For the first time in what feels like an eternity, the A-League Men will return to its traditional starting time of early October, with the new season culminating on the weekend of 26-27 May 2023.
However, as has been the case right throughout the COVID pandemic that first interrupted the competition in March of 2020, this season will also feature an extended break for the players. However, this time around it will not be illness, instead the A-League Men will hiatus from November 18 – December 8, allowing all Australian footballing eyeballs to focus on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
That will please managers of clubs destined to lose some of their best talent to the Socceroo squad but also provide some refreshing clean air for the A-League Women competition that will launch on November 18, just three days before Senegal and Netherlands kick-off in arguably the world’s biggest sporting competition.
The start date of the women’s competition appears a clever one, with the league provided an opportunity to bounce off what will be a football-saturated news cycle.
For the men, any concerns that A-League matches could simply be lost amongst the briskly moving hype and busy schedule of a World Cup is also removed, yet despite these two potential positives, not all will be in 100 percent support of the three-week break that the powers at be have implemented, nor the actual starting date of the season.
Some will question whether a competitive match or three is the best way for domestically based Socceroos to lead into a major tournament. With a start date of October 7 and a likely departure date to Qatar in the second week of November, players could potentially have no more than four and perhaps even as few as three matches under the belts, along with the work they will have done in the pre-season.
It is for this precise reason that Socceroo coach Graham Arnold called for an early start to the competition, with players like Craig Goodwin, Rhyan Grant, Jamie Maclaren and Marco Tilio given more time to work into top form before heading to Qatar.
Others will suggest that with football the talk of the sporting world and a certain water-cooler topic right across Australia, the three-week cessation could actually be used to market the A-League; ride off the back of the World Cup if you will, in a similar manner to the women’s competition.
In reality, there would be little crossover in playing times. Early evening or dusk kick-offs in Australia lead nicely into the less viewer-friendly kick-offs in Qatar, with 9pm (AEDT) reasonable and the matches that follow providing Australian football fans with the nights of broken sleep that always coincide with World Cups in time zones far from our own.
Theoretically, I guess it could work. However, some would cynically suggest that many football fans will use the A-League hours to catch up on sleep and prepare for the long nights ahead.
Others may cite the potential for more young talent to be presented with opportunity whilst our best domestic players are abroad. However, it is certain Arnold will rely heavily on overseas-based players, with only a handful of A-League men in the mix.
Could an A-League Men team be hampered were they forced to continue to play across the three-week window? Potentially, yet in the most recent Socceroo squad selected for the play-off match against Peru, just six domestically based players were named; with Melbourne City the only club seriously impacted.
There will be proponents of both schools of thought and arguments tossed in all directions in terms of whether a pausing of A-League Men play during the period is necessary or helpful.
Could the local competition parlay some of the love football will receive during the period? Perhaps. Could it be simply swamped and given little love at all with the nation’s hopes transfixed on our Socceroos and their matches against France, Tunisia and Denmark? Highly possible.
However the league will pause, fans will lose plenty of sleep and anyone keen to attend a top-tier football match will have the A-League Women to savour.
It is likely to all feel a little weird, with Australia less accustomed to this sort of period of inactivity than European nations. Whether it is the prudent move will not be known for a few months, yet something tells me the World Cup will be so bandwagon-ly captivating and exciting, that many Australians will forget the A-League Men even exists.