Home > The Final Word > Where to now for football?

Where to now for football?

I wrote (or ranted) last week about how Australian football is NOT dead. Despite this, it certainly needs a lift, and this week I’m going to suggest a few ideas for both the domestic game and the Socceroos, which will help move the game forward in this country, to reach the heights of the major codes. Just quickly before that though, the naming of Holger Osieck’s preliminary squad for January’s Asian Cup is definitely a step in the right direction. Despite the fact that most of the fringe players named will probably not make the final squad, the fact they are mentioned means that  Socceroos officials finally realise the importance of depth, and a squad base, in international football. So, anyway, on to my suggestions, starting with those for the domestic game. All of these ideas will ultimately result (hopefully) in the first suggestion.

1. A National Free-to-air Television rights deal

This needs to be the number one focus of the FFA in regards to the A-League. It will be assisted by other things working together, but without a free-to-air deal, investment in the game domestically will continue to fall. With a major network, or even digital channel, showing games, the advertising dollars increase, and the clubs are more attractive investments for wealthy businessmen or a consortium. If you look at the major sporting leagues in the world and in Australia, this is what drives investment, and in my opinion, the A-League needs to broaden its appeal beyond pay television. This does not mean eliminating Fox Sports from the deal, because they have been great supporters of local football and should be rewarded for that, but one of the main commercial networks needs to be involved. Get this done, and the following will fall into place, or vice versa.

2. An FFA Cup

This is something that has been discussed and analysed at length for some time, and looks to be high in the minds of FFA officials. Firstly, it needs to be a knockout tournament. Having groups eliminates the upsets, and throws away the interest in these games. They can run it at the start of the season, and then concurrently throughout the A-League season, replacing mid-week games. Play games at both the big stadiums, and the local grounds, which will allow television coverage, but connect with the local community and the local supporters. When the A-League was launched, they were trying to eliminate the ethnic tribalism which had been a blight on the game for some time. But in doing so, they eliminated tribalism altogether, something which is the basis for fan support in all major sports. The Melbourne derby this year has shown the importance of tribalism to the game, and I think an FFA Cup could revitalise this concept to the new market. Just imagine Sydney FC taking on APIA Leichhardt from Leichhardt Oval. It would be fantastic for the game, and add to the attractiveness of investment in the game, as well as providing the opportunity for another spot in the AFC Champions League.

3. Overhaul the Marquee System

Apart from a couple of exceptions (Dwight Yorke and Robbie Fowler), the marquee system in the A-League has been a failure. The concept on paper is a very good idea. Get stars of the game to come and play in the league, increase crowds and interest, as well as the quality of the competition. But it has been twisted and turned by club administrators to suit them, and save money. I’m no genius when it comes to accounting and economics, but they need to bring in a sustainable system, whereby big names want to come to the country, and can be spread throughout the clubs to ensure an even playing field in relation to crowds and marketing power. With big names, they can ensure crowds, and therefore investment, which would help with the TV deal if necessary.

4. Determine an ‘Australian’ style of play

This may not be as much about administration as it is about tactics. Moving away from the domestic game, one of the issues which came out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is that we aren’t as adaptable tactically, and probably can’t apply subtle defensive tactics as well as the rest of the world. But this just means we need to know our limitations, and accentuate what we know we can do well. Under Pim Verbeek this was very clear, as we constantly looked uncomfortable in a defensive mode, and looked apprehensive in attack. When this was thrown out the window against Serbia, we played our best football, and fought the death to move on to the next round. Although unsuccessful, the way the Socceroos played in that final game made all Australian fans proud, but also frustrated by the approach taken for the first two games. Under Osieck so far, we have looked much more positive, and less technical, which suits the Australian system. Eventually we will be able to match it for technical and tactical awareness with the rest of the world, and steps towards this have been successful so far with small sided games, and technical skills being taught to kids from a young age. But it will probably take one or two generations before this really takes effect, and therefore we have to accentuate our best qualities, which are toughness, attacking via the wings, and positive play.

These are just a few ideas, and there can be plenty more to help the Australian game. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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