Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) remain steadfast in their view Football Australia cannot impose a Domestic Transfer System (DTS) on the local game without consensus among all parties, and that if it is to come into effect, it must be at the expense of the A-Leagues salary cap.
Last month, Football Australia moved a step closer to their favoured DTS by removing the longstanding cap on transfer fees for contracted players between Australian clubs, edging the game closer to the free market system that underpins player movement globally.
In February, CEO James Johnson told ESPN failure to reach consensus over the DTS could lead to his organisation making ‘aggressive decisions’ towards its implementation. PFA co-chief executive Kathryn Gill told Soccerscene such a move would be undemocratic, and may no longer be appropriate in any case, post-Covid 19.
“Ultimately the transfer system acts as a tax on the employment of players. This would have a significant impact on their employment opportunities, and therefore it is a matter that requires the agreement of the players, not just consultation,” Gill said.
“We currently have a five-year CBA with the Australian Professional Leagues, signed September 2021 that is showing some encouraging signs regarding the investment in player payments, youth development and improving contractual stability. If we are to shift towards a different strategy, we need to understand the problem we are trying to solve.
“We’ve just undertaken a comprehensive labour market analysis of the A-Leagues and what our data tells us is that the problems we now need to solve are different from the ones we were confronted with before the pandemic.”
Gill’s PFA co-chief, Beau Busch, believes that for Football Australia to move away from the consultative nature that has served the game well through the pandemic, and for years prior, it would be damaging to the ecosystem.
“Matters that impact the employment of players are matters that require agreement through collective bargaining. In the absence of collective bargaining, we can’t create the conditions for collaboration and shared purpose and run the risk of creating regulations that are at odds with each other,” Busch said.
“We’ve seen increasing moves from organisations like FIFA for example, trying to introduce biennial World Cups without consultation and European clubs going off to build new Super Leagues without considering the players or the fans.
“That type of unilateral action is not in the best interests of the game and so these issues, that fundamentally affect the employment conditions of players, should be done in partnership with the players.”
Busch also pointed to FIFA’s intention to reform their global transfer system as an indicator that increased alignment may not be in Australian football’s best interests. World football’s free market has led to a chronically lopsided distribution of wealth towards those at the pointy end, while nobody could argue the trophy cabinets of clubs in Europe’s top five leagues reflect competitive balance.
This season, Bayern Munich won their 10th consecutive German Bundesliga title; Juventus enjoyed a similar stretch of nine Serie A titles between 2011/12 to 2019/20, while PSG have lifted eight of the past 10 Ligue 1 crowns in France. Even the English Premier League, upheld by some as a bastion of competitiveness for European leagues, has seen 26 of its 29 titles shared by four clubs.
“Globally, the justification for a transfer system is that it redistributes revenue, supports competitive balance, and encourages investment in the training and development of players. These are objectives that are obviously important to the sport, however the global transfer system has been unable to achieve them and this is illustrated through FIFA’s commitment to reforming it,” Busch said.
“We absolutely agree that Australian football needs more players playing at the highest possible level and that whatever system is in place needs to be aligned to that aim. But with any regulatory change, research and evidence and a sound business case that underpins it is vital.
“To date, we haven’t been presented with any modelling on what outcomes a domestic transfer system will produce, either in terms of player development, or stimulating the Australian market and football economy.”
The removal of the cap on transfer payments between clubs and potential DTS will help clubs earn their full reward for the development and on-sale of players. But if the theory is sound, it’s the opinion of the PFA that increased costs will in effect stymie player movement and force clubs to look inwards for talent, restricting the ease with which players can move between employment opportunities.
Gill is adamant that if a transfer system is to succeed, it must come in conjunction with the removal of the salary cap, which already restricts clubs from investing what they might otherwise be willing to on their squad. Aimed at maintaining competitive balance across the A-Leagues, it is not conducive to the growth of players’ value.
“The transfer system and salary cap are trying to achieve different objectives, and attempting to impose both restraints at the same time is likely to not only be illegal but self-defeating for the game. That is why no league around the world operates with both,” Gill said.
“From a players’ perspective, having both would act as a double restraint with players having a cap on their earnings and a tax on their employment via a transfer system. Ultimately, this would not help clubs attract and retain talent.”
Despite Johnson stating ‘aggressive decisions’ may be required, and the parties seemingly gridlocked over the DTS, Gill remains hopeful that collective bargaining and goodwill can see the game forward in a unified manner.
She feels the game is a long way from requiring an independent regulator, which is set to be ratified by the UK Government to oversee football in England, off the back of the fan-led Crouch Report into the state of their game.
The Crouch Report also advocates for a reformed ‘owners and directors test’, and ‘shadow boards’ made up of fans to represent their interests and hold a golden share in legacy decisions regarding stadia, colours and crests.
“Since 1995 the PFA has been able to reach agreements with clubs and the governing body, so what history shows is that collective bargaining has been an effective vehicle for progress. We need to examine our own context, and we can certainly learn from what has occurred around the world and what led to the push for an independent regulator in the English game,” Gill said.
“What is clear is the governance framework in that country and measures such as the transfer system have failed to drive progress for the entire sport and this drastic government intervention has been a direct result of this.”