Former Socceroo Abbas Saad insists the A-League has become too monotonous and robotic, with change needed to revitalise the competition.
Saad, a star in the National Soccer League in the 1980s and 1990s, played four times for Australia.
The 52-year-old, most recently coach of Sydney Olympic in the NPL NSW, believes the quality of the A-League has been on the wane for some time, with the entertainment factor sorely lacking and little blooding of young players.
“We’re not making good players anymore, we’re not doing that and maybe our league is not strong enough,” Saad told The World Game.
“You look at the foreigners that come in here, they’re coming here on holidays. They’re not good enough to improve our league, not all of them.
“There’s been a few, maybe in each team - there’s one or two good [foreign] players and the rest are just f***ing passengers. They’re not even making the first XI, they’re coming off the bench.
“I mean my god. When I played overseas, if I wasn’t as twice as good as the local player then what’s the use of me being there? What’s the use of giving me all that money if I’m not going to improve the league and the players?
“That’s how it is, that’s how it is in the Premier League. You don’t bring a foreign player into the Premier League unless he’s better than an English player - he has to be very, very good. So that’s what we need.
“We have to go back to that. We have to do better. If he’s not better then why should he take the spot of an Australian player, who can go on and improve and be better.”
Saad debuted in the NSL with Sydney City at the age of 17 and won the Joe Marston Medal in 1990.
He has implored A-League clubs to give more young players a chance and give them the freedom to express themselves on the pitch.
“We’re not getting 17 and 18 year-olds coming in and playing consistently towards a good career,” Saad said.
“Age is just a number. If you’re good enough, you play and we’re not doing that.
"It’s taking too long to blood some of these young players because of the pressure, maybe because of the pressure on the coaches or whatever, but it shouldn’t be like that.
“You look at the game, it’s just too f***ing robotic. Where’s the individual flair? There’s no flair, they’re too predictable. We go sideways and backwards more than anything else.
“We have to get back to what we’re good as Australians – we’re physically good, we’re fit. Yes technically, we have to hone our technique, and that’s what we have to work on.
“Let us run and let us be strong in in that sense – because that’s what we are, that’s what we’re good at – but you can’t take that away from us.
"That’s what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to change us overnight into something we’re not. Unfortunately that’s what’s happening.
“We’re not South Americans, we’re not Brazilians or Argentinians, we’re not born like that. But trust me, some of these young kids are not bad technically, but they’re not allowed to play their game.
“They’re not allowed to use their flair and that’s where we’re getting caught up.
"The A-League is so boring sometimes when watching it, because they just play to a structure. I think they’re over-coached at times.
“At the end of the day, people pay money to watch an entertaining game. I fear for the game, I’ve feared for it for the last couple of years.”
Attendances in the A-League have been in decline since the 2013-14 season, when the average crowd was 13,041.
Last season, the average attendance was 10,411 per game.
Television ratings have also taken a hit with speculation over the future of Fox Sports’ relationship with the competition.
Saad believes the COVID-19-created impasse could be the right time to restructure the A-League, with a second division and promotion and relegation needed.
“The A-League was in a bit of dire straits before this virus came along,” the former Sydney Olympic favouriite admitted said.
“I think it has been for the past couple of years to be honest, it’s just gone downhill. Crowds and now the sponsorship debate, the TV rights debate. It’s been quite unnerving.
“I don’t know if this virus is going to be a good thing now if they need to restructure and go back to basics, and hopefully for the better. If Fox pulls out, god almighty, where’s that going to leave the league?
“That’s the major income for everybody, for the clubs and the players. If that happens, we’ll have to go back to the old National Soccer League when I played, and we were part-timers then. I don’t know, one way or another they need to restructure it.
“They need promotion and relegation, they need a second division. There’s got to be more interest. Without relegation it’s just monotonous, it’s just not great.
“But of course, financially are the clubs good enough to survive with $5 million a season as a start? I don’t know. Is there enough money? I don’t know in the current environment.
“It is a difficult position at the moment and I honestly fear for the game, but I just hope the game is restructured now better than it was in the last couple of years, and maybe some good might come out of this virus.”