Turning slogans into reality

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“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past” – George Orwell. History is written by the victor. A suitable adage for Australian football’s current state. Let’s start with the current narrative. January 1st, 2005, The Saviour – in this case played by Frank Lowy – parts the Red Sea, ‘old soccer’ will never again plague the promised land of milk and honey – ‘New Football’ is born.

There’s no time for facts or truth, propaganda is simple, repeat a lie enough and it becomes fact, truth, accepted and undisputed. This tale is no different. The ground work was set with the ‘Old Soccer, New Football’ campaign, the goal was simple – separate Football Federation Australia (FFA) from the Australian Soccer Association (ASA), National Soccer League (NSL) and everything else ‘Old Soccer’, including the clubs and lifelong members.

This wasn’t the first time Lowy had tried to stir things up. In 1987, so dismayed with how things were being run by the ASA, Lowy even attempted a coup to change the way the federation was run. Having failed, he as President and with the support of the Hakoah Social Club, folded NSL side Sydney City Slickers. After a failed campaign in 1988 to displace Sir Arthur George at the top of the ASA, Lowy withdrew completely from football and and ended his official involvement with Hakoah. The reason for his withdrawal is stated in his biography – the heads of the NSL and ASA did not share his vision of the game.

Vision is an important thing and the narrative continues today. The vision of modern football is one of inclusion, but only on ‘our’ terms. Policies like the National Club Identity Policy (NCIP) and the systematic disenfranchising of ‘old soccer’ has led to a schism. The division between the lifeblood of Australian football, the development clubs and the commercialised ’new football’ runs deep, but I see a positive future. It may be wishful thinking but this is what Lowy or his successor must do to unify the often used and arguably misunderstood phrase “football family”:

1. Fairer remuneration for players moving from State Leagues to A-League teams.

At this point in time the compensation for players moving from State League teams to A-League clubs is capped at $10,000, ($5000 pro-rated and $5000 to current registered club). UEFA has a much fairer compensation system where a fee is either agreed between clubs or set by a tribunal – even for non-professional youth players. Now I’m realistic and don’t expect stupid figures to be spent, but a far more equitable system must exist. If the rules allowed for say $30,000 per player with the same formula as is currently set in place, the incentive for further development of players would be enhanced. As the vast majority of A-League clubs do not have their own youth facilities this would be of benefit for both national teams of all ages and themselves.

2. Get cracking on a second division, and ultimately promotion/relegation.

Setting up a Second Division would allow for further opportunities for young players to gain contracts as quite simply there would be more teams. There have been some great theoretical systems proposed for promotion/relegation to be feasible in Australia. Along with improved quality of player development, it would finally allow for a clear development path for youth players within the traditional development clubs, where the majority of current A-League players begin their careers.

3. Scrap the NCIP.

Not much needs to be said here. The NCIP is a backwards policy, which does nothing but create further barriers to entry. It does nothing for unifying already fractured relations between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ of our game, and one could argue its intention is to cause greater consternation.

Apologise for such a misguided (and somewhat illegal) policy. Sometimes we need to admit our faults, and the NCIP is such a case. For a unified front to occur an apology needs to be issued. After which, it’s time to move on unified and finally make that “We Are Football” campaign slogan a reality.

4. Appoint a Managing Director for football to oversee FFA and the A-League.

It’s clear Gallop and De Bohun are not capable in this respect – football is a rare beast, non-football people don’t appreciate it’s complexities and nuances. They may both be excellent sporting administrators when it comes to the commercial side of sport but this is something different and evidence shows they don’t fully grasp the footballing side of things.

5. Include State League sides in division two, especially ones with facilities, assets and fan bases.

If a third professional Melbourne team is the focus would South or Knights not be logical choice? Each offer something different, but surely it’s a lot more than any start up can offer? Allowing traditional clubs a chance at the adult’s table based on sporting meritocracy, would finally allow kids within their youth systems to once more dream and potentially take the steps of Mori, Viduka, Emerton and countless others. Of course there are many non-sporting matters that must also be adhered to but that is for someone much smarter than me to discuss, who ideally would be appointed in line with suggestion number four.

6.  Scrap the ‘National Curriculum’.

This is a very contentious idea I know, but let’s look at the facts. This could well be an article in itself, but I’ll condense it down into one really long point. Football is cyclical in all aspects, and player development especially so because with each cycle a new method is championed. The Dutch, The French, La Masia (Barcelona), The Spanish, The German and now The Belgian wave have all gathered cult followings over time only to be abandoned for the next fad.

It’s time we stop following fads for the simple reason that by the time a youth player finishes his or her football education a new approach is favoured. Does this mean we stop development all together? Of course not, but let’s be smart about it. One thing this current German crop is showing is that they’re tactically fluid. Most play in a variety of positions and are also comfortable in a wide array of systems. This is what we should be focusing on – developing talented, intelligent players, who are adept at multiple systems and positions – most quality players can play wherever you tell them to, they adapt and grow.

What’s to happen in the future? I cannot say. What is certain is the vision going forward must marry the past with the present, work with all our resources to create the happy football family which this narrative aspires to – and quite frankly those that have dedicated their lives to the game such as Johnny Warren deserve this. Let’s do the man proud with a unified effort and give even more creedance to the words; “I told you so”.

Mirko Mandic

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