What independence really means for the A-League

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The long-awaited agreement that unbundled the A-League from Football Australia and which should usher in a new era of prosperity for the game in this country has been 'sealed, signed and delivered'.

The newly formed Australian Professional Leagues, representing the 12 A-League clubs, have won their hard-fought independence which, for all intents and purposes, comes into effect immediately.

The clubs are now on their own and how they go about their business will determine if they swim or sink.

Whether by accident or intent, the deal was announced on the last day of a tumultuous year in which our game was rocked from pillar to post by the coronavirus pandemic.

It is as if Australian football chose New Year's Eve 2020 to thumb its nose at the deadly virus and look to 2021 with renewed vigour, hope and expectation.

So what exactly does this deal mean for Australian football?

The main points of the agreement deal with the league's commercial, operational, visa and access aspects.

Football Australia have agreed to split out the commercial and operational elements of the competition and be a mere 'regulator'... but head office will retain a degree of power.

This is important because sometimes from a governing body's perspective if a regulator owns the commercial assets of a league it might not always make decisions that are in the best interests of the game at large.

What the deal effectively means is that Australia now has a fixed body that can establish a professional competition under Football Australia's umbrella. The APL wil be a subordinate to Football Australia which in turn will recognise the APL as the top tier of domestic club football.

When it comes to competition formats, fixtures and foreign players, this would be for the league to decide but Football Australia will have thd power of veto.

The competition's season will have to fit into the year's match calendar, for example, whether or not the finals are retained or not.

Also, the clubs will not be in a position to determine the number of visa spots or young players in their squads. This will be Football Australia's responsibility and the governing body will have the final say if consultation with the APL is fruitless.

Access to the league will follow a different path from now on. In previous years, any clubs that wished to join the A-League or W-League could only do so if the competition expanded.

Access now could be gained via a process of somewhere between a second division along with promotion and relegation.

Again, Football Australia will set the rules after consultation with the league.

If, for example, Football Australia feel that a second division (with promotion and relegation) would benefit the game nationally, they would have every right to tell the league, 'look, we'd like to have another division with one team going up and one going down. Let's talk about it and try to find an agreement'.

Most importantly, if agreement is not reached, Football Australia would have the legal authority to decide whether to do it or not do it.

So, after years of acrimonious fighting that may have contributed to a general decline in the competition's following, we now have a situation where the clubs can look after their own affairs and the governing body, with the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup not that far away, can concentrate on the national teams and the game in general.

This is a seminal moment in the A-League's development.

Just about the most important football story of the year.