No More A-League Handouts. Time to Support The NPL and State Leagues

It cannot have come as a surprise to new Football Federation of Australia Chairman Steven Lowy that before he had time to slip  off his shoes under the desk of his new role the owners of the A-League clubs came knocking for a hand out.

This time the A-League owners were pressing the Football Federation Australia to cut the Socceroos’ $12 million annual budget and plough the savings back into their clubs.

Outgoing players union boss FIFPro Vice President Brendan Schwab, who was previously head of the Professional Footballers Australia who recently negotiated a 30 per cent share of all FFA revenues for the A-league players, the Matildas and Socceroos, was scathing in his criticism of the A-League Franchisees. He was quoted as saying that the owners would be better off focusing on maximising their revenues with “better membership programs and better marketing, rather than just taking away from a critical playing group which has qualified for the last three World Cups, and has given the game credibility home and abroad.” A point that is very hard to argue with.

One suggestion that does have some merit would be for Australian based Socceroos to be contracted to the FFA and not the A-League franchise. In other words the FFA pays their wages. What could also happen under such a model would be the players contracted to the FFA be spread around the competition. The biggest problem with this is that unlike Cricket and Rugby the Socceroos with the exception of the top line established players is picked on merit. You perform well and Ange Postecoglou will select you. It is about form and consistency, rather than a central contract system.

There are many who will say that the A-League clubs have a point when asking for more money. Then there are those who will argue that the owners are successful businessmen, so start running the club as a business not as a charity waiting for hand-outs. Others believe that for the long term health of football the FFA should be being a little more attentive to what is happening further down the ladder.

Thanks to the FFA’s decision that all A-League clubs should have junior teams playing the NPL competitions around the states, an added cost has come into each of the Franchises with accredited coaching staff required to supposedly develop the cream of the crop of young players. Has there been any money trickle down from the FFA to assist not only the A-League clubs, but also the other NPL clubs? Of course there hasn’t, even though the League actually has a naming rights sponsor.

What is worrying and going un-policed by the FFA’s representatives in each state is the selection, or trial processes, whereby the A-League franchises are trying to lock in all the best young talent in order to reap financial rewards should any progress to A-League contracts or sign for overseas clubs.

For an example one club was playing to win the League in its last game of the season against the team that was second on the league table. Whoever won the game, won the league. The home side however was deprived of its leading goalscorer for this game because he was called in to trial with an A-League franchise’s youth team. The club claims they asked if he could trial at a later date, but were allegedly told if he did not come to the trial he would be overlooked. The player went, as the club did not want to hold him back, and luckily for them the team still won.

First of all, as stated previously why are these clubs holding trials? ( Trials an Error) If they are the pinnacle club, the coaching staff should have their eye on every talented player and know who they are and then the players should be invited in to the club, and not have to trial for a place. They should have had scouts monitoring them for a while and a full dossier on their strengths and weaknesses.

Also what is happening is many of the NPL clubs have held trials to establish their squads for the coming season. They have chosen the players they want to work with and have set about starting training. Then a few weeks into pre season they have found that some players have then been called up by the A-League franchise for a trial and the player has simply not turned up, without informing his new club. This is wrong on so many levels.

First of all, all of the clubs know that they are trialling players. If they know a player has been selected by one club they should not openly try and poach that player. They should show some professionalism and ethics and contact the club that has selected the player and ask if they can talk to him and have him trial with them. Not only are the clubs looking to poach talent to blame, but so too are the parents. Any club that has had this happen should reject the player should he come back and circulate the details so that other clubs steer clear of them. This is the only way the game will stamp out such mercenary behaviour by the clubs and the parents. With the governing body doing nothing to protect the clubs and the young players what other option do clubs have?

The other issue that has raised it’s head and no one wants to talk about is the player compensation fees. The minute that a semi professional club lets a player leave and join an A-League NPL set up after the age of 12, that club is relinquishing its opportunity to receive development fees up until the player is 23 years old.

Article 20 of the FIFA Regulations states:

Training compensation shall be paid to a player’s training club(s): (1) when a player signs his first contract as a professional and (2) each time a professional is transferred until the end of the season of his 23rd birthday. The obligation to pay training compensation arises whether the transfer takes place during or at the end of the player’s contract. 

As for the compensation owed the regulations state:

If a professional moves during the course of a contract, 5% of any compensation, not including training compensation paid to his former club, shall be deducted from the total amount of this compensation and distributed by the new club as a solidarity contribution to the club(s) involved in his training and education over the years.

From the season of its 12th – 15th birthday 0.25% of total compensation is owed.

From the season of its 16th – 23rd birthday 0.50% of total compensation is owed.

So on this occasion the local clubs around the country are missing out as the A-League clubs scramble to try and shore up some income down the track.

To make matters worse Not the Footy Show has been advised that some A-League Franchises are in fact holding back talented players because of these compensation fees. Whereas many State League/NPL clubs will waive the fees to enable a young player the opportunity to carve out a career overseas, some of the A-League franchises are refusing to waive the fees. The result being that the young player is not signed by the European club as they can find a player of an equal standard and not have to pay the fees.

So the much promoted ‘pathway’ to professional football which the A-League clubs use to tempt players to join them is in fact proving a dead-end to many promising young players. As a result there are a number of football savvy parents who are not allowing their sons to be signed by the A-League NPL Franchises in order to improve their chances of playing overseas should a club come knocking.

Fifteen months ago we heard David Gallop’s “State of the Game”  address. At the end of this Presidential-like propaganda-fest he stated “Commercial revenues are the dividends of a successful sport, but we know we need to do a better job telling corporate Australia about the massive potential if we are to have the resources to deliver on the game’s promise.” He followed this with “And our governance structures need to be aligned, efficient and ready for the challenge. Every stakeholder needs to know their role and have the trust in others, and that’s the starting point of our ambitious thinking.”

Almost a year and half on from those comments there is still no money coming down to grassroots, there is no money coming down to the NPL clubs and still no marketing plan to promote the NPL and help these clubs meet their increasing costs. It is time the FFA started delivering on some of the statements made in this address.

The A-League clubs may want a larger slice of the pie, but the clubs that are feeding them are in far greater need. Without them there will be no A-League. The excuse given has been that potential sponsors want to support the game at the top, the Socceroos, and not the bottom up. That may well be the case, but those whose job it is to find the sponsors need to start being creative and sell the benefits of being involved at this level, after all that is their job to source, convince and sign up sponsors.

As for ‘every stakeholder knowing their role’ and having ‘the trust in others,’ the game is a long way off that situation. The trust between many of the game’s stakeholders and the FFA is at an all time low and the same could be said of the State Bodies and the clubs they are there to administer and serve. These two words are the key to the whole situation. The FFA is there to administer the game, just as the State Bodies are too. They are there to meet the requirements of the stakeholders and not dictate terms. The FFA was left with egg on its face in the past month and showed how out of touch it was with the fans. It needs to address these issues quickly in the next six months or another backlash is likely to come from the clubs as established NPL clubs find the costs too great to compete and either close their gates or become amateur Sunday clubs.


No More A-League Handouts. Time to Support The NPL and State Leagues

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