Monday, September 20, 2010


Sharing the Blame

The hand-wringing over the state of the A-League has reached the stage of repetitive strain injury over the last week, and it is sure to continue. The Newcastle Jets have secured a stay of execution, but no-one seems to know for how long. Another pathetic crowd turned out on the Gold Coast, where the FFA has yet to effectively counter Clive Palmer's turnstile lunacy. There is very little in the way of good news.

Mike Cockerill has been particularly prominent in the opinion-making over the last few weeks, and in his latest column he revisits the thorny issue of Pim Verbeek's relationship with the national competition.

There is no doubt that Verbeek's snooty derision did the A-League some damage, but Cockerill implicitly overstates the case in saying that the impact of Verbeek's criticism was "hard to measure". He does, however, have a point when he says:

Where was the FFA when they needed protection from Verbeek's damaging crusade?

See here, where I suggested much the same thing. One of the most infuriating of the FFA's current habits is their complete inability to critically examine anything that comes out of the mouths of their Dutch recruits, either in terms of motives or just plain veracity. No-one seemed to wake up to the simple fact that most of Verbeek's A-League trash talk was self-serving in the extreme.

What was more disappointing still was that certain pundits, for axe-to-grind reasons of their own, backed up Verbeek's self-exculpation. All of which makes Craig Foster's recent criticisms of the FFA in his Sun-Herald column seem belated and even a tad hypocritical, however valid.

Holger Osieck has so far made little more than motherhood statements in relation to the A-League, but he strikes most as being cut from a more polite cloth than Verbeek. Nevertheless, were he to offer any convenient criticism of the competition following an Asian tie in which he is forced to field mainly local troops, it is hard to see the FFA offering anything other than stony silence.

There are many contributing factors behind the A-League's woes, and Cockerill has managed to mention more or less all of them (save Frank Lowy) over the last few weeks. But I would like to think that Australian football fans are not fools; they know that the vast majority of the blame lies at the feet of the increasingly misguided FFA...and the man who still calls all the shots on College Street.

The A-League was an out come of the lead up and performance by the socceroos at the 2006 world cup. Crowds did growth for 3 seasons, then the rubber band started to snap back. Like the EPL, few clubs have even broke even including all revenues. Until stadiums stop being the major expense and until clubs break even, the contraction will continue. Unless, there is either cost reform - ie play somewhere cheaper or pay less for players, or there is another major event to catch the public's attention for 3 years - winning the world cup bid (Dec 2).
Another interesting development is the hammering Fox commentators have been giving the A-League. The FFA responded quickly to that via a Ben Buckley appearance.
Am I wrong in thinking that Verbeek only ever made one negative comment on the A-league, and that that comment haunted his reign? To say that he was on a 'damaging crusade' is thus a bit harsh?
one comment, spoken many times (by Pim as the reason he was not picking A-League players and his advice that they go to Europe before the world cup) and broadcast (gleefully) many times by an NRL/AFL journalists (eg as represented on ABC Offsiders)
It wasn't so much the "training in Germany" comment, which he was unwise enough to constantly repeat rather than allow to die the death, it was the fact that he would always, either implicitly or explicitly, blame the A-League if one of his locally-based sides had a crap result in Asia, such as the loss to Kuwait or the draw with Indonesia.

And when someone asked him what improvements could be made in the A-League, he replied "Do you have an hour?". That was on the record FFS.

I don't think there's much doubt that the guy was an arrogant shit. But I don't think the damage he did the league was quite as substantial as Cockerill et al. seem to think. The FFA can take the chief credit for that.
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