Currently the A-League in particular and Aussie football in general are facing a key moment in their histories. Game attendance has decreased significantly in the last season and there’s already talk of a crisis in the competition.
Many, including me, think that the implementation of a second division with promotion and relegation system is a solution for this particular situation. This will not only democratise the sport but also make the competition more attractive.
Also, and this is perhaps the most important thing, it would grant opportunities to many players who today are outside a system that excludes them.
The most optimistic calculations indicate that we will have to wait at least four more years to have a viable second division. The reality is that if we want this to work, the implementation of the B-league must be carried out conscientiously and without rushing, otherwise we would run the risk of financially hurting many of the National Premier League teams that are able to give the ‘great leap’.
This leaves us at a crossroads: What should we do to ensure that football does not lose its place in the minds and hearts of the Australian public? Four years is a long time for a sport that every day fights against the attacks of big mediatic groups and traditionalist politicians who refuse to recognise the part football has played in Australian multiculturalism.
The A-League is criticised very often for being a static competition in which your team can play the same opponent up to four times and still not even qualify for the AFC Champions League. Teams like Wellington Phoenix or the Central Coast Mariners spend much of the tournament condemned to the bottom places without more incentive than just avoiding the next big defeat.
In such situations it is not uncommon for fans to decide not to attend matches. Why go to the stadium if we know your team is going to lose again? That makes the competition boring. Only a handful of teams are in a position to fight for the title.
The FFA Cup was an unexpectedly good response from a federation that often makes too many mistakes. This cup integrated all the strata of Aussie football and generated a highly attractive competition. While it was not a reconciliation between ‘old soccer’ and ‘new football’, at least it prevented both from continuing to ignore each other.
But now that is not enough. The FFA Cup is played in the first part of the season, and that leaves us with six months where the only fun, and excitment happens at the top of the table.
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That’s why the FFA must create a League Cup as soon as possible. This new cup, which could well be called ‘Johnny Warren Cup’ or ‘Les Murray Cup’ – would allow those teams that can hardly win the A-League to have the opportunity to fight for something.
This new tournament, in which only the A-League teams will compete, should be played starting in February. I subscribe to the idea of using the format of knockout stages with home-and-away matches.
To make this competition more attractive, the winning team could get a place in the play-off stage of the AFC Champions League or at least one spot in the AFC Cup, the second most important tournament in Asia. You could even create a ‘Supercopa’, a tournament at the end of the season between the league winner and the winner of the League Cup.
As I said at the beginning, the implementation of a second division in Australia is crucial for the future of football, but in the meantime the League Cup would be an interesting challenge for most clubs and would give football something more to celebrate.