A-League Needs to Review Salary Cap

There are many who are claiming that Perth Glory’s punishment for breaching the Salary Cap in the A-League could be a watershed moment for the competition, and they could well be right.

It is pleasing to hear that Perth Glory have opted to exhaust the appeals process via the sports governing body rather than seeking a court injunction; although they are still grandstanding and claiming that they will use this as a last resort. No doubt hoping that being aware of this, the FFA will shift its stance and lessen the penalties imposed on review.

It has been revealed that Perth Glory going down that path was not to challenge the decision to remove the club from the A-League finals but to determine whether the FFA’s board has the authority to make such a decision. The matter will be heard this Friday, which is good as a decision needs to be made so the finals series does not become secondary.

Sadly legal arguments often cloud what appear to be straightforward situations to most of us. Perth Glory were found guilty of cheating the system in order to gain an advantage over other teams. They therefore should not benefit from cheating, and play in the finals.

As a Swindon Town fan, a similar situation was handled dreadfully by the English Football Association. In 1990 they allowed Swindon to play in the Play offs for a place in what is now the Premier League, despite the club facing accusations that it had breached 36 league rules in relation to transfers. Swindon won the play off final at Wembley, tens of thousands of fans made the trip to London to witness the achievement. After the match an FA spokesperson was quoted as saying, “This is our worst nightmare, we hoped they would never win.” Ten days later Swindon were relegated two divisions and fined. On appeal they were moved back to the division they had just won promotion from.

The FFA should not allow Perth Glory to play in the finals, unless the club can produce evidence that makes the FFA change their mind about them breaching the salary cap. The fans and players do not deserve to be put through what Swindon Town’s players and fans went through. If the club’s hierarchy had any understanding of how fans feel they too would not be pushing to be included. Yet all they are really after is a place in the Asian Champions League, so that it will help the owners business interests away from football.

In fact a club source has said that this is what this season was all about, Asia at all costs. The club expected a slap on the wrist a three point deduction and a fine and that would be it. Yet it appears the breaches were too great for such a small penalty.

Since the penalty, Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has made the best suggestion, that all clubs should have to undergo similar scrutiny to that which Perth Glory has been subjected.

There is an element of persecution attached to Perth Glory’s plight as the FFA have admitted that the breaches only came to light via a whistleblower. Not a good indictment on them and their policing of their own rules and regulations, but then again let us not forget that Damien de Bohun, head of the A-League did not even know the rules earlier in the season when he backtracked on his statements re Glory shifting players to Marquee status. (FFA Backed into a Corner)

The whistleblower was aided by an ally in the media and the flames of speculation were fanned to a level the FFA had to follow up, even though they really did not want to, as they knew they would open a can of worms.

Ex Socceroo Craig Moore has weighed into the argument of the salary cap stating that all foreign players should be outside of the salary cap; another idea that carries a lot of merit.

Another suggestion has been that clubs should not be restricted on the size of their squad, as long as they can bring players in within the agreed amount. This is another idea that has huge merit and would allow some clubs to develop more young talent amongst older experienced players.

However the big questions is will this help matters? You will still end up with Australian players on inflated salaries in relation to their ability. Players who are good reliable A-League players, players who will not get an opportunity overseas in a decent competition, and are destined to spend their career in the A-League being paid more than their ability warrants. The reason being every A-League clubs wants to find a reliable player, as coach’s jobs are not secure unless they make finals and gain results. So they will offer more to sign “Mr Reliable” rather than blood a young player. Just as in the English Premier League the clubs sign foreign defenders with games under their belt and a reputation, rather than giving a local untested player a chance.

The market will always dictate what the best price is for a player, and Australia is not the only league where average players are being paid more than most coaches would like to pay. So always if cash is not available to entice the player teams will look for other incentives.

The issue is not as simple as just whether the salary cap should stay or should it go. It is far deeper than that and is linked to player development, compensation, attracting local players, being competitive and the coach’s contract. So many issues that all have an impact.

This could be a watershed moment for the A-League. One thing that this issue has made clear is that the club owners, the PFA, coaches and some key ex players and current players need to sit around a table and find a way to make this work for all. Once agreement has been found all should sign that they agree to go along with the new terms and conditions. The same group should then discuss the penalties should any club or individual break the agreement. Then there can be no argument when clubs have to face the music for cheating.

Will that happen? Most unlikely.

A-League Needs to Review Salary Cap
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