Three Hopes and one Fear for Australian Soccer in 2019


Hope one: A Competitive Race for the Premier’s Plate

The last two seasons have seen Sydney win the regular 33 fixture season by a country mile. 14 points was the gap last year and before that the margin was even wider at 17 points.

With 60% of the ten A-League clubs qualifying for the finals the competition needs the excitement of a closely contested fight at the top to maximise the amount of meaningful games through to April.

This New Year the omens look good. A Tony Popovic inspired Perth Glory sit at the top with 23 points from 10 rounds, with the silverware recipients of the last two seasons, Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, breathing down their necks on 20 points each.

Further back, in mid-table, if Adelaide (15 points), Wellington Phoenix (15 points) and Melbourne City (14 points) can string together some consistent results during busy January, then we could have the most exciting finish to the regular A-League season since 2016, when the top 6 were separated by a mere 8 points.

Hope two: More Quality Players

Successful marquee signings Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen have set Victory alight this season with their support excited about what their rejuvenated team can achieve.

Victory’s lethal trio Toivonen, Barbarouses, Honda. Photo credit:

Meanwhile, youth is getting its chance as Phoenix have blooded exciting teenage prospects Liberato Cacace and Sarpreet Singh as Melbourne City develop Ramy Najjarine and Riley McGree.

Perth Glory’s rise to the top has coincided with the signing of 23-year-old Chris Ikonomidis and a string of established professionals who had been plying their wares around Asia and Europe like Jason Davidson, Tomislav Mrcela, Matthew Spiranovic and Juande.

The injection of these quality players into the A-League has resulted in high-octane exciting matches like Friday’s game between Victory and Phoenix which pulsated from end to end throughout the 90 minutes.

My fond hope is for more of the same, whether through exciting foreign signings in the January window, development of youth players, or more National Premier League (NPL) players getting their chance in the top tier.

Hope three: Successful A-League Expansion

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA), in a much-anticipated move at their December meeting, finally approved a new club in West Melbourne to join the competition in 2019-2020 and a South-west Sydney outfit in 2020-21. A Canberra side is also strongly rumoured to be primed for the 2021-2022 season.

These new clubs would give a much-needed shot in the arm to fan enthusiasm, compared to the boredom of 33 fixtures against the same old nine clubs.

Hopefully this timetable doesn’t slip and the new West Melbourne Club starts playing in October 2019 as planned.

Working groups have been formed with the intentions of planning how to achieve the holy grail of an A-League second tier with promotion and relegation, over the next decade while also establishing the A-League as an independent entity, apart from the FFA, much like the English Premier League model.

Fingers crossed 2019 will see much progress toward these twin aims.

Greatest Fear: FFA Conservatism

The Lowy family were ousted in 2018 after dominating the FFA for a decade. This engendered great hope in the Australian soccer community that the wider good of the game would be put before vested interests.

However, there are fears that some new FFA board members are Lowy family cronies and the timidity and conservatism that goes hand in hand with protecting vested interests may perpetuate.

New FFA board. Photo credit: SBS.

New FFA Chair, Chris Nikou has established working groups to progress the game as outlined above. But many believe the refusal to grant a licence to South Melbourne, a well-established and staunchly-supported NPL club with a glorious history and club culture, was more to do with preserving the support base of Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, than the wider interests of the game.

The A-League stands at a crossroads in 2019.

After a few seasons of moribund attendance figures and weakening TV audiences, the brand has been spruced up by an influx of exciting players with at least three clubs contending for the Premier’s Plate.

A new FFA board and a potentially autonomous A-League offers the opportunity for bold and radical change to the structure of the game which could enthuse the public, lead to greater investment and allow soccer to challenge other footy codes and cricket, for the affection of the Australian sporting public.

Alternatively, this potential could again be frustrated by back-room deals favouring entrenched vested interests. Soccer fans are not stupid, and if they smell a rat, my fear is that the opportunities presented by recent developments will be wasted.




About Author

Scozzie reporting on A-League and other stuff from the Indian Ocean shores. St. Johnstone fan. Follow me on twitter @perthmcneela.

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