Will the A-League clubs – a number of whom are in favour of breaking away from FFA as a last resort – take the plunge and provoke a schism with soccer’s governing body by setting up an independent A-League?
Will the increasingly fractious NPL clubs, who will hold a landmark meeting of their nascent n Association of Football Clubs on Monday night in Melbourne, succeed in their demands for a seat at the top table of n soccer in discussions over the future of the game?
Will the State federations, who have historically backed FFA – certainly in the days when Frank Lowy led the organisation with an iron fist – continue to offer their support, or will a handful back the other voices who are demanding a greater say in the way the game is run?
Can Steven Lowy, who inherited the chairman’s hot seat from his father some 16 months ago, keep all the fretful factions in check and preserve a unified structure, or will he preside over another remake of the game’s management and governance structure that weakens central control.
At a time when the Socceroos are battling to ensure their place in Russia with two critical World Cup qualifiers before the end of March and the A-League is poised to crown record-breaking Sydney FC as Premiers Plate winners, it is off-field matters that dominate discussion.
It isn’t supposed to be like that, but until the rows and disagreements, the power plays and shadow boxing going on in the background are resolved, the politics of the sport will inevitably overshadow the exploits of those who should be making the headlines.
On Friday there was another meeting to end another week of fretful talks and indecision for the beleaguered FFA as the organisation looks to find a way forward in a series of battles it is fighting on numerous fronts.
The fact that these issues have all erupted at one time can be sheeted back to the inertia of the board and management over the critical issue of expansion and development of the A-League.
A-League clubs want to see a handful of new teams in the competition to boost the value of the business and increase their revenue base.
Second-tier clubs are desperate to promote a pyramid structure of promotion and relegation throughout the game and to hear at least some formal commitment to the development of a second division which, in theory, has been acknowledged as a “good thing” since Frank Lowy’s days in control..
But what has characterised FFA for much of its existence – certainly since the “Big Bang” days when it was kick started under Lowy senior and his first chief executive John O’Neill, is its inability to walk, talk and chew gum at the same time.
It seems incapable of focusing on more than any one big idea at any moment.
For at least four years everything else seemed to be put on hold while the World Cup bid, which subsequently turned out to look very much like a vanity project for the octogenarian chairman, took up all the management and board’s attention.
Then it was the need to negotiate a new TV deal that put everything else in the shade, including meaningful discussions about the criteria any expansion franchise should have, what it should like like, how much it should pay to join the league and a myriad of other questions.
It is in that vacuum that a foment of alternative ideas has been allowed to develop, be nurtured and pick up a head of steam as interest groups look to exploit the lack of leadership to push their own causes and agendas.
As a result FFA has been dragged to the table to negotiate an extension of the FFA Congress, the body that puts forward policy and elects the board, following pressure from the rest of the game. Lowy and his CEO, David Gallop, have also held talks with FIFA, which wants to see a broadening of the franchise in .
But so far a series of meetings throughout February and March have failed to resolve the impasse as the FFA’s executive and board have been unwilling to concede to a numerical formula for the Congress that might take the balance of power away from them.
The leadership of the A-League clubs is pushing for a new Congress structure of some 17 members which would result in the clubs holding six representatives and the players union, the PFA, two, with the state and territory federations nine.
The existing set-up has 10 members, with the A-League clubs having only one representative and the state and territory federations having nine votes. These organisations historically have reacted to the carrot and stick approach of whoever is running FFA at the time and fallen into line with their directives. Hardly surprising, as many of them are reliant on funding from head office to augment their operations.
Other issues that remain to be resolved include the new ownership structure of the league itself, which the FFA is promoting as a way to generate fresh equity in the competition and much needed funding for the clubs, and the thorny question of the second tier.
Monday night’s meeting of the second-tier clubs in their new association will be hugely significant as a demonstration of the unity of purpose from the clubs at this level of the football food chain.
But it is also vital that they do more than just stand up and chant slogans about wanting representation and the chance to grow and nurture their clubs in a national second division as a pathway to the A-League.
They have to start providing answers to a number of questions.
Where will the money come from to pay for flights and accommodation to and at games.
Who will underwrite the management costs?
Who are the sponsors, if any?
Are there fresh investors waiting in the wings?
How will the second division be structured – how many teams from each federation will be involved?
Will Western be part of the mix or is it all too hard because of the tyranny of distance?
Do the organisation’s leaders anticipate a separate TV deal? Could that underwrite funding?
Will there be a salary cap, and if so, how much?
Would they want booster payments from a central fund for promoted teams so they could compete in the A-League in their first season?
Would A-League teams get parachute payments when relegated so they could keep their squad together?
The new group’s credibility would be greatly enhanced if they could provide answers to these questions – and if they can, in satisfactory fashion, it will make it harder to deny them a say in what is happening in the future.
Meanwhile, out on the pitch, a finals series looms …