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AAFC supports Football Australia’s addition of the National Second Division in Domestic Match Calendar

The placeholder for a National Second Division in the Domestic Match Calendar is a sign Football Australia anticipates the competition's start.

With the addition of a placeholder for a National Second Division in the newly announced Domestic Match Calendar, the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) believes the initiative is a sign Football Australia is anticipating the competition’s start in the near future, as well as implicit support for the concept.

President of the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), Nick Galatas, explains the move is a positive step towards a National Second Division being introduced.

“The second division has been in the process of development for some time, independently from the domestic match calendar. The domestic match calendar is a separate initiative which the A-League has undertaken, which we think is a good initiative for the game so that everyone knows when everything is on, there is alignment, and there is provision made for the various seasons, national teams and all competitions,” he said.

“The domestic match calendar is an independent project and not a part of the second division. It is a positive thing because while Football Australia has been developing the national second division, and AAFC is participating in its development, it is heartening and positive to see that Football Australia has made provision for it in the domestic match calendar, anticipating that it will start in the near future.”

South Melbourne FC President Nicholas Maikousis says that the opportunity to play in a National Second Division instead of the Victorian National Premier League (NPL) would be a huge moment for the club. 

“We think it’s critical to get another tier of clubs and raise benchmarks. Ultimately, apart from our club’s self-interests and our forecasts and projections for a national second division, it can be a game-changer for us,” he said.

“We also have some fundamental philosophical views on the unification of football in this country once and for all. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the FA, Chris Nikou, James Johnson, and the board to truly unify the old soccer and new football – and whatever jargon people use these days – because all of a sudden they will get old football paying attention to the A-League.”

The AAFC has already released its framework for how a second division would be run, structured and implemented. Galatas adds that the next step is to work with Football Australia to deliver a model that is suitable for football clubs Australia-wide.

“We are hopefully now at the next stage where we are stress-testing our model with Football Australia’s development, as they are working on the available models. We are going to work with them and see what they think and how our clubs can respond to anything put to them,” he said.

Several high-profile clubs have already laid out their intentions to pursue a position in the National Second Division. Gold Coast United chairman Danny Maher told Soccerscene this week that while the club was wanting a return to the A-League that was separate from the National Premier League team, the club itself would be interested in the viability of the second division.

“Gold Coast United, the NPL entity, may be interested in the second division and we are currently part of that group investigating the viability of a second division,” Maher said. 

Melbourne Knights President Pave Jusup told Soccerscene the club would be interested in joining the competition.

“We’ve got a lot of latent fans who are disappointed in the situation we find ourselves in. There are a lot of people who would put their hands up and into their pockets to help propel the club if given the opportunity. We’ve gone through a period of consolidation, but there’s a new generation of people who want to propel the club into the limelight as their parents and grandparents did,” Jusup said. 

Maikousis believes the second division is a huge opportunity for Australian football and would improve the players that are developed within the country.

“I think the national second division will not only unify the game, but also create bigger clubs again. It will also deal with the issue of developing Australian talent,” he said.

South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, and Gold Coast United are part of the 32 club National Second Division Partner Group run by the AAFC, and have made contributions towards the framework published in January 2021. The group of clubs “resourced and undertook detailed discussions involving numerous workshops, research and analysis” which ultimately lead to the publishing of the report. According to the AAFC website the competition is aiming to launch in 2022.

A National Second Division below the A-League was once a pipe-dream. However, with key stakeholders embracing the idea and working together, the idea could soon become a reality. With three key organisations – Football Australia, AAFC, and Australian Professional Leagues – all in strong support, the ultimate goal of promotion and relegation between the A-League and a National Second Division could be closer than many realise.

K-League’s beneficial partnership with La Liga: A blueprint for the A-League?

Late last year, the Korean K-League and Spain’s La Liga signed an MOU to advance the collaboration and communication between both leagues and mutually grow their competitions.

At the time of the announcement of the three-year partnership, matters that the two leagues were set to focus on included the development of sport projects, different training programs, addressing anti-piracy issues and creating an economic control mechanism for the K-League and its clubs.

Since last December, the leagues have conducted a wide range of joint workshops and campaigns on these different agenda items.

For example, La Liga has offered multiple training sessions to coaches and K-League staff based on the experience of the La Liga Sports Projects team in their initiatives across the globe. These sessions are held virtually (with a scope to return to face-to-face if COVID allows) with Spanish clubs such as Valencia CF and Elche participating in them, and is set to continue deep into the 2021/22 season.

Similarly to what has been done with coaching education, both leagues have held virtual training conferences on financial control to ensure the viability and long term growth of the K-League and its teams. Using an offline format, a mechanism which has allowed La Liga clubs to reduce their debt from €650 million in 2013 to €23 million in 2020 will also be explained this coming season.

A prominent area which the two leagues looked to address in the initial months of the agreement was the fight against audio-visual piracy. The K-League have launched the “Protect K-League” campaign and alongside the technological advancements developed by La Liga’s anti-piracy branch, this seems to be a high priority for the two competitions.

The eSports field will also be targeted in the coming months, with the K-League and La Liga to carry out joint projects and activations. Both countries have seen the importance of the gaming world and have grown significantly in this sector in recent years.

Yeon Sang Cho, general secretary of the K-League, spoke about the advantages of the arrangement with La Liga.

“Since the signing of the agreement last December we have seen how our relationship with La Liga has gone from strength to strength and how we have worked together to overcome such a difficult situation,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“We are impressed with La Liga’s commitment.

“Thanks to it we have been able to adapt to the limitations imposed by the pandemic; carry out virtual training meetings for K-League coaches and their clubs; and also an in-depth analysis of economic control mechanisms, which are key to creating a sustainable professional football industry. Here at the K-League we are very happy with the progress of the relationship and we look forward to a future where these ties become even stronger.”

Sangwon Seo, La Liga’s delegate in South Korea, spoke of the early success of the partnership.

“For us at La Liga it is a great source of pride to be able to count on such an important ally as the K-League and to share our knowledge and experience with them,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“These first months since the MOU was signed have been very productive and we have experienced a very enriching exchange of knowledge that has allowed us to move forward despite the global pandemic.

“At La Liga we face this season with great enthusiasm, and a desire to deepen our relationship with the K League and to bring our joint projects to fruition.”

It’s a great move for the K-League to improve their operations through help from one of the world’s top leagues, something which the A-League should envy.

Because of initiatives like this they are setting their clubs up financially for the long-term future and accessing training methods that are of a world class standard.

The A-League should be looking at this example of the collaboration between these two leagues if they want to become a more prominent competition in Asia.

Player sentiment up, average age down: PFA releases annual report

Sentiment is well and truly up for A-League players, according to the annual Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) report.

This time last year, only 33% of A-League players felt confident about the direction of their football careers.

According to the PFA’s latest annual report, that number is now 56%.

Of the A-League’s 312 players, 200 responded to the 2020/21 A-League survey, capturing 70% of the current cohort, with the results proving that even despite the ongoing turbulence and uncertainty of COVID-19, the majority of players feel much more confident about their futures within the game.

The report highlights that Australian players actively want to remain in the A-League, as opposed to seeking opportunities overseas.

The key numbers that demonstrate this include:

  • 55% of players said they would like to stay playing in the A-League next season, up from 45% last year.
  • 56% of players are confident about the direction of their football careers, compared to 33% in 2019/20.
  • Only 4% of players would move to an overseas league even if it was for similar money and/or playing standard.
  • Only 16% of players who would prefer to move to an overseas league would only do so if the money and standards were better.

Other highlights of the report include that the average A-League player is getting younger.

Over the last 14 years, the average age of the A-League player has consistently trended upwards.

In 2020/21, however, this changed and the average age trended downwards, dropping from 27.6 to 25.1.

The number of players utilised in the A-League who were aged 21 and under came in at 107, representing 35% of the 300 players who received A-League minutes during the 2020/21 season.

The youngest squads on average belonged to Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide United, with average ages of 23.6 and 23.9 years respectively.

Another highlight was the fact that of the league’s 312 contracted players, 300 received A-League minutes.

“These reports have been immensely valuable, helping the PFA and the players better understand the industry in which they are employed, monitor the application of high-performance standards, assess technical progress and survey the players’ experience,” PFA Co-Chief Executive Beau Busch said of the report.

“For the last five years, we have been able to utilise these reports to formulate evidence-based positions to improve the environments in which our members work through collective bargaining.

“Promisingly, after a period of significant uncertainty, the players have indicated that they are more confident in the direction of their careers and the future of the competition than this time last year, signifying a positive shift in the perception of the A-League.”

The report also highlights the fact that A-League attendances were the lowest ever in the competition, thanks in large part to COVID-19, with an average attendance of 5,660.

Foreign players in the league reduced by 12 to a total of 51, whilst the average salary in the A-League is $136,791.

Access the full report HERE.

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