Surprise, surprise – Australian football is again in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and once again has nobody to blame but itself.
The fact that the latest A-League season was finished through very tough circumstances and the COVID-19 pandemic was great to see. Players had to sacrifice plenty, most of them relocating from their homes and families and living in hubs to allow the campaign to finish with integrity. It was very brave and encouraging.
Attention quickly moved onto next season, and many have questioned why the FFA still had not announced a start date and more details about 2020-21. We know it’s definitely happening as it is still being financed, albeit at a heavily reduced rate, by Fox Sports.
But now we all know what the hold-up is: the game is once again eating itself up over money.
How you see the situation depends on your point of view.
On one side you have the clubs and their owners who aren’t exactly filling their supporters or players with confidence given the latest action of one of the teams in the middle of this collective bargaining agreement negotiation with Professional Footballers Australia has been to threaten to stand down players.
On the other side, we have the PFA once again making large demands many say the game can’t afford, particularly not after the 2020 we’ve had, and that could destabilise the clubs and the league as a consequence.
In the current football landscape in Australia, running back to the last 15 or 20 years, the players share of the pie is far too large for where the game is at financially. Let’s not forget also that our Socceroos were one of the better paid national teams at the last two World Cup tournaments. All of this in a country where the game and the vast majority of its clubs have little infrastructure, training facilities, stadiums et cetera.
We are light-years behind most other countries in the world in that regard, including many so called ‘non-footballing’ countries.
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, the one thing that cannot be denied is that the current situation is a debacle. How many more times does this sport need to be dragged through the mud – and from the inside, mind you! – for all the parties to come together and become aligned for the common goal of actually growing the game? Surely they realise they all stand to gain massively if that common goal is reached one day.
The FFA have rightly taken a back seat so far given the clubs now control their own destiny, but CEO James Johnson has now been given no choice but to step in, hopefully sooner rather than later to rescue the code from potential oblivion for the good of the game.
The behaviour of the owners is now of huge concern to me, a football person through and through, I’m a football diehard, a former NSL club member, an NPL fan and a foundation A-League member – in other words, I’m exactly the type of supporter the new A-League, whatever it may look like, doesn’t and won’t want to lose. And there are many like me who are not currently liking what they’re seeing or hearing.
The salary cap needs to be scrapped immediately so that clubs can pay players what they can actually afford and what they deem each player to be worth. COVID or no COVID, each club will end up finding its own path. Some clubs will have the finances to battle for the ACL, some will battle for the two two, some will battle to make the finals every year and others won’t, but every club will find its own base and build from there.
Still on the football economy, Australian football needs to open up to loans and transfers immediately, as is the practice all over the world, so that clubs can start to really invest in their youth systems and tie up their best young talent to long-term contracts. It will mean smaller and junior clubs can start being properly compensated for nurturing the best young talent.
This will add a significant revenue stream for all clubs, particularly the mid-size and smaller clubs in the A-League, plus all clubs in a second division, the NPL, state leagues et cetera, which can now start to make some significant dollars with player sales both domestically and overseas. This opens up a whole new world.
What do you think, Raorers? How do you think the owners are handling the current situation? Do you still have faith that the competition is in good hands? Can the owners now steer the A-League in the right direction?
Should we have a salary cap? If so, for how much longer?