I’m currently working on a story on the prospects of A-League expansion and the position grassroots clubs or, our ‘semi professional’ National Premier League clubs find themselves after 11 years. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Lucy Zelic, host of the Hyundai A-League matches live on SBS, the UEFA Champions League, the EPL matches and also hosts the SBS A-League Radio Show on the matter.
We cannot blame Australia for in 2005 to open a professional football league with 10 teams in a country where Cricket, AFL and Rugby League were the only sports of clear importance, so now 11 years on we are still sitting on a 10 team league where each team verses each other three times.
I am a firm believer that it is time to expand the league as soon as possible, but what I found out is patience is a virtue, then again patience runs thin in the world of football and that is exactly what Football Federation Australia are yet to understand.
We cannot argue with the likes of NPL side Sydney United 58 who have been very vocal with their want to be included in professional football in Australia and to have a second tier professional league which isn’t a far cry.
I interviewed Lucy on this topic two weeks ago and in my opinion, I’ve never met a more inspiring or more insightful football journalist. Her views on this topic are second to none.
Is it time for the A-League to expand?
I don’t think it is. The long answer is ultimately we are in a situation where yes the league is 11 years old and while some people think its time for expansion we need to take into consideration its only 11 years old and what we are looking at the moment is a league that’s still crying out for stability.
We’re in a situation where we need to be for my perspective focus on creating stability strength financial, especially financial cultivation and growth as it stands before we consider expansion.
David Gallop has been clear in saying, “we want to fish where the fish are”, well the fish is starting to dwindle. In a country were we only have a population of 22-23 million people we don’t have the benefits of let’s say America who now after 20 years of working hard on the MLS have started to reap through rewards. We still have a long time ahead of us I don’t think using WSW as an example going forward when considering other teams and what’s going to be good for expansion
Sam Krslovic, President of Sydney United 58 has been very vocal in saying “we’ll take this into our own hands”. A club like Sydney United 58 seem pretty ready?
They are ready. Krslovic has been fantastic in what he’s done there. He’s talking about if we are to establish a second division that ultimately what that means is for example travel costs are already a mute point …I mean the FFA Cup has been a perfect example of that because these clubs have got more and more exposure because of it but by doing so you’re already going to attract further sponsorship, further interest and extend out to a bigger fan base, I mean existing fans are already going to get more excited.
…Ultimately clubs like these (Sydney United, South Melbourne) they’re already very healthy financially, you know, in South Melbourne for example they invested $70 million into a stadium redevelopment so something like that is huge so they’ve already got the financial backing it’s just they need the opportunities and the pathways to be able to increase their opportunities in football and also potentially look at putting up their hands for an A-League license.
Can we do better in terms of promoting youth players to playing professionally?
Is the A-League to blame in lack of opportunities created at the pathway level, I’m not so sold on that idea. I think the A-League clubs can be doing a heck of a lot more on a scouting perspective in terms of going out making sure they’re actively involved which some of them already do. Kevin Muscat for example I know is very involved when it comes to state league clubs in Melbourne and actively going out and looking for talent same thing with Tony Popovic at Western Sydney. I think the clubs have to assume a lot of responsibility in that regard because we do tend to see a lot of players being recycled. Liam Reddy for example has had seven A-League clubs close to, so when you look at statistics like that you’d like to be seeing an opportunity like that going to a junior or to someone within that region.
I know Ange has been very vocal in saying the opportunities don’t exist, okay then why don’t they exist? Lets start exploring those junior competitions. Lets look at the NSL lets look at the NPL and start really discovering ways in which we can restructure or determine the pathways from their directly to A-League clubs or National Youth League clubs. That’s something that really needs to be addressed first and foremost.
Where do you see the A-League in the next 10 years?
I see it growing and getting bigger and better. We’ve already seen remarkable growth in the last five years, we’ve seen remarkable growth in the last 11 years since the competitions inception. I agree with the comments that everybody is saying they want to see it bigger, they want to see it better but we have to be a bit gun-shy because we’ve seen failed experiments go completely wrong before in the expansion when it concerned North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United that didn’t work so why didn’t it work? Because they ultimately wanted to basically create a competition that was already bigger and better in the early stages of its existence and that just didn’t work ultimately because of the financial investment that went into it wasn’t sustainable and it was introduced into regions that perhaps didn’t have a rich football following. We need to do the market research we need to start considering what are our best options going forward are they to expand?, is it to create a healthy national second league division first?, is that the first priority before we consider expansion and promotion relegation has also been another huge topic of discussion on the Australian domestic land scape, particularly with the current A-Licenses that have just been handed out we won’t see that between before 2034 and so that’s a long time. We want to see it expand, we want to see the game attract bigger names, bigger players and that’s what we’ve started to see in the last few years, Alessandro Del Piero was the perfect example and now we have Tim Cahill that’s come back these are players that will not only help grow the brand but also to spread the message to others in foreign countries that ‘hey I did play in the A-League, I really enjoyed it, the competition isn’t a walk in the park, we’re known for a physicality, we’re known for our speed, our intensity; and that’s the kind of message we want to get out there, we want them to be good advocates for the game.
We as Australians need to be good advocates for the game so my message for everybody who wants to see the game grow, go to the games be apart of the game, talk positive of the games because what we tend to do is get stuck in that rut of ‘we’re not as good as the EPL, not as good as the La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga.
Ultimately I do see growth, I do see it getting bigger and better and one day we will see expansion and promotion relegation it’s just a matter of time. Lets focus on getting our existing product right and the rest will come.