A-League players are on a collision course with club bosses amid fears they face drastic pay cuts in a new era of austerity.
Some of the competition’s highest earners are already on just 17 per cent of their agreed terms, plus JobKeeper, until the end of August. Most are down at least 50 per cent.
Those tied to ongoing deals were expecting to revert to their original agreements next season.
However, club sources have confirmed that with the salary cap set to be slashed to as little as $1.6 million - and the Fox Sports TV deal already shaved from $57 million to around $30 million - player wages are in the firing line.
The 80-plus players coming off contract at the end of next month will also be affected, with new offers likely to come off a far lower base than previously.
With the battle lines drawn, Professional Footballers Australia insist players have already made “numerous sacrifices” to help the competition resume amid the continuing COVID-19 upheaval, and there is little appetite for further concessions.
New co-chief executive Beau Busch is facing a baptism of fire with the issue about to erupt.
“To date, nothing has been tabled with us about a reduction in players’ salaries,” Busch told The World Game.
“As has always been the case attracting and retaining talent is crucial to our professional leagues and will be critical to our collective efforts to rebuild the sport.
“Attempts to seek further reductions from players will undermine the capacity of the A-League to be effectively rebuilt.
“The players have always been a responsible partner in the game and respect the significant financial contribution that have been made by the owners since the A-League's inception.
“The separation of the professional leagues from FFA means the owners now have the control they have fought for and the responsibility to ensure our domestic competitions not only survive, but thrive.”
Busch believes players have already bent over backwards to accommodate the FFA and the clubs.
“The sacrifices made by players to allow for the A-League to resume and be preserved have been immense and unprecedented globally,” he declared.
“They have demonstrated incredible leadership in unprecedented circumstances to preserve the game during the biggest crisis in the sport’s modern history.
“Players across the league have been stood down without pay, gone through multiple rounds of quarantine and shouldered the burden of the game's financial situation.”
Discussions over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement have been ongoing since January against an evolving landscape of coronavirus interruptions and diminished income to clubs from Fox Sports - who will depart the A-League at the conclusion of next season.
“The existing CBA expires at the end of August and I’m sure there is a commitment to reach an agreement that addresses the many challenges the game was facing before COVID-19 and allows it to be effectively rebuilt,” added Busch.
“We’ve had consistent labour market volatility in Australia which has reduced the ability of clubs to build value in their playing rosters.
“Each season we start the competition with more than half our players coming off-contract.
“That’s certainly negatively affected A-League clubs’ ability to attract transfer fees when (overseas) clubs have become interested.
“Critically, we need to look at how we rebuild the sport across a number of areas.”
The impact of COVID-19 has further restricted players, with moves offshore hampered by onerous travel and visa restrictions, particularly into the Asian markets.
“It’s a challenging marketplace globally with uncertainty around leagues, not to mention the challenges of simply leaving the country,” added Busch.
“Prior to COVID-19 the A-League and W-League were at a critical juncture; the impact of the pandemic has only enhanced the need to reboot the professional game.
“If we are to effectively reconstruct our sport, ambition and belief will be critical.
“The players have repeatedly shown, in the face of exceptional challenges, an abundance of both."