The decision handed down last Friday by Football Federation Australia to remove Perth Glory from the 2014/15 Hyundai A-League Finals Series due to breaching the salary cap by over $400,000 over the last three years was described by some as the darkest day in the league’s history. It’s not that extreme, however the salary cap has been slowly casting a shadow over the league but for an entirely different reason.
Discussion over the salary cap from all corners of the game has been a constant murmur that just won’t go away. It started all the way back in season one when Sydney FC were found to be over the cap and punished with a points deduction in the following season. The fact they were champions in the 2005/06 season casts some questions of the integrity of the competition as the remaining seven clubs that season were all viewed as compliant. Since then there have been minor breaches usually put down to interpretations and the odd player leaving a club due to salary cap restraints.
The announcement that Besart Berisha had signed for Melbourne Victory for the 2014/15 season the salary cap murmurs were a lot more audible. Rumours that other players at the club were willing to either relinquish marquee status or take pay cuts to keep him surfaced and the discussion moved from why should clubs be punished for success.
Fast forward 12 months and Melbourne Victory, benefactors of the salary cap squeeze a year ago and now pushing for premiership honours, talk of issues holding on to Fahid Ben Khalfallah due to a lack of cap space. Strangely some in the broadcast media handle this situation a little differently then 12 months before. Where Berisha’s move was labelled unfortunate, however necessary to keep the league even – whereas Khalfallah’s situation has called for changes.
Now we have the crisis of Perth Glory which is a whole different story altogether and Football Federation Australia (FFA) CEO David Gallop is no stranger to salary cap dramas and discussion as he faced a number of cases in his time with the National Rugby League. The worst case was in 2010 involving Melbourne Storm – the club which was still establishing itself in a fledgling rugby league region was found to have cheated the cap significantly over a number of years and was stripped of two premierships. This was met from within the rugby league community with both satisfaction and sympathy.
Whilst it is easy for fans to rejoice in a rival club being identified as “cheats” and suffering severe consequences, this emotion is often masked by the claim that the integrity and evenness of the competition must be upheld. On the other hand there is the sympathetic view which stems from those people more concerned about the overall quality of the players competing and this was present in the Melbourne Storm case.
Don’t take emotion out of the game
Fans become emotionally attached to players for their club, that’s what makes football business different to any other. Clubs have to manage that, sometimes they have to make tough decisions and let a popular player go because they are not playing well. What club in their right mind would let a fan favourite go, who wants to remain at the club and is playing well? That’s not only a bad football decision but a bad business decision, for both the club and the league in general.
However the current system does exactly that. Clubs enjoy success or even improve their position in the league and the fans begin to develop a relationship with these players, their hard work and their success creates a bond to the club – an attachment that keeps the fans there during leaner periods. Increasing the earnings of such a player at a club will be a long term investment in holding onto thousands of fans.
Salary caps maintain competitive balance?
Football Central’s own Adam Howard tackled this issue back in February (Salary caps and competitive balance – fact or fiction?). Adam wrote about how studies have shown that salary caps have little to no bearing on competitive balance. It could be argued that in an attempt to impose a competitive balance the result is the competition’s talent is diluted after players are forced to leave the competition altogether or move into an environment that renders them less effective. This has been evident in the A-League.
FFA tells us that the salary cap is working in the A-League as every current club has competed in a finals series over the nine previous seasons. When you consider that the competition has never had a finals series that consisted less then 50% of the league and that out of the 46 finals participants (top 4 from 2005/06 to 2008/9 and top 6 from 2019/10 to 2013/14) four of them finished the season with less wins than losses, two of them had the same amount of wins to losses, and seven only managed one more win than loss – it hardly represents the cream of the competition.
Some may say that this represents how close the league is and validates the current system, perhaps it shows this is the best we can get or can afford to have playing the league. The Professional Footballers Association has a part to play in the situation, as Adam mentioned in his article. Forcing clubs to have a salary floor – especially when there is a minimum salary to protect the players – dilutes the talent even further. The possibility that some players may end up on higher wages then their ability commands leaves less money for the top players and forces a move.
Let’s take money out of the equation
This is where the Perth example comes in. The Glory were able to raise the capital and build a squad that were happy to be involved with a club that has no recent silverware. The manner in which this squad was built under the current regulations is understandably questionable. We don’t want clubs to simply ‘buy’ success, as we need to ensure our professional clubs also have an eye on developing talented Australian players. So what is the solution if we take money out of the equation?
The FFA only has to look at its own work for a solution. The National Premier Leagues run on a Player Points System (PPS) set up to stop clubs simply stacking their teams by signing the best players from other clubs and offering them payment usually subsidised by the parents of junior players. The following is taken from page 28 of the FFA’s National Competitions Review (NCR).
The PPS provides an opportunity to incentivise youth development, curb excessive player payments and limit the time and effort required to monitor and evaluate compliance by clubs.
The PPS was preferred over a salary based cap system due to the high compliance costs such a framework would impose on Member Federations and an inability to simultaneously bring focus to player development.
Let us focus on the second line of that quote, go on read it again. This is the FFA’s own conclusion and one shared by many with the future of the game in Australia in mind. A PPS still allows for restrictions on visa players and simply signing the best players from around the league but at the same time rewards clubs for development and doesn’t punish successful sides by pulling apart a stable squad.
It is worth noting the PPS is under constant review by all state federations with FFA, however it is a great concept on which to base a theoretical solution. This point system also needs slight modification for the A-League. For the NPL the squad list is 20 while the A-League allows for 25 and the amount of visa players allowed in the NPL is two while the A-League allows four, so the total points allowed needs to increase from 200 to 270. The penalty for players over 25 needs to be removed as this is professional level and 1 point can be deducted for each year a player stays with a club after the first year. Also compensation to allocated player points will be given to a player who has made their senior debut with the club by -3 points.
So let’s apply this reviews PPS to three A-League clubs, Brisbane Roar as last season’s premiers and champions, Melbourne Victory due to the fact there has been so much noise regarding their current roster and Perth Glory for obvious reasons.
|Player Name||Base||Points +/-||Adjust|
|M. Theo||10||-3 4 Years||7|
|J. Polenz||10||+10 Visa Player, +8 Switching Player||28|
|S. Stefanutto||10||-3 4 Years||7|
|A. Sorota||10||-1 Junior years, -3 senior debut||6|
|C. Brown||10||-2 3 Years, -3 senior debut||5|
|G. Lambadaridis||10||-2 3 Years||8|
|A. Kaluđerović||10||+10 Visa Player, +8 Switching Player||28|
|Henrique||10||+10 Visa player, -4 5 years||16|
|J. Solórzano||10||+10 Visa player||20|
|D. Bowles||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|J. Donachie||10||-2 2 Junior years, -3 senior debut, -1 2 years||4|
|D. Clut||10||-1 1 Year junior, -3 senior debut||6|
|M. McKay||10||-7 8 Years||3|
|L. Bratton||10||-2 2 Years junior, -3 senior debut, -3 4 years||2|
|J. Hingert||10||-2 3 years||8|
|Jamie Young||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|T. Broich||10||+10 Visa player, -3 4 Years||17|
|B. Borrello||10||-3 3 Years junior, -3 senor debut||4|
|P. Theodore||10||-2 2 Years junior||8|
|L. DeVere||10||-2 3 Years||8|
|S. Brady||10||-3 senior debut||7|
|Player Name||Base||Points +/-||Adjust|
|N. Coe||10||-1 2 Years||9|
|J. Geria||10||-1 2 Years||9|
|N. Ansell||10||-2 2 years junior, -3 senior debut, -1 2 years||4|
|M. Milligan||10||-1 2 Years||9|
|L. Broxum||10||-7 8 Years||3|
|G. Finkler||10||+10 Visa Player||20|
|B. Berisha||10||+10 Visa Player, +8 Switching player||28|
|K. Barbarouses||10||+10 Visa Player||20|
|A. Thompson||10||-8 9 Years||2|
|C. Pain||10||-1 1 Years junior, -3 Senior debut||6|
|A. Nabbout||10||-1 2 Years, -3 Senior debut||6|
|F. Khalfallah||10||+10 Visa player, +8 Switching player||28|
|M. Delpierre||10||+10 Visa player, +8 Switching player||28|
|D. Murnane||10||-1 1 Year junior, -3 Senior debut||6|
|L. Thomas||10||-2 3 years||8|
|J. Brown||10||-2 2 Years junior, -3 senior debut||5|
|C. Cristaldo||10||-3 3 Years junior, -3 senior debut||4|
|M. Ridesic||10||-1 1 Year junior, -3 Senior debut||6|
|Player Name||Base||Points +/-||Adjust|
|D. Vukovic||10||-2 3 Years||8|
|R. Griffiths||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|N. Đjulbić||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|Y. Hersi||10||+10 Visa player, +8 Switching Player||28|
|R. Zadkovich||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|A. Keogh||10||+10 Visa Player, +8 Switching player||28|
|N. Marinković||10||+10 Visa Player, +8 Switching player||28|
|R. García||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|D. Ferreira||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|C. Harold||10||-1 2 Years||9|
|Sidnei||10||+10 Visa player||20|
|J. Risdon||10||-3 Senior debut, -5 6 Years||2|
|D. De Silva||10||-3 Senior debut||7|
|S. Jamieson||10||-1 2 Years||9|
|M. Thwaite||10||-1 2 Years||9|
|R. Woodcock||10||-3 Senior debut||7|
|D. Paljić||10||+10 Visa player, +8 Switching player||28|
|D. Kramar||10||+10 Visa player, +8 Switching player||28|
|J. Thurtell||10||+8 Switching player||18|
|M. Nichols||10||+8 Switching player||18|
So regardless the amount of money paid to the players, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory comply with the PPS and would keep their current squad leading into next season, while Perth Glory would still have issues. Where this system would save face for all is the simplicity in its application and understanding. As Perth sign players the FFA can easily see that they are moving quickly towards the PPS maximum and therefore integrity of the competition is preserved.
At the end of this season Archie Thompson will have played 10 seasons with Melbourne Victory and his points allocation to Victory’s squad will be 1. The club can reward him for his service with another season and know that they can use him when needed and not force him to play more than he needs to. At the same time they can keep upcoming talent and invest more time in their development.
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Next season Brisbane Roar’s Luke Brattan will be 26 years of age. Having spent 2 years in Brisbane’s youth side then making his senior debut five years ago he will only count for one player point to their squad. A local lad and an integral part of their squad, his service can be rewarded and secured. His contract can be significant and can be supplemented by a major local sponsor. If an overseas club comes knocking and looking to sign him, Brisbane would have a significant case for a respectable transfer fee. This again increases the money injected into the league and that financial impetus can have a knock on effect.
Using a point system over a salary cap is the best way to achieve greater transparency, creating focus on development and eliminates the administration costs incurred when monitoring the current system.