COVID-19 It has seen upheaval across all sports across the globe with Australian sports not immune. It has been fascinating to see how soccer has handled these ever-changing times. The NRL and AFL have been on the front foot and negotiated re-commencement dates which have been well documented on this page.
Soccer in Australia does not have the finances, nor the influence, to be as commanding as the NRL and AFL, nor does it seem to have the Administrators that can draw positive attention. We are yet to know of a bona fide start date for the Hyundai A-League, with players and stakeholders left frustrated around the lack of detail and insight from the Football Federation Australia (FFA).
To say that the Hyundai A-League right now is at the crossroads is an understatement and we are in tumultuous times. Here is what we know since the A-League went into recess:
– Hyundai (the naming rights sponsor), appear to be in the midst of walking away from a 15-year affiliation with Australian soccer when their current deal expires in June. The sponsorship deal is worth $6 million a year and while FFA are desperately trying to negotiate an extension, it is looking increasingly likely that they will have to find a new major sponsor.
– Fox Sports, the A-Leagues broadcaster were late on payments, with the final instalment ($12 million) withheld and paid some 3 weeks late. It is still unsure if or when this money will be passed onto the clubs and players. The latest information is that should Fox Sports continue funding the A-League, that they will seek to decrease funding by 50% or more.
– The majority of A-League clubs have stood down all staff and players during COVID-19 on no pay. The belief is that Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and to a lesser extent Sydney FC are still paying players and officials.
– Adelaide United’s Dutch coach Gertjan Verbeek has called time on the A-League and returned home to Holland. Rumours were circling in the lead up to his announcement (not helped by his wife advertising on local – buy, swap and sell sites that all furniture must go and the family are returning overseas). United have since confirmed that Verbeek will no-longer return, and they intend to replace him with a cheaper option as coach who hails from Australia!
– Brisbane head coach Robbie Fowler is back in the UK. He fully intends to return and is said to be devastated that season was halted as Brisbane were the form team post-Christmas and making a serious play.
– Adelaide’s Football Director Bruce Djite is “increasingly frustrated by the lack of clarity about their stalled season”.
– Former Socceroo Abbas Saad insists the A-League has become too monotonous and robotic, with change needed to revitalise the competition. “We’re not making good players anymore; we’re not doing that and maybe our league is not strong enough. You look at the foreigners that come in here, they are coming here on holidays. They’re not good enough to improve our league, not all of them. There’s been a few, maybe in each team – there’s one or two good [foreign] players and the rest are just f***ing passengers. They are not even making the first XI, they’re coming off the bench”.
– Ex Socceroo Paul Okon claiming that the competition should be played in winter and by playing in the heat of summer we are “stupidly admitting to other codes we are inferior”.
– Ex Socceroo’s and master coach Ange Postecoglou reminded administrators wanting financial cuts to occur to “Never forget what your prime product is and your product is the sport. If you devalue the sport, you can save as much money as you want, eventually that devaluation is going to cost you.”
– The standard of the A-League, player development and a host of Administrators have come under fire from many past Socceroo’s who are disillusioned with where the game has been heading since the glory days of the golden generation. Mark Viduka, Mark Schwarzer, Josip Skoko, Craig Moore, John Aloisi and Vince Grella all came together in a fascinating discussion about the “State of the Game”. No one was missed with promotion, relegation, salary cap, player pathways, development, and transfer fees amongst many issues discussed.
– The powerbrokers running the game have tried to stem the bleeding and have engaged an initiative called “Inaugural starting XI”. The inaugural members of the Starting XI, who will serve an initial two-year term on a voluntary basis, are: Mark Viduka, Josip Skoko, Clare Polkinghorne, Ron Smith, Mark Bosnich, Paul Okon, Frank Farina, Heather Garriock, Vicki Linton, Joey Peters, and Connie Selby. It’s an initiative of new CEO James Johnson who hopes it will make a positive contribution to the development of Australian football. “The Starting XI will provide a great platform for eleven of our best football brains to share their insights and ideas with FFA on key matters from grassroots to international football, national teams, player pathways, and the overall well-being of the game.
We continue to look on with interest as to when or if the A-league returns to complete the season, however you have to wonder with no apparent discussion, and players seemingly no closer to returning, that this season might be dead and buried.
Maybe the one good thing that comes out of this, is that the changes that need to be made to the game might actually finally get made.