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Opinion

Why 2021 is about to put the A back in the A-League

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21st September, 2020
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The temptation to write about the wage impasse between A-League players and their employers was strong this week.

The players have collectively rejected a proposed 30 per cent pay cut for the upcoming season, owners are adamant that such a cut is necessary for their clubs to survive and the FFA is hovering in the background waiting to intervene if required.

It will play out in due course and a final agreement must be reached briskly, especially considering the time required for some clubs to rebuild their squads after much recent movement. As such, I thought I might leave the negotiations to the warring parties for now in the hope that a solution can be reached relatively quickly.

Hopefully there will be no need to write more urgently about it with kick-off looming and a deal still to be brokered. Surely both Professional Footballers Australia and Australian Professional Football Clubs Association can see the importance of a successful upcoming season – a chance to return to play with fans inside stadiums and to begin the long rebuild of the A-League financials that have taken such a hit over the last eight months.

The new competition looks likely to begin in December, and things should have a nice festive feel about them when launched. In addition, it is clear that the A in A-League will never have been more relevant than in season 2020-21, with increased opportunities for young domestic players assured and far less reliance on foreign talent.

The much referred-to ‘developmental’ nature of the competition will be a firm reality in the new season, with potentially only the January transfer window luring any significant overseas players to the league.

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The preseason has been littered with departures and it is hard to imagine that, with the bickering over wages becoming seemingly more intense each day, any clubs will be in a position to invest significantly on players from abroad.

Thus the A-League will be as A as it has ever been. While some may lament that fact, it perhaps should be something we celebrate.

Ruon Tongyik

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The global situation has driven a stake through many industries, businesses and sporting activities, with most currently scrambling to get back on their feet in a desperate attempt to secure broadcast revenue, maintain sponsors and secure memberships and revenue from fans.

Australia’s relatively small football league has certainly taken a hit and the path back to security will now be one trod by mostly local players and coaches.

The list of departures is a sad read. Already Steven Taylor and Gary Hooper have farewelled the Phoenix, Milan Duric and Jair have said their goodbyes on the Central Coast and for different reasons Radoslaw Majewski and Pirmin Schwegler will no longer be Wanderers.

Spaniard Juande departs Perth Glory and Panamanian Abdiel Arroyo will not be wearing the red and blue of Newcastle in 2021. At this stage the Macarthur Rams appear to have the only confirmed new international signing in the shape of Englishman Matt Derbyshire, while rumours around the futures of other high quality internationals such as Adam le Fondre and Diego Castro continue to circle.

Add the above names to the approximately 20 foreigners who departed midseason when fears around COVID-19 were at their highest and the international flavour of the league has quite obviously been diluted.

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With wage concerns brewing, much Australian and New Zealand top-end and promising talent also took the deals offered to them and ended their time in the league. Notably, Liberato Cacace has headed to Belgium, Samuel Silvera to Portugal, Callum McCowatt to Denmark and George Blackwood has somehow secured a deal in England.

Dimi Petratos and Mitchell Duke will face off against each other in Saudi Arabia and Perth duo Joel Chianese and Jacob Tratt will join Taylor and Hooper in India.

It is an exodus caused by the unusual nature of 2020 and a reality the clubs must face head on. The solution will be to scour NPL talent as effectively as possible, bring youth into squads slightly before they may have been expected to appear and hopefully discover a nugget or two of gold along the way.

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There of course will still be a host of skilled international A-League players, potentially now even more valuable considering the younger and less experienced men with whom they will be playing and training, and fringe A-League players must be able to smell the experience of top-flight Australian football and be champing at the bit for a taste of the action.

Liam Reddy

(Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

As was the last, the new season will be something very different. However, a competition with reduced foreign stars and the chance to watch some of Australia’s rawest young talent may well be something to savour.

In 2021 A-League football will look very young and very A, and that presents an opportunity for clubs to discover the next Jamie Maclaren or Adam Taggart or Awer Mabil and maybe even the next Tim Cahill.

Perhaps that is the lens through which we should all view the season rather than lamenting international departures.