The ball used in real football is round and the rules are simple. Sadly off the field the rules are never as simple although events and fads have a a habit of coming around every so often just like the logo on a rolling ball.
The news that Manchester City have come forward to buy Melbourne Heart in Australia’s A-League was greeted as a vote of confidence by the FFA and its CEO David Gallop who said “Football has moved into the mainstream of Australian sport and is ideally placed to benefit from the boom in football across Asia.”
Those who have been around the game in Australia a while were far more guarded when hearing the news. The reason is they have seen it all before, big overseas clubs investing in Australian clubs, and thus far none of these arrangements has had a long term benefit on the club or the game. One consistent error made in the past has been the overseas clubs not placing people with the knowledge of running a football club in charge of their investment. The seemingly reasonable investment has continued to lose money and the players coming through and being sold on or taken to the parent club have failed to justify the investment and they have walked away.
There are several A-League clubs struggling financially and most would have welcomed such intervention. Word is that Melbourne appealed as Manchester City wish to rebrand the club as Melbourne City. Does this mean that another A-League club has in fact bitten the dust? If so they become the fourth to fall by the wayside. Melbourne City will be a very different club and the new owners will have to invest heavily in re-branding the club and garnering support.
Other reasons Manchester City may have been attracted to Melbourne Heart would be that it was based in the sporting capital of Australia, and was one of only two clubs who managed ever to make a profit amongst the A-League clubs. This was due containing costs, unlike many other clubs, and also the calibre sponsors they attracted and how they worked with them.
The hype around this takeover may well be warranted but it would be wise to wait until the dust settles and view the outcome in two to three years. It also currently takes the attention away from a number of other issues. David Gallop when in Perth last year stated that the FFA wished to divest itself of Western Sydney Wanderers “as soon as possible.” In October, he suggested the sale was a few months away. That looks not to have been the case. Or maybe the behaviour of a minority group of fans has damaged the potential sale and value? In addition to this, it is believed another A-Legaue club is unlikely to play next year under its current owner.
The sale of Western Sydney is crucial. The FFA’s financial statements for the 2012-13 financial year revealed a surplus of only $0.8m. These figures included the cost of the Asian Cup Organising Committee and Western Sydney Wanderers, their revenue and their expenses.
Some believe Manchester City’s 80% investment will attract other overseas clubs to Australia, but many will be watching and waiting to see how the deal works before making such a move, especially as many of Australia’s top talents have been forced to return from Europe to the A-League because they are unable to establish themselves at clubs there, and play regular football.
The other thing that this “Sale” has done is upset the clubs below the A-League. Pushed kicking and screaming into the National Premier Leagues – a new competition in each state that will see the champions play off in a finals series – due to a promise made by the FFA to the Asian Football Confederation, most were advised that they could no longer enjoy relationships with overseas clubs. Agreements that helped many of these clubs fund their development programs. How come it is acceptable for A-League clubs to form such a relationship and not the second tier, who actually develop players? While their top flight counterparts spend very little on bringing talented players to the standard required to play professionally.
The FFA cannot expect the “Football Family” to respect it if it continues this ‘do as I say not as I do’ attitude. Everyone understands that they need to ensure the A-league’s future, but time and money needs to spent in the second tier if clubs can no longer receive funding from overseas clubs. The Franchise model that the FFA advocated with private ownership of the clubs was meant to ensure that they could focus on the grassroots levels of the game. However owners losing money and threatening to walk away from the clubs they own has shown that this model was heavily flawed, as the Hyundai A-League is sucking much needed money out of this sector to stay afloat.
It would appear that there is no clear policy in place and it is in fact management on the run. The five year plan announced by former CEO Ben Buckley in 2012 appears to have been abandoned or the priorities altered considerably.