As Alessandro del Piero arrives in Australia, there are many who are asking is this the last roll of the dice for football in Australia? This may seem a little negative even possibly unfair to put so much weight on one man’s shoulders but many who have been around the game in Australia are beginning to tire of the fact that the same mistakes keep being made by those charged with taking the game forward.
The Socceroos loss to Jordan this week has certainly not helped and many are beginning to realise that Australia do not have a God-given right to qualify for every World Cup now that they are playing in Asia. It is also dawning on many that the ball was dropped ten years or so ago when Australian football was on the crest of a wave with so many players plying their trade in the top leagues in Europe. That was when our development of young players had to be at its best, it wasn’t and the lack of top players around the world is now coming home to roost.
The future would look brighter if we were starting to dominate at World Youth level, but that has not been evident yet, and the failure of the Olyroos to score a single goal in their qualifying games was a truly worrying development; although quite why proven goalscorers were not selected will be a question that will be asked for many a year to come.
The big plus is that there are development pathways in place around the country, and these are in the main being run by excellent coaches, however these should not be the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to development. Players should not be pressured into joining these pathways, and told that the door will be slammed on their chances of selection for A-League or national youth teams if they opt not to join. One promising young cricketer has opted not to join the ECB’s academy and stay with the coaches that have taken him so far already, yet he is still tipped to be an England player in the next five years. Players should do what is best for them in the environment that is best for them. If a player opts out of the national development program, that is a plus, as it will give another player an opportunity. The doors should never be closed, and coaches selecting development, or national and state representative teams should show vision and select some players from outside of these structured environments. The players that excite on the world stage and in leagues around the world are the players who can do something different, who back themselves, not the automatons who simply go out and do everything by the book; although you do need such players in a team.
In between all of this are the State leagues which as John Kosmina stated on “Not The Footy Show” are in desperate need of CPR and investment, these have fallen a long way in the last five or six years as the standard in the A League has improved. It is a very sad state of affairs when the costs of running a semi-professional club continue to rise, that the rewards for a successful team have in some cases gone backwards or have stayed in the same place. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when the club hosting the recent Cup Final in Western Australia earned more from the gate alone than the team that won the cup. Surely the governing body should be manning the gate and the proceeds split between the two who have drawn the crowd in? The governing body could of course deduct the cost of promoting the game and employing someone on the gate.
The A League this year needs to market itself properly, and have a strong media presence in every state newspaper, even if it means buying the editorial space. IF that is what it takes to get coverage and match AFL and NRL coverage then so be it. It needs to stop trying to promote itself as a competition similar to the English Premier League, and find it’s own unique identity and promote that. Last season so much of the marketing and promotion was based around returning Socceroos Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell, but fans no longer relate to players on the wane, that is why if too much stall is put in del Piero, unless he has an outstanding season it could all backfire terribly, and at $2million a year he better perform.
The future of the A league lies with the young players coming through, the future of Australian football lies in the same place. As much as we need names which will excite and bring fans through the gate, they have to still have what it was that made them exciting in the first place. How many big name bands that you missed as a teenager disappoint when you see them in your 30’s or older? The same is true of footballers, they are after all human.
The next twelve months are going to be crucial for Australian football, and could well determine the next ten years.