Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Plundering the Great Southern Land

Here' s a rather interesting story from from United Arab Emirates paper 'The National', that I uncovered through my usual techniques of in-depth and thorough research (i.e. I clicked the Google news bar at the top of this page):
3+1 adding up to be a big winner

The article discusses the AFC's new '3+1' rule, wherein teams competing in the Champions League from this year onwards will be allowed to field three non-Asian foreigners plus one player from an AFC member nation. This has big implications for Australia:
It is Australia ... where the biggest bargains can be found. The A-League is still in its infancy and with a salary cap that is just under $2million for an entire squad, it is not surprising that some of the biggest stars down under are being tempted by relative riches abroad. Concerns are growing that the increasing exodus could do serious damage to the fledgling league.

The article goes on to cite the examples of Sasa Ognenovski and Jade North, who have both accepted lucrative deals in Korea. The situation is a bit of a headache for the FFA - it's unfortunate that our league will lose the talents of some of its best players, but these players are of course entitled to go elsewhere to sell their services for full market value. The money coming in from such transfers is important, as well, for clubs' finances.

So, where to now? I think it's a bit of a balancing act: with more money flowing into the league through such transfers it will become more viable for the FFA to increase clubs' salary caps. In turn, this will give A-League clubs more purchasing power and should, theoretically, increase the ability for clubs to retain their best Australian players in future.

The A-League will always lose its brightest stars to richer and more prestigious overseas leagues. But that's not necessarily a problem, as long as there is a production line churning out high quality young players to fill their place. Plenty of foreign leagues operate like this - the best Brazilian, Dutch, Argentine and Portuguese players (for example) end up in the 'Big 4' European leagues, but the high quality of the young local players in these countries ensures that the standard of play remains at a very high level.

We're already seeing young players from the National Youth League and the state leagues successfully step up into the A-League. The potential is there to ensure that every Djite, Jedinak or Ognenovski that heads overseas is replaced by a youngster of equal quality. As junior coaching and talent identification gets better, this will become less of an issue. The final piece of the puzzle will be ongoing increases in the salary cap, allowing the A-League clubs to retain their stars for longer and lure better foreigners and returning Australian players.

1 comment:

john said...

Good post Bill.

The A-League cannot afford not to have the cap. It is what keeps the games, and competition, interesting.

We just don't have the tribalism attached to other sports here and football elsewhere to keep it meaningful for fans otherwise.

Some have suggested more youth development. But the key to this is the athletic potential that goes into AFL each year. Australia punches beyond its wait, but not that far. Some of the fittest and best limit their income options in Australia's unique sport (with no international tranfers). ARU and NRL restrict players from playing for their country if they play overseas - cricket has variant of this - but growing $ overseas are breaking down this structure.

Another scenario is the financial crisis lowering the value of players. But we are some way from that.