Opinion

A-League clubs are struggling to cope with 'independence'

A-League boss Greg O'Rourke and FFA CEO James Johnson address the media Source: AAP

The nasty and damaging war between the A-League and Professional Footballers Australia over player payments has brought home many fans' fears that club independence might not be the bright idea it was cracked up to be.

The million-dollar question now is not necessarily if or when Football Federation Australia will intervene to solve the impasse but if the game is better off going back to square one and letting head office run the show at all levels.

COVID-19 has changed everything in Australia and football has not been immune to the vicious virus.

So it might just be opportune to ask if we as a football family have been automatically immersed in an 'all bets are off' scenario, whether we are prepared to accept it or not.

As negotiations between the professional clubs and the players' union continue to have serious repercussions on football's image and wellbeing, it is becoming obvious that the clubs - particularly their owners - are more interested in the bottom line than in what's good for the game in general.

The rift between the clubs and the union went to another level of ugliness when some A-League organisations reportedly offered their players a take-it-or-leave-it 50 per cent cut to their wages.

This draconian measure - which the clubs will say was forced upon them by current circumstances, never mind years of mismanagement by some - came after most of the players bore the brunt of the detrimental effects of the pandemic on Australian sport.

Other clubs, however, are understood to be happy to settle for a 20 per cent cut but it is doubtful if the union will accept this as most of its members suffered considerable wage cuts to enable the competition to finish and receive its final instalment for the season from broadcaster Fox Sports.

I hope I am not being naive here in expecting professional clubs to not look after their interests. They are a business, after all.

But it is the intransigent manner with which they are dealing with a sensitive situation that could shape the game's future that has riled many people.

Ironically, the frustrated clubs wanted independence because of the perceived authoritarian approach by the previous FFA that deprived them of a capacity to shape their own affairs.

And now they are acting with pretty much the same 'my way or the highway' mentality when dealing with their own players.

Independence is not official yet and it is doubtful if FFA, despite chief executive James Johnson's expertise, would be able to run the league as they please if some owners that are described by insiders as 'destroying the game' are still involved.

Yet in a delicious piece of irony, on the same day the belligerent clubs made their intentions known the FFA and PFA agreed on a long-term collective bargaining agreement surrounding the national teams.

In the pre-COVID days when everything was pointing to an A-League breakaway from the clutches of the FFA, I was enthusiastic about the prospect of the clubs running their own league and the governing body concentrating on the national teams.

Yet in September 2018 I asked if the A-League clubs could be trusted to run their show and again warned in March 2019 that independence alone would not cure the A-League's ills if the owners put their own interests above those of the game in general.

I was criticised for my views but recent events would suggest that those fears were anything but unfounded.

What was that about 'careful what you wish for'?