Entering a Minefield.

Ask any coach, in any sport, why he recruits a player to be a part of his team, and the answers will be different, but they will undoubtedly be similar.

Some will want to build their team around that particular talented individual, some will want to sign a player as cover in a certain position, others will want to sign a player because he offers what they are lacking in the team or in that position. These are the qualities that the individual brings on the pitch, and most coaches are predominantly interested in that. They will however look at a player’s past. has he been in trouble off the pitch, what stories have they heard about his attitude, does he pick up cards in games too regularly, is he a winner, does he hate to lose or does he simply walk off after every game with a smile on his face? What is his temperament like, has he ever had incidents on the pitch with players already in the squad.

Sport is now becoming far more about the business off the pitch rather than the performances on it. Hence why nearly every interview post match sees media-trained players thanking the fans; they know without fans there is no money, especially in Australia where few sporting clubs own their own grounds.

Understandably clubs are looking at the business angle when they sign players, and many a coach has had a big name player thrown into their squad to try and boost memberships, and crowds, even though the big name signing has actually been detrimental to the team, and the style of play the coach had planned. Alessandro del Piero was a prime example at Sydney FC. He was so slow in midfield that he was frequently caught out of position when the opposition counter-attacked, and those playing alongside him had to do extra work to cover his lack of endeavour. Sure he had great vision and could make some sublime passes, but he killed the team as a unit.

In his first season Sydney FC finished 7th in the League. In his second season the side finished 5th on the A-League ladder and were eliminated in their first game in the finals. Had he not been there many believe Sydney would have achieved much more on the pitch.

Club administrators now take into account the “marketability” of players. Will he grow their membership? Will he bring in fans who normally don’t come? Does he have a social media presence that they can tap into? The latter is a very dangerous thing to buy into, as one wrong comment, one bad tackle can see the pendulum of popularity swing against that player, and if a club is linked too closely they can become caught up in the crossfire.

The International Hockey Federation has a mural in its offices in Lausanne, Switzerland featuring three international players, all with large social media followings. The three players are India’s Sardar Singh, Australia’s Anna Flanagan and Belgium’s Tom Boon. Unfortunately for the FIH Anna Flanagan was recently charged and found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol, and Sardar Singh has found himself embroiled in accusations of sexual harassment. Accusations he has denied. However it is unfortunate that two of the players put up for publicity purposes based on their social media profiles have been caught up in very public issues.

The Perth Wildcats are one of the most successful sporting teams in World sport having made the Finals series every year for the past 30 years. On our podcast before the current one we spoke to their CEO, Nick Marvin, about the key to the club’s continued success. One of his most interesting responses was when it came down to how the club manages its recruitment.

“In my time, and by that I talk about the last seven years, even though I have been here for ten, we have been very focussed on the individual and their character as being the most important part of our recruiting, far more than talent,” he said. “Now part of that is because I am not that well versed in the sport, so my focus has always been on the character first. But I think that has had a part to play and I think if you look around our organisation one of the joys of coming to work every day is that of the 50 or 60 staff we have here including players and coaches i could honestly say they are all good people. That helps in succeeding on and off the court.”

It is one thing for clubs to make a call on how they recruit players and how they use those players to market their club, but it is a major concern when the administrators of the competition they play in steps in and not only determines whether a player is suitable to be signed, on account of his marketability, but also agrees to pay part of that player’s salary in order to have him available for their use as well. This is what is now the case with the Football Federation of Australia’s “centralised FFA Marquee Player recruiting process.”

Incredibly, in the section labelled Recruitment Process the FFA outlines the rules to the A-League clubs:

“2.1 Marquee Players can continue to be recruited directly by Clubs as per current practice or via FFA through a centralised approach.

2.2 Clubs who identify such Players through their own recruiting processes can submit an application to FFA for Marquee Player Investment. FFA investment for any proposed Marquee Player identified through a Club’s own recruitment process will only be made available to that Club.

2.3 The centralised FFA Marquee Player recruiting process will apply as follows:

  1. (a)  FFA to engage key intermediaries to target Players based on the prescribed criteria;
  2. (b)  FFA’s internal project team will coordinate all Players put forward by intermediaries and research their credentials against the strict marketability criteria;
  3. (c)  FFA to obtain the Player’s key terms for playing in the Hyundai A-League, including financial terms and preferred markets;
  4. (d)  FFA to determine its investment in the Player, if any (in accordance with the process set out below);
  5. (e)  FFA to communicate to all Hyundai A-League Clubs the Player’s preferred terms and FFA’s proposed investment to assist interested Clubs to table an offer to the Player.”

Section 3 which covers the Criteria and Eligibility states:

3.1  FFA financial support of any Player will be determined by applying a points system approach utilising strict marketability criteria that reflects the required market and league wide impact.

3.2  The criteria is structured around 3 key categories, namely Football Pedigree, Media & Marketing Impact and Commercial Value to the Hyundai A-League. In addition to whether the player increase broadcast ratings in Australia/ NZ & internationally, other practical considerations such as whether the Player speaks fluent English, the size of their social media following and age are factored into the points system.

3.3  The Player must enter into a Marketing Services Agreement with FFA and also commit to play for a full Season (i.e. sign prior to the closure of the First Registration Period).

What is astounding about this new option to A-League clubs is that it flies in the face of FIFAs regulations when it comes to clubs signing players.

In section V under the section “Third-party influence and ownership of players’ economic rights” the FIFA regulations state:

  1. “No club shall enter into a contract which enables the counter club/counter clubs, and vice versa, or any third party to acquire the ability to influence in employment and transfer-related matters its independence, its policies or the performance of its teams.”

Surely in such a situation and reading the conditions stipulated by the FFA under their rules they are acting as a “third party?”

Tim Cahill will be the first player to be signed under this new player criteria in the A-League. He will be joining Melbourne City. The FFA will be paying a percentage of his salary, which is a massive conflict of interest, for an organisation administering the league competition.

It is understood that they will be requiring Cahill’s services to promote the Socceroos and and their campaign to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. Word is that as a result of these commitments Cahill may well miss a number of games for Melbourne City. Is that good for the team and the club? How disruptive will this be to the team’s season, and push for a first A-League title? Suddenly what is being promoted as a marketing coup, could in fact prove to be the exact opposite.

Now, in Cahill’s case, it is unlikely currently aged 36 that he will be transferred to another club at the end of his two year contract. However future players signed under the same conditions may well be transferred and a fee accepted. This throws up another major issue. Will the FFA want a percentage of that transfer fee? If they receive a percentage will they try to justify that by sharing it amongst the other A-League clubs?

The problem is once again they will be in breach of FIFAs regulations if they accept as much as one cent. Under the section “Third-party ownership of players’ economic rights” the FIFA regulations state:

“1.No club or player shall enter into an agreement with a third party whereby a third party is being entitled to participate, either in full or in part, in compensation payable in relation to the future transfer of a player from one club to another, or is being assigned any rights in relation to a future transfer or transfer compensation.”

If the FFA wishes to head down this questionable path in the current climate in football, there must be complete disclosure as to what percentage of the player’s salary they are paying and exactly what they are paying for.

Although such an option is open to all teams playing in the A-League the question has to be asked could the FFA support such a player at each A-League club this season, with an identical financial commitment as has been made to Melbourne City and the signing of Tim Cahill? If the answer is “No” then no club should be afforded such a situation.

The truth of the matter is the administrator of the game, and more importantly the top competition in the country, the Hyundai A-League, should not be involved in any player payments at any club. They should not be involved in any transfers apart from checking that players meet the criteria to be a Marquee player or not. Their job is to administer and market the league. Linking that marketing to individual players, and paying them for that is not a good situation. Every player who plays in the A-League should accept that their image may be used to promote the League. In fact it should be a part of their A-League contract.

As for the FFA looking at a players social media profiles and that having a bearing on their being signed and used for marketing purposes, this shows a lack of marketing nous. You can buy followers to raise your profile and make it look more impressive, so is this really a good foundation on which to base such a decision? It is also, as has been proven a pathway fraught with possible problems, based on the behaviour, actions, or comments of one individual. How much control do you have over the person you are paying to promote you brand?

At a point where it was hoped that the FFA would have matured and would start making decisions that will have a long term positive impact on the game, it appears that the same basic errors are being made. Rules that go against the fabric of the game are being implemented, and believe it or not these decisions are the ones that are turning people away from the game. Sadly they are blinded by the big name returning home, rather than the consequences.


Entering a Minefield.

2 thoughts on “Entering a Minefield.

  • July 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    I commented on your first story on this. This is more detailed and as you say what do the FFA think they are doing? Why do they keep interfering in every aspect of the game? Lay out competition rules then sit back and let the teams and players play. It seems they want to tinker with every single aspect of the game and control it and have their slice of the financial pie. Sadly what usually happens when companies lose focus and start looking at areas they should not worry about they lose sight of the big picture and end up going broke. Hopefully this will not happen, because if it does football is doomed.

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