The global pandemic has sent our world into turmoil. Many of our most vulnerable are at risk, the isolation measures that are aimed at flattening the curve has shut down business, travel and any form of social activity, be it the arts, sports or any type of congregating in groups! It has been a surreal and difficult time for many people. As I write this I wonder how long before things will go back to normal, but at the same time, I wonder what is normal?
On an optimistic note, I also see this as a great opportunity for the games benefactors to do something positive for our game. For longer than I can remember, football in this country has sabotaged itself. The bottom line is there is no unity; what we have are factions. State bodies, Associations and a national body who doesn’t wield enough power to change the landscape. To top it all off up until recently a majority of those running the game were not football people; we had leaders that hailed from Rugby Union, another from Rugby League at one stage we had a high-performance manager who’s expertise was in rowing! When things go wrong we form committees and invite people from cricket to select our women’s national team coaching position. Ok yes, I’m sensationalizing this a bit but you have to admit it seems a little bizarre that we would even contemplate this. Do you think the AFL would do the same?
It’s obvious to anyone that change is required. Now I don’t for a minute presume that I am the person to fix things, the best I can do is have an opinion and in my opinion, now is a great time to contemplate a new start. The way I see it there has to be a unification of the game from all so-called stakeholders. Football, after all, is a game first and foremost.
To my limited understanding, the mechanics of the game is two-fold. The first is the administrative side of things. How do you run a club, competitions and everything in between? Everything from the systemizing of procedures to non-football-specific roles? The technical side is the other part, I believe it’s the technical side that leads the direction of anything about playing the game in all its formats. These two distinct areas of the game need specific skill sets to work harmoniously and for the best possible outcomes in terms of how the game is managed. Right now no line exists between the two and if there is it is not clear! In my personal experience, it is the administration of the game who is responsible for making all if not most of the crucial technical decisions with perhaps some consultation. For the most part, anyone generally involved in the technical side of the game experiences a world of frustration due to the calamitous environment we have created. A claim that was recently expressed by the recently departed National Technical Director Rob Sherman who found it difficult to do the job he was hired to do.
The game in this country has evolved within its own unique environment. There has always been a lack of leadership and vision in football. Part of the problem is that we are a very large geographical nation. We are isolated and because of this among many other factors we have evolved more towards a similar model to how US soccer has evolved. Due to many similarities the game has failed to become the top sport, to make matters worse with our tiny population we have too many professional sports to compete with.
So what options do we have? and how can we begin to change the culture? I believe that through education comes prosperity and if football wants to take its rightful place as the number one sport in this country then it has to start seeing education as an investment and not just another revenue stream. You invest in knowledge and innovation today and you will reap the rewards down the track. Education not just for coaches but also for administration and the general public, education about the game and all of its intricacies.
Right now if you go down to any children’s football match you will see a pattern, this pattern comes from a perception of what the game is here, what it looks like and how it’s structured. This perception is based on our own “Soccer” culture. We do not have multiple reference points as to how to play and facilitate the game for our kids which is the foundation of the game. Our reference point is simply based on competition. What has made things even worse is that with the inception of the A-league it has killed off any means for the traditional NSL/NPL clubs to generate revenue streams for growth and in most cases just survival. This has led to annual hikes in fees to a point where it has become almost impossible for families with modest means to participate at an advanced level. There are very few if any consistent pathways for kids.
So what needs to be done? That in itself is a complicated question to answer! What I will propose here is just one opinion based on my own experiences. Is it the right way forward? Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t but it is nothing more than an alternate view. What I believe is that the only way to move forward is with unity. Football must take on a somewhat democratic socialist context to become a unified football nation? What is our own unique identity? How do we replicate or borrow ideas from others that we can integrate into our nation?
I am geared toward the technical part of the game so I will highlight how I believe the technical structure should be implemented. Years ago I attended a seminar with Aime Jaquet, Frances world cup winning coach. He highlighted how France revolutionised their youth and coaching system and how it led the nation to its first-ever world cup success. There are aspects of how they did things which would not be too difficult to replicate here in terms of Coaching education and structures. What I had in mind is loosely comprised from years of research and observation:
I would form a technical committee. A collective of football professionals. Their job would be to implement a new vision & system. The vision should be a collective undertaking with input from all areas of the football fraternity. Questions would be asked of players, coaches, fans and administrators. Such as; What kind of football do we want to play? it has to fit into our unique traits. The committee should include members of old soccer, our history before 2005 needs to be incorporated into our future. This committee would also be responsible for who gets hired to do the work. Each position has to have specific criteria starting with, is the candidate a football person? What is their football background? Anyone considered for any position needs to understand football culture.
A thorough review of each area of the game is needed, everything from grassroots to our national set-up from independent sources.
We should immediately begin to put together a plan for opening a National Football Museum that includes every aspect of the game! We require a national headquarters of a world-class standard like that of the RSFF in “Ciudad de futbol” in Spain, possibly Valentine park where the Museum could be incorporated into the current set up.
The technical structure would have to be massively changed. We would do away with associations and the state bodies would now be totally under the FFA’s control. Everything would be under the one banner in every state from top to bottom. The structure in terms of hierarchy would consist of something in the form of the following:
A Football Sporting Director would be appointed under the direct guidance of the “NFC” National Football Committee. A National technical director would be appointed to deliver the action plan to the state TDs. The state TD’s would, in turn, deliver the action plan to regional and district TD’s. What was formerly Associations are now districts with a TD. Within each district would also consist of a district or regional manager for administration purposes. These districts and regional TD’s would be in charge of club TD’s who then pass on the action plan to coaches and parents.
The philosophy and methodology, the playing structure, rules and formats and how our football culture evolves will be shaped via the NFC, the NFC works via consultation with every area of the game. Everyone gets a say, the job of the NFC is to gather information on the game. Through consultation, the best possible action plan for unifying a consistent model is created and implemented. The NFC would also work directly with the FFA’s CEO to ensure that the best framework for professional and semi-professional comps are maximised for successful outcomes.
The FFA would no longer be a separate entity, but it is managed via two distinct pathways. The FFA is there to ensure that the game is streamlined administratively. Fiscal responsibility, marketing and to oversee the success of the National teams in all its forms. The NFC along with the CEO and his departments work in alignment with the recommendations of the NFC from information gathered from a broad spectrum. By doing it like this we would have trained TD’s who’s jobs are to pass on the national training model. That model should be based on empowering coaches to teach holistically before tactically. The main emphasis in junior football should be developing skilful players who can play and make decisions autonomously. The learning should be game led, the game is the centre of all learning, not the coach. Moving away from yell and tell and only focusing on tactics through competitions when children are cognitively and technically ready to learn tactical elements, this should be held off at least until U14. This and many other small changes can make a huge difference. Growing the talent pool means that we ensure that adults do not hijack our children’s game. The system we envisage must be based on principles.
Perhaps and more than likely this is nothing more than pie in the sky stuff! I did say I am no expert. But wouldn’t it be nice if, for the first time since 2005 when we began a new path toward new football, we could have “the people” not a person or political agendas in charge of the game. We could finally have people who understand both the cost of everything as well as the value of everything. Through unity, we can affect positive change not just to the game we all love but to our world. Now is the time, so I hope that someone upstairs reads this and it ignites a spark and provides an alternate reality to our game!