'Starting XI' looks good on paper but long season ahead


Mark Viduka pulled no punches in a recent interview questioning Australian football's leadership but, as it turns out, he wasn't alone.

"You have people running football in Australia that don't have a clue about football," Viduka told ESPN.

"They don't want to get older players involved, who actually have that experience, who have been in those situations in front of 100,000 people.

"When the sh*t hits the fan, what are they going to do?"

Then Danny Tiatto waded in.

“No, there is no chance of that (the FFA contacting me),” Tiatto told Optus Sport.

“Not that I need someone to come and pat me on the back and pump me up. But there has been no contact from anyone.

“Like Mark (Viduka) said, and Craig (Moore), and all of us ex-players, it is not about getting recognition as such but it is about trying to get the right people back involved in the game at the top level.”

It is a common refrain in Australia and it seems like the complaints have not fallen on deaf ears as on Monday, the FFA announced the formation of the 'Starting XI', a new think tank that includes Viduka, Josip Skoko, Clare Polkinghorne, Ron Smith, Mark Bosnich, Paul Okon, Frank Farina, Heather Garriock, Vicki Linton, Joey Peters, and Connie Selby.

There’s lots of experience there.

"The Starting XI will provide a great platform for eleven of our best football brains to share their insights and ideas with FFA on key matters from grassroots to international football, national teams, player pathways, and the overall well-being of the game,” FFA CEO James Johnson said.

“Having people of the calibre of the Starting XI directly communicating with FFA on a regular basis will be invaluable for the organisation and help to achieve a shared vision for the game.”

Some of the criticisms directed towards the FFA at not involving ex-players at the - as Tiatto puts it - "top level", seemed a little unfair.

While all players should have insights and experiences formed during their career, it does not mean there should be an automatic place in the running of the game, no matter how good they were. 

Being a player on its own is not enough.

Craig Foster would not make a great FFA CEO just because he used to play. That helps but much more important is that he has a vision of what he wants football to be in Australia and a clear idea of how to get there. 

I remember meeting Lee Young-pyo in Seoul in 2011. The South Korean international played at three FIFA World Cups, played for PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund.

His final move was to Vancouver Whitecaps. He wanted to learn about the game and felt that immersing himself in North American sport would help with sports marketing, administration and give an insight into a completely different market.

It was a study trip with football on the side. He was already planning to get involved in helping Korean football - after an amazing and varied career on the pitch, he was studying the sport off it. 

These are the kind of former players - those that want to learn, get involved and make a difference - that have much to offer and should be involved.

The new think tank, then, is an interesting start.

It, hopefully, gives former players a chance to play a positive role in the development of Australian football.

It should be useful to both parties. The FFA can tap into experience, insights and ideas to grow the game.

There may be some of the 'Starting XI' that show a real aptitude for this, as well as a desire to do more and, presumably, they can be given greater roles and more of a say. 

For the ex-players, it is a chance to dip a toe in the water, to see if they want to get more involved and whether there is a possibility for them to make a difference. Some may see it is not for them, others may love it. 

Of course, much depends on how it operates.

How much influence will it have? Will the FFA listen and implement? Will the ex-players become frustrated at how slowly things move in football administration?

And gathering ideas is the easy part, execution is another thing entirely.

These are questions that will be answered over time but it is going to be a slow process.

The 'Starting XI' looks good on paper but there is a long season ahead.