For nearly eight years David Gallop reigned as the chief executive officer of Football Federation Australia.
We thank him for his service. The Canberra-born lawyer accepted the position in 2012 after having spent the previous 15 years in and around the game of rugby league. During that time and amid multiple disasters and controversies Gallop built a reputation for conservatism and inaction that concerned many.
Throughout his reign, the NRL struggled under the weight of salary cap scandals, questionable rule changes and growing concerns around player behaviour and the image of the game.
In the end the Canberra Raiders fan was shown the door by the newly independent Australian Rugby League Commission in June 2012. By then the majority of rugby league fans, officials and players were keen to see him go.
The FFA accepted his signature soon after. What followed would be described by many football fans in Australia as a failure.
In essence fans of football in Australia saw little change, growth or strategic planning during his time in the top job. While two successful FIFA World Cup qualifications brought in the much-required cash bonuses and kept Gallop’s head above water, the A-League flailed away helplessly and the divisions in the game remained stark.
The chasm between the community-based clubs of the former NSL and the pop-up A-League never narrowed. Gallop and his team were not able to forge connections between the two and start the process of bringing the domestic game together as a collective.
It is the fundamental and core issue that exists in the Australian football landscape. Around 1.8 million people are playing the game across the country. NPL competitions still draw long-term and passionate fans to matches right across the nation, yet the A-League remains scorned by many and low down the list of things to do on a summer weekend.
With millions of Australians discussing the English Premier League feats of Mohamed Salah and the La Liga wizardry of Lionel Messi around water coolers each Monday morning, the passion for and interest in the game is there.
Gallop’s task was to tap into that interest and direct it towards the Australian game.
The most successful initiative during his reign was the birth of the FFA Cup. Credit where credit is due, it has worked and will continue to do so.
However, as the final stationery items and desk trinkets are shipped out of his FFA office to his private residence in Sydney, the reality is that Australian football fans dislike the work done by David Gallop.
They do, however, feel rather differently towards James Johnson. With immediate street cred thanks to his days as a Brisbane striker and a decade of football administrative and governance experience, the new CEO of Australian football arrives on a wave of positivity and enthusiasm.
Simply, the popular view appears to be that Johnson’s knowledge of the game and the country will serve him well.
With work experience inside Professional Footballers Australia, Asian Football Confederation and FIFA, his qualifications and credentials are impossible to question and potentially groundbreaking when it comes to reshaping the domestic game.
His recent time in England with the City Football Group may well be his greatest attribute. Working with one of the biggest voices in world football will have taught him much about success and the methods by which to achieve it.
Despite a honeymoon period no doubt looming for Johnson, it will not be too long before action will become more important than potential and experience.
What should be the first steps he takes as the new boss?
Matters of practicality seem the most obvious places to start. The completion of the process of A-League independence is required, with the clubs given the autonomy to birth and implement their fresh and new vision for the competition as quickly as possible.
Equally as pressing, the cost of football at a junior level requires immediate examination. There is nothing Australian parents, players and clubs would appreciate more than a transparent and thorough investigation into the costings and revenue streams involved in the grassroots game.
Using that data to improve affordability would earn the new CEO an immediate tick within the broader football community.
Addressing the disturbing and overzealous policing of football fans as they attempt to actively support their team should also be near the top of Johnson’s list.
Lines of communication between FFA, stadium authorities and their security contractors need opening and a mutually pleasing solution to the issue found.
More medium-term objectives, such as the oft delayed and still ill-defined national second division and the myriad issues that exist around stadium development, size and location, will also be part of the new CEO’s early discussions and investigations.
No-one would dare suggest the challenges ahead for Johnson are easy ones to overcome. Yet the skill set and experience he brings to the job must surely give him a fighting chance at bringing about real and tangible change.
Goodness knows we need some.