A sell on clause is the way forward for us

    • August 11th 2017 @ 8:28am
      League table speaks said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      The fees for Australian players are about on par with what they are achieving. Very little at this point.

      Placing some minimum fee to leave will result in talented players being picked up before they are even signed to the hal. It’ll be a warning to ambitious players to skip the aleague altogether.

      After all arent most hal teams picking up players from the lower tiers? Those are the ones who need to be collecting better transfer fees.

      The aleague teams need to be paying higher transfer fees themselves, if anything.

      A whole article on transfers in the aleague and not a mention of this?

      • Roar Pro

        August 11th 2017 @ 8:36am
        Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

        Nah I disagree, we should be collecting talent for free from lower leagues, not paying fees to import.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 8:56am
          League table speaks said | August 11th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

          Yeah i could tell that from the article. 🙂

          “we should be collecting talent for free from lower leagues”

          You used an example of Crewe and Man United. What if Man U had the same opinion as yourself to Crewe? Or the same attitude to Aleague teams?

          “Crewe Alexandra stood their ground and demanded a rightful fee for their star,” You said.

          • Roar Pro

            August 11th 2017 @ 9:31am
            Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

            What I mean by that is lower AUS leagues like the NPL. The A League should be a farm house for AUS talent. Collect the best talent from the NPL, put a high price on them and keep them until they’re ready to be sold for a high price.

            • August 11th 2017 @ 9:40am
              League table speaks said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

              Thats how the system here is effectively. Very much out of sync with the rest of the football world. And disrespectful of the lower tier clubs. You can bet Crewe wouldn’t stand for it.

            • August 11th 2017 @ 10:00am
              RBBAnonymous said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

              Sorry but shouldn’t there also be transfer fees for NPL clubs looking to sell players to A-league clubs. Shouldn’t they also hold out for larger fees to get what they deserve for players they have developed. Have a think about your answer.

              • August 11th 2017 @ 12:22pm
                Craig said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

                You cannot use the NPL as an example of someone who should sell high. It’s there to help the a league.

              • August 11th 2017 @ 1:30pm
                RBBAnonymous said | August 11th 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

                Why can’t I use the NPL clubs as an example. They should be able to benefit also.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 9:11am
      Nemesis said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      An article that fails to grasp commercial realities.

      The premise that “ALeague should be this or that” is just ridiculous. The ALeague will be whatever the market dictates. The whole world is a feeder league for the best clubs.

      Can we get higher prices for our players? Again, the market dictates this. I might think I should get a great price for my house, but the market decides what price the buyers will pay. I can slap a $50 million price on the house but it means FA if the market has enough similar houses it can purchase for lower prices.

      It’s a fact of life that a property in blue chip suburbs will attract a premium price to properties in less fashionable suburbs. And, it’s a fact of life that Australia is not considered a blue chip football nation so our players will not attract a premium.

      So, whilst it’s a daily ritual to pour scorn on the ALeaue, as someone who has watched ALeague since Day 1: No. The ALeague didn’t get it wrong in relation to the issues mentioned in this article.

      I can only speculate that this writer was too young when the ALeague was created to know all this.

      • Roar Pro

        August 11th 2017 @ 9:34am
        Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        I attended the Brisbane Roar’s very first game in 2005 so no I wasn’t too young. I see what you’re trying to say but if the right offer doesn’t come in, A League clubs shouldn’t sell. I wouldn’t sell my house if someone offered me $100,000. I’d continue to live in it until someone offered me a good enough price.

        I don’t think Adelaide should have sold McGree for $100,000. If that’s all that was on offer, keep him for another year. He would probably have had an amazing year this season for Adelaide and then the bigger offer may have come.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 9:46am
          Nemesis said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

          If the ALeague clubs gain a reputation as obstructionists, then players will keep that in mind when they’re making their decisions about which club to start their pro careers.

          You cite the McGree example. How much longer did McGree have on his contract?

          If Adelaide kept McGree for another 12 months & he only had 12 months on his contract he would’ve walked for $0. If if he had longer than 12 months on his contract, his Transfer Price falls as the time to contract expiry gets closer.

          Last year the union representing the world’s pro-footballers filed a case with the European Commission to abolish transfer fees. Let’s hope this eventuates and the whole Transfer Market is abolished in favour of a simple, transparent, “Buy Out System” that’s based on ordinary legal & commercial principles; rather than emotion.

          I wrote an article on a new Fair & Transparent Buy Out System that protects the players, the selling club & buying club:

          • Roar Pro

            August 11th 2017 @ 9:51am
            Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

            I just don’t believe it’s feasible to say 16yo kids won’t sign with A League Clubs if they think the club will play hard ball on their transfer if they become good. Not everyone’s going to be that good and kids/managers will realise this. Most will just be grateful to have the chance.

            • August 11th 2017 @ 10:04am
              Nemesis said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

              Well, if they’re being advised by anyone with any understanding of the football transfer market they’ll know that putting a big Buy Out Price in their contract will mean potential buyers choose someone else.

              Tens of thousands of kids all around the world hoping to break into the Euro leagues.

              It’s a Buyer’s Market. Of all the transfers occurring in football each year, the big Transfer Fees are just a tiny fraction of the transfer economy, in terms of how many players attract huge transfers – particularly as untried teenagers..

              • August 12th 2017 @ 12:14am
                matt jones said | August 12th 2017 @ 12:14am | ! Report

                i am astonished by the amount of sense you are making today

            • August 11th 2017 @ 2:36pm
              Waz said | August 11th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

              16yo kids won’t be signing with A League clubs anymore – they’ll be going in to academies at 12 now

        • August 11th 2017 @ 10:06am
          Realist said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

          So, what about what McGree wanted? If he wanted to sign for Brugge and then Adelaide denies him, there would be a good chance the relationship between player and club breaks down and who does that benefit?

          Or the club risks losing the player for nothing when their contract ends.

          Which option would you choose?
          – Sell player;
          – Don’t sell player and risk break down in relationship; or
          – Don’t sell player and risk them leaving for nothing.

        • August 11th 2017 @ 11:39am
          j,binnie said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          Ben- Under the present system a player can only be sold overseas if he is still under contract.
          That throws up a quandry for HAL franchises,do they gamble and put youngsters on to 4 and 5 year contracts so that if they do develop in that time they can be sold at a price the market dictates. If they don’t develop as expected the club can be left with “egg on their face” having to guarantee a wage for the remainder of that contract..
          The other way for HAL clubs to save money is for them to use 1 year contracts but this too is fraught with danger for a youngster has only to play out the season and he is a free agent and can negotiate his own terms,usually through an agent. Cheers jb..

          • Roar Pro

            August 11th 2017 @ 11:45am
            Ben Sewell said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            Yes I’m aware you can’t sell a player off contract. But more should have been done with J-Mac in particularly to ensure he was under contract. Re-sign him to what he wants because he’s clearly worth it.

            • Roar Guru

              August 11th 2017 @ 12:55pm
              Grobbelaar said | August 11th 2017 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

              If he knows there is interest overseas, he merely has to let the final year of his contract run down and then go to whatever club wants to pay him a decent salary, without the need for worrying about transfer fees.

      • August 11th 2017 @ 4:12pm
        steve said | August 11th 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

        I rarely agree with Nemesis about anything concerning football, but he is absolutely right in saying that football players, like any saleable commodity, are only worth what the market is prepared to pay for them. It simply doesn’t matter what club the player plays for, whether its Barcelona or Brisbane Roar or Bentleigh Greens. Using your example of McGee and McLaren, the Roar have no one to blame but themselves. They could have sold him and received a fee, but they chose not to, that’s simply bad management on their part. You simply cant put a fee of half a million dollars on a young A League players head, it simply doesn’t work like that. I just would have kept McGee for another year? Then what lose him for nothing then? Its not really an argument that makes sense. Using your own housing analogy, your house is really only worth what the buyers and the market are prepared to pay for it, regardless of what you think its worth. The house buyers ( clubs ) will just go no thanks and move on until they find something of value ( players ) elsewhere.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 10:12am
      Midfielder said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report


      It starts with clubs signing long term contracts instead of one and two year deals… through this maybe an agent insisting on a shorter deal as well..

      Clubs need to trust their judgement on players and sign for 3 + years … this would be a good start…

      • August 11th 2017 @ 10:57am
        chris said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Its why the football scene is so different to other codes when it comes to contract negotiations and terms. The reality is, is that clubs and players in this country are part of a huge global market and being a small player, we (at times) get scr**ed.

    • August 11th 2017 @ 10:39am
      RBBAnonymous said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

      This is partly what is wrong with a closed system and also with a salary cap in place. Clubs have no leeway at all when trying to hold onto players who might otherwise move for little or no transfer fee. The case of Riley McGree is a perfect example, a young player who took his chance and was performing unbelievably well. The contract that he was on was for an absolute pittance. This is understandable for a young player but when that player starts outperforming established players and is starting to play consistent football and is a key member of the team, then this is the time to approach the player and upgrade his contract so it reflects his true value to both himself and his club. You are unable to do this in a salary capped league. I believe that the transfer fee for McGree should have been a lot more, but you can hardly justify paying more when his personal contract with the club was for such a small amount. The club unfortunately got exactly what they deserved for a talented player like Riley, almost nothing.