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What's wrong with the A-League?

23 Dec 2013 | 07:22-Philip Micallef

David Gallop likes to tell us that football in Australia is on its way to becoming the top sport in the country.

The Football Federation Australia chief executive first came up with the slogan at the launch of the A-League in October.

He repeated his clarion call at the Hall of Fame function and the A-League summer of football launch last week when he declared, with not a hint of tongue in cheek, the game was unstoppable on the Australian sporting landscape.

His warning to cricket was 'watch out, we're coming to get you'.

Gallop's stance may be a result of his fierce determination to make football a respected, big player in Australian sport.

He may believe that the time is right for the round-ball game to take advantage of its main rivals' various problems.

He may feel he has a role to play in making football people feel good about their game and not be intimidated by other bigger sports.

Or else he simply may be indulging in a bit of old-fashioned stirring in a bid to draw attention to the game.

Whatever reasons Gallop may have for talking up the game in a way that has raised several eyebrows, there are two issues he needs to consider.

Firstly, there is little point placing unrealistic expectations on the game because football cannot and will never overtake rugby league, Australian football and cricket in the nation's popularity stakes.

The three games are ingrained in Australia's culture and will take something very special to displace them from their exalted position.

Football does not have the support of the masses and a corporate backing nearly as strong as its rivals enjoy and has as much chance of putting the AFL, NRL and cricket in the shade as horse racing has of overtaking football as the top sport in Brazil.

Australian football should continue strengthening its foundations to safeguard its long-term future before trying to conquer any insurmountable peaks.

Which brings us to the second point.

FFA would be much better off looking into the poor quality of football being served up in the A-League this season than encouraging any delusions of grandeur.

Too many matches this season have bordered on the unwatchable and the unbearable.

The standard of the Round 10 clash between Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart was so dire and downright amateurish that it looked like a park football game.

Last week's deferred game between Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix was not much better either, although a sub-standard pitch at North Sydney Oval may have contributed to a general lack of ball control and even basic passing.

And the weekend draw between Perth Glory and Adelaide United was so dull and unappealing that both teams did not deserve the point they got after bringing the game into such disrepute, so to speak.

FFA should also find a solution to the problem of poor refereeing standards that is affecting the outcome of matches on a weekly basis.

Assistant referees regularly get offside calls wrong and referees themselves are often accused of wrong decisions and of inconsistency, which is what frustrates players more than anything else.

No wonder fewer people are watching the games live or on television than at the start of the season.

Victory, the league's biggest club, is also sitting on a home crowd average of just above 20,000. At the peak of its popularity in 2006-2007 its average was 25,000.

This of course automatically raises issues about the clubs' economic situation and their short-term and long-term future.

Some clubs are struggling to make ends meet and privately might not be too impressed by Gallop's ambitious declarations, which they probably would see as empty and misleading if not downright damaging.

An average story will always be an average story no matter how much you dress it up and make it look good.

These are the issues FFA should face and resolve.

There is no point for football to beat its chest, roll the drums and declare war on the world when its own house needs a fair bit of maintenance.

The game has made tremendous technical and organisational advances in the past decade and, let there be no misunderstanding, it is not remotely in a situation of doom and gloom.

Yet there is no question that the overall standard of play has stagnated if not gone backwards this season.

The good games are getting fewer and we are having more dud matches.

Crowd-pullers Alessandro Del Piero, Shinji Ono, Emile Heskey and Harry Kewell have delivered very little so far and nearly all the teams are struggling to play to their potential or rather their perceived potential.

Fans who part with their hard-earned every other week have every reason to want to know why the game is not upwardly mobile this season after such a resounding success last term.

About this blog


Philip Micallef

Philip Micallef is a football writer with almost 40 years of experience. He has worked for News Limited and now SBS. He is a long-time follower of AC Milan.
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