It has been reported that the Football Federation is well aware that representatives of the all of the A-League clubs have headed to the United Arab Emirates to meet with the City Football Group with a view to forming a breakaway league. Despite putting on a brave face they will no doubt be concerned at the financial ramifications should such a move take place. However as the ruling body in the country they will also no doubt believe that they are holding an ace up their sleeve, which is if they do not sanction the competition, they could force all who play in the league to be banned from professional football and from representing Australia. The latter would be extremely foolish as they are currently having to rely more and more on A-League players to put a national team on the park.
The plus side could well be that this may in fact help the FFA out of a tough spot. The Asian Football Confederation has stated that they would like to see all league competitions run separately from the governing body in each of its member countries, and the deadline for such a move was pushed back just last year. Being a relatively new entity, such a move would have a huge impact on the FFA, as CEO David Gallop has said the A-League is the competition that is currently keeping everything together, lose that financial backing from TV rights and sponsorship, and suddenly international team programs and development programs are looking decidedly shaky. Some were already looking that way with the much talked about National Training Centre program rumoured to be shelved in two states due to a lack of funding from the FFA.
What is a concern though is that ten years into the Hyundai A-League club owners are already talking of a breakaway league. That does not reflect well on the game’s governing body.
Adelaide United Chairman Greg Griffin was quoted as saying prior to his departure for the meeting that “They’ve organised meetings at the hotels, I’d have to see the (A-League) model that is put forward it’s all dependent, it must FIFA compliant, it must be AFC compliant and it must work for the league and it must be for the fans and it must work for the FFA.There is no doubt that the English model is one of the best and the US MLS (major league soccer) model is one of the best. Once you can establish those and establish it’s financially solid the game will only be better for the club owners, players and the fans and that’s when you start talking.”
Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro as well as Perth Glory Chairman Tony Sage are also known to have accepted the invitation to be guests at the F1 event in Abu Dhabi and then discuss how the league in Australia can be improved.
It will be interesting to see what the club owners bring back from their meeting and whether any are prepared to talk about the discussions. If a breakaway does in fact eventuate, this will have a far reaching effect as it will open the door for State League competitions to break away from the state bodies and the flawed National Premier Leagues model. If they allow it at the elite level, one wonders how the FFA could possibly stop such a move at State League level.
These are extremely interesting times for football, and suddenly success as hosts of the Asian Cup looms as being essential, not only financially but also in terms of credibility on a footballing level.
Anyone who has followed the game will note a horrible ring of familiarity to the current situation. This weekend’s meeting could have a far reaching effect on the game in Australia. There is no doubt the owners want to see a return on their huge investments, there is no doubt the FFA should not be propping them up, but where the future lies could have a lasting effect on the game long into the future. Many believed at the time the A-League was set up that the private ownership model was a mistake, now if these private owners opt for a breakaway competition those naysayers may well be proved right.
One thing that should be on the agenda but which is unlikely too be is how these clubs can support the game at grassroots level. If they fail to support the game the way the FFA has you will strangle the life out of all the clubs. You need local talent and to develop that talent requires investment. Hopefully this is a key point in the discussions.