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Ernie’s at the wheel - but not as the 'distruptor'

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8th August, 2022

Football Australia CEO James Johnson announced in the wake of a significant setback in losing to Japan in World Cup qualifying that a ‘disruptor’ would be hired as the governing body’s first-ever chief football officer.

Names like Marcelo Bielsa and Arsene Wenger were (wildly) thrown around to take this role to shake up Australian football.

When Fairfax media outlets broke the news this role would be given to Ernie Merrick, even after he applied late on in the recruitment process, some Aussie football fans scratched their heads.

Perhaps hoping a big name in football would take this role was wishful, but Merrick has been successful in the current system in both A-League and NSL eras as a coach, so what motivation does he have to change the current system? These questions will be answered shortly, and I think it will be for the better.

It’s no secret that Merrick has been a successful coach.

His championship runs for Victory in the early days of the A-Leagues are happy memories of the 2000s. The 6-0 bashing of Adelaide United in 2007 highlighted his successful run and subsequent stints at both Wellington and Newcastle have seen him become a household name amongst A-League Men fans.

However, he’s never been a disruptor, just a solid coach at all levels in an obviously broken system. The ‘disruptor’ title has since become meaningless as when asked about the new role he rescinded the title.

Some fans may have anguished that one of the most important roles created by the FA in recent years had immediately lost meaning and value.

Ernie Merrick

(Photo by Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images)

However, for anyone involved in business, these additions and the titles that are attached to certain positions often become meaningless from the outset.

If Merrick were to simply serve as a custodian as Football Australia implements the second division, as well as the transfer system promised pre-Covid, and advised the state federations along with the national stakeholders on the best paths to success, I believe that alone would leave a successful legacy.

This statement doesn’t undermine the incredible restructuring required to both make football cheaper to play and pathways more accessible, but to emphasise how these two seemingly simple initiatives could improve upon a dying sport.

Ernie’s expertise in youth coaching is also something that should settle invested fans nerves. In both the A-Leagues and several roles overseas in Asia, he has sought to develop youth football.

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His 12-year stint at the Victorian Institute of Sport is proof of experience and commitment to youth football in both thew women’s and men’s game.

Many seem to forget that he was appointed the Matildas coach, however he never coached a game – leaving the role shortly after being appointed.

Football Australia seem to believe his wealth of experience could have a positive effect on the domestic game, so as fans we must trust in him just as James Johnson seems to.

Whilst we as fans of the game have a relationship with the FA that can only be described as toxic, we must not be short-sighted.

Johnson has not let us down since being appointed CEO of the round-ball game in Oz. The fact that the gears are still moving after the rusting effect the David Gallop reign had on the game is evidence of this.

So, in good faith, I wish Ernie the best of luck in his role.

The first-ever chief football officer certainly has plenty to do.