Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where to from here for Australia?

It’s taken a few days, mostly spent moping around, to get over the massive disappointment of Australia missing out on hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Not only disappointment, but humiliation at being bundled out in the first round with one solitary vote.

But that cannot change, it is what it is, and we must learn from it and get back to growing Football in Australia.

In some ways, it is a blessing that we missed out on the World Cup. It has highlighted areas in the game that need massive amounts of work, and perhaps had we been successful these areas may have received the “papering over the cracks” treatment rather than a full re-plastering.

Not only that, but now the FFA has no World Cup distractions taking away from the A-League and grassroots here in Australia.

In the long run this will be better for Football.

FFA Chairman, Frank Lowy, and FFA CEO, Ben Buckley, will face the media today at a press conference in Sydney. The focus – the future of Football is bright.

Of that there is no question, whether the FFA in its current state is best equipped to make the most of it is another question.

Let’s have a look at some of the big issues, in no particular order, facing the game.

Ben Buckley - his time is up!

1.      Management & Leadership
The most simple question – where the hell is it? Ben Buckley came to the FFA with a big reputation having just secured the AFL a record breaking $780m TV rights deal. But his record at the FFA has been far from impressive. Here are just some of his failures:

  • Pim Verbeek – Despite what some claim, Pim as a Manager was fantastic for Australia. We achieved great results and easily qualified for the World Cup. Whilst I don’t agree with many that Pim continually bagged the A-League, the perception that he did was allowed to continue without any major rebuttal from head office. No one got on the front foot to defend the game from attack after attack and it has suffered greatly.

  • A-League Expansion – This was something that was supposed to grow the A-League. After four successful seasons of growth, the A-League was ready to take the next step and expand, thus growing the sport in Australia. Instead it has been one major, major stuff-up. Gold Coast had an owner that turned their community off the club before a ball had even been kicked (that’s assuming the community actually knew the club existed) and half way through the first season Nth Queensland lost crucial investors and Don Matheson pulled the pin after just one season. There are so many issues I could go on, and on, and on, and on. But needless to say Buckley has well and truly butchered the expansion. That’s without mentioning Sydney Rovers.
With his contract up in just a matter of days, surely the FFA cannot give the man a new contract after the last four years. It’s time for a fresh face to inject some life back into the FFA and most importantly they need to be a face for the game. We continually see Andrew Demetriou, David Gallop, James Sutherland out in the media promoting the game, yet we see nothing from Buckley or new Head of A-League, Lyall Gorman.

2.      Promotion
Apparently there is this Football competition in Australia known as the A-League! Know anything about it? Unless you’re a Football tragic or take an interest in the game, you probably don’t. The A-League was launched with a blaze of sexy, slick advertising which has now all but disappeared.

I cannot remember the last time I saw an A-League advertisement on television (free to air). The fact is the WC Bid consumed so much of the FFA’s time, effort and money the A-League was badly neglected and its obvious that it has suffered badly.

To their credit the FFA at least seem to be trying to find ways to fix it, conducting an across-the-board strategic review of the A-League and engaging the fans and media to discuss ways to growing and promoting the game.

The A-League this season has been by far the best quality, yet the crowds and interest are declining. It doesn’t make sense.

3.      North Queensland Fury
The Fury cannot be allowed to just wither away and die

I beg the FFA – do not let the Fury die. It would be a massive, massive mistake to let the club representing a massive region of Australia just die off. The club is working bloody hard to find a solution to their ownership crisis and believe they have the right framework to move forward. They just need a little help over the next 12-18 months.

The outcry from the community says it all – this club means something to the people up there. You cannot put a price on that. The FFA want the local community to show their commitment by putting their hard earned on the line and turning up to games. But how do they expect people to form a connection and relationship with the club when the place is a revolving door of players and backroom staff.

The Football community up in North Queensland is strong and has produced a number of quality players – think Steve Corica and Michael Thwaite just to name two. It also has a strong aboriginal community and can do crucial work in developing football amongst the indigenous population.

The club has so much potential, we know how mad North Queenslanders are about their sport, just give them some time to get their house in order.

Not everything is doom & gloom though. The introduction of an FFA Cup is a positive step, provided they get the format correct; the nationwide competition review will hopefully lead to a better “second tier” of Football in Australia and the review of the A-League should lead to some promising initiatives.

Together with that with on-field action in the A-League has been taken to another level and will hopefully only get better, we’re starting to attract better quality imports (Broich, Solorzano, Flores, Hernandez etc), we’re a month away from being confirmed as the host for the 2015 Asian Cup and our junior teams and women’s team will play in their respective World Cup’s next year.

The FFA are right, the future is bright, but unless changes are made they wont be in a position to make the most of it.

The ball is in your court FFA – what are you going to do with it?


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