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Opinion

Is a switch to winter the key to unlocking the A-League's potential?

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Expert
26th July, 2020
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When Paul Izzo comfortably saved Ulises Davila’s late penalty in Parramatta on Saturday, he set off wild celebrations across the A-League as Sydney FC secured another premiership.

Just kidding! Everyone still hates the Sky Blues.

It sometimes feels like there are now more Sydney FC-related conspiracy theories than there are actual fans of the A-League.

And this kind of tribalism – the sort that sees Melbourne Victory fans complain endlessly about refereeing decisions going Sydney FC’s way, while ignoring the fact that Victory literally won a grand final because the VAR technology was on the fritz – is essentially what the suits who run the game should have been advertising all along.

In spite of the way of the way the competition has been marketed over the past few years, plenty of people are still dedicated fans of A-League clubs.

And those of us who’ve tuned into the first seven games of this scrambled-together 27 games in 34 days run to the finals have had a few reasons to be pleasantly surprised.

Milos Ninkovic from Sydney FC

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Sure, watching football without fans in the stands is not ideal. Whether you’re an ‘on the pitch is all that counts’ purist or not, it’s hard to deny that the spectacle loses something when there’s no one in the stands.

But aside from having to adjust to the sight of mostly empty stadia, one particular aspect of the games played so far should excite fans going forward.

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It’s that teams can play an attractive passing style of football at pace, and not run out of steam trying to cope with the heat and humidity of a typical summer game.

Watching Wellington Phoenix zip the ball around on a slick Bankwest Stadium surface has become something of a delight, even if the normally reliable Davila no doubt wishes he hadn’t gambled on going to the same corner he did when converting that penalty against Perth Glory last Wednesday night.

But it’s not just Wellington – who’ve played an easy-on-the-eye style of football under Ufuk Talay all season – who seem to be benefitting from the sudden switch to winter football.

Western United played some lovely stuff in their 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory in the second game of Saturday’s double header, with Max Burgess continuing where he left off with a superb half volley to win the game.

The former Wellington midfielder has been in outstanding form over the second half of the season and could arguably lay claim to being the most improved player in the competition.

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And the sight of the likes of Alessandro Diamanti and Marco Rojas in full flight for the entire 90 minutes ought to give us pause for thought.

Marco Rojas in action for Melbourne Victory

(Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Should we have been playing winter football all along?

We all know why the A-League followed in the footsteps of the National Soccer League and kicked off with a summer season back in 2005. There was some sound logic for doing so.

But in an age of always-on sport and with a move to Over the Top streaming of the A-League inevitable, the same reasons that made summer football an attractive prospect 15 years ago are now largely irrelevant.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that if the A-League moves permanently to a winter calendar, it goes up against the AFL and NRL in the battle for hearts and minds.

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That’s a concern not only for those who market the A-League, but who also have to deal with the issue of ground availability in multi-tenant venues.

And while the surface at Bankwest Stadium was pristine on Saturday night – mainly because it was recently re-laid – it won’t take long for complaints to arise once pitches start to cut up.

But on the back of some fast-paced action that has reminded us why enjoy football in the first place, now seems like an opportune time to ask: is a switch to winter football the key to unlocking the A-League’s potential?