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This time last year I looked ahead with anticipation and hope for Australian football in 2017. Disappointingly, by year’s end most of these aspirations have been left floundering with opportunities not taken and seemingly little progress on some big unresolved issues in Australia and internationally.

In revisiting those big six issues, what has happened?

This year’s FFA Cup title was taken put by Sydney FC with an extra time 2-1 victory over Adelaide United in front of a disappointing crowd of only 13,452. Longer term arrangements for determining home advantage for the final remained unresolved, by the fourth season of the tournament.

Grassroots football development still lacks adequate resources and a strategic approach to roll out and support for implementation of the National Curriculum. The closure of the national Centre of Excellence in Canberra without replacing it with a new program demonstrates the inadequacies of leadership for producing elite talent into the longer term based around technical competencies for young players.

The leadership of FIFA appears to be buying time for the necessary deep governance reforms by applying patronage to maintain its support from confederations and federations. Expansion of the world cup finals to 48 teams (most likely from the 2026 edition) is a great way to keep its major constituents onside, particularly in Asia, Africa and Central-North America which stand to benefit the most with many extra spots. 

FFA has stalled on governance reform at home focussed around the composition of stakeholder’s representation on the annual voting congress. A protracted stand-off dragged on for many months even under the threat of intervention by FIFA. The national body was eventually able to win a reprieve to allow yet more time to negotiate a new arrangement satisfactory for at least 75 per cent of existing congress members and agreement by FIFA.

The biggest stakeholder group yet to secure a seat at the table now has the opportunity for a national advocacy voice through formation of Football Supporters Australia, of which I am the Interim Chairman. This not-for-profit incorporated association has an interim board ahead of its first AGM and election of officer bearers in the early part of 2018.

A-League expansion continues to be put on hold with no clear plan for additional teams. The creation of a second-tier league is winning popular support, although I believe the first steps should be to increase the current league to 12 and then 14 teams. Let us hope that, as part of the latter, our nation’s capital Canberra wins the right for a home club participating in a national competition.

This season, the policing of football policy change seems to have lost momentum, which may partly reflect the issue of flares not attracting much negative publicity from the mainstream media. For the longer term, a national strategy which wins agreement in principle from all stakeholders (fans groups, clubs, FFA, stadium management and police) must be put in place. This needs to draw from the best evidence based policy such as ENABLE in Europe and other proven approaches in the UK and elsewhere.

The 2017 U20 World Cup finals tourment was held in Korea; Australia failed to qualify. Meanwhile another Asian team in Vietnam qualified for the finals, reflecting how well its youth development is progressing compared with our own. One of the main keys to this early success for Vietnam is their national teams come together a lot more often to play regularly. 

Highlights

Apart from reflections on the above, the main highlights included the rise and rise of the Matildas with a succession of impressive victories over the USA, Japan and Brasil three times. They have now reached number four in the FIFA world rankings, their highest ever.

Australia’s superstar footballer was without doubt Samantha Kerr as she capped a remarkable year of achievements by securing the coveted AFC Player of the Year award for 2017. It was a privilege being in Bangkok to report on the event for Football Today. 

Australia qualified for its fourth consecutive World Cup finals appearance, having taken the longest ever qualification pathway of any national team to achieve the feat. An arduous campaign of 22 games over the period from June 2015 to November 2017, culminated in success in Sydney in front of over 77,000 fans. 

Ange Postecoglou

The elation was later soured somewhat with the announcement that Ange Postecoglou was resigning from the position of head coach. Pressures on Postecoglou personally and the effects on his family were cited as major reasons.

Our media has every right and indeed needs to scrutinise the performance of a national team coach and the associated results. I too had major doubts which were expressed in the previous eight months about some team selections and an insistence of shifting to a back three defensive formation.

Sadly, the behaviour over the past year or so of a few personalities with questionable agendas and analytical skills in football must have weighed heavily on Postecoglou as an additional contributing factor.

It is valid emotion for many true believers in football to feel let down by the decision of Ange. It is far healthier to focus on his achievements. Thank you to the best ever home-grown coach in guiding us to an Asian Cup title, qualification for the World Cup finals and daring to evolve the football philosophy and thinking of this country.

With the appointment of a replacement coach unlikely until February, it appears that momentum may be lost. Let us hope that FFA get things back on track with the right appointment which will achieve results alongside ensuring longer term development of the national squad.

Domestic competition

For the 2016-2017 season, Sydney FC won an unprecedented double of A-League champions and FFA Cup final winners.

The W-League title went to Melbourne City, who showed their resilience and poise to come from fourth on the finishing ladder then win both their semi-final and final (2-0 in Perth) away from home.

Underwhelming performances in the 2017 Asian Champions League saw all three Aussie teams never get close to top two spots for progression to the knock out stages. Between them they conceded 51 goals over 18 matches, while scoring only 24.

One of most hotly debated new initiatives was trialling of the video assistant referee (VAR) in this current season’s A-League. What a debacle it has become.

Along with many others, about a year ago I warned against its introduction. Football needs to flow and even with controversies about refereeing decisions in their more traditional form, we do not need to follow other sports like rugby and cricket to apply technology which is flawed with its human interpretations.

Bottom line is that VAR needs to scrapped and banished beyond the sidelines to a “galaxy far, far away”! Instead, roll out is needed for implementation of goal-line technology, which are clear cut and quick to determine.

Farewell

We also experienced the passing of Mike Cockerill and Les Murray within a month or each other. Both were true believers with unique individual styles as major contributors to football’s development in Australia.

I was fortunate to spend some quality time in one-on-one conversations with them at different times over the previous year or so. Les was so open as we shared football philosophy, ideas for fresh possibilities and much more. Vale to two giants of our game and thank you for daring to dream big and push back the boundaries for the greater good.

2018

My greatest hope for 2018 is that the Socceroos will progress to the knock out stage of the finals in Russia. We have drawn a somewhat favourable group, with only France looking as a somewhat daunting prospect to contain.

The Matildas are set to try and regain their Asian Cup title, with the 2018 edition being held in Jordan in April. There is confidence this objective can be achieved as they set a path to eventually becoming our first World Cup champions.

For the ACL, if coach Graham Arnold can balance domestic league priorities, then we could see Sydney FC as a serious title contender for the competition.

I wish all readers and my colleagues and associates in football a peaceful, safe and relaxing festive season and happiness in the new year ahead.


Categories: Opinion | Football Life

a-league, matildas, w-league, ange postecoglou, ffa cup, football governance, ffa congress

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