Carlos Salvachúa: “Playing without promotion and relegation is a big problem”

Carlos Salvachúa was Victory assistant coach under Kevin Muscat, before taking over as caretaker manager. He has coached professionally in Spain and Belgium, including six years at the Real Madrid academy, overseeing the development of the club’s rising stars.

He spoke to Soccerscene from Spain about his impressions of the A-League, where it could be improved, and how Australian youth need to play more football to reach their potential.

What were your first impressions of the A-League?

Salvachúa: Sometimes the big issue is knowing if it’s a professional league or not – and definitely the A-League was professional. I’m talking about games, organisation, talking about flights or hotels, and training. I was lucky to arrive to Melbourne Victory – one of the biggest clubs there is – and everything in the club was like in Europe and in Spain. Good facilities, good organisation, and a lots of staff in the office. For me the first impression was really professional.

What was the level of professionalism like compared to other leagues you have coached in?

Salvachúa: Belgium is a hard competition. I’m talking about the games, not about organisation – it’s similar to the A-League or in Spain in the La Liga. The competition is tough in Belgium if we compare the level of the players, the games and the competition.

After leaving Melbourne Victory, Salvachúa was Muscat’s assistant coach at Sint-Truidense V.V. in Belgium.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while coaching in Australia?

Salvachúa: One of the biggest for me was the distance to play a game. It was funny because here with Atlético versus Real Madrid they travel 15 minutes to go to sleep at home, and for Victory we spend three days away to play a game, for me this was really hard. In the Champions League we spent five days away to play a game in China or in Japan. For me and and European players as well this was hard, because it was not easy. I remember the long pre-season because the schedule of FFA Cup was really hard for us. We trained two to three months before the first game in the A-League, just to play one round in the FFA Cup.

How do you think the league could be improved?

Salvachúa: For me, playing without promotion and relegation, is a problem, a big one in my opinion for the league. You need to improve the league from the basement – you cannot start the building of the house from the roof, you must start building the house from the ground up. I’m talking about the NPL. They are tough competitions, and you need to give promotion to the A-League, and I think that the competition will be better with this system like in Europe. I think a competition without promotion and relegation is only working with the MLS in USA. In Australia I think that it would be great to create another kind of competition to improve the league.

Another thing for me that is one of the biggest issues was that sometimes the players were receptive – they are professionals about training and have a good attitude to learn, but for me as a coach sometimes the players don’t know how important it is to win – compared to a draw or a loss. Without promotion and relegation, in some games as a coach, in the second half the players don’t understand how important it is to get a win over one point. I think that is probably one of the solutions to change the model of the competition.

How would you rate the level of young talent being developed in Australia?

Salvachúa: Like in other countries, you have good players with talent at 14, 15, and 16 years of age, but in my opinion they need more games. Some players arrive to A-League at 19 years old – playing 18 to 25 games – and it’s not easiest time for the coaches to start these young players in the first 11. If they are not playing every Sunday, they need another tough competition. You need competitive games with a second team like here in Spain or with the under 18s or under 19s – it depends. I think that they need more games here. A 14 or 15 year old kid normally finishes the competition in Spain with 45 official games. 45 games is more than the professionals in the A-League. I think one of the big issues is they do not have enough games and training sessions to develop the players. But the talent is there like in other countries.

Uncertainty looms around National Second Tier’s future

The highly anticipated National Second Tier (NST) in its proposed format is set to be postponed by Football Australia, with the body looking to find alternative ways to include these NPL clubs into a similar structure that would be more financially viable.

Vince Rugari of the Sydney Morning Herald broke the news on Tuesday claiming the highly ambitious second tier was likely going to be put on hold after the original plan was to have 10 to 14 foundation clubs forming a separate league, without promotion or relegation to start.

There was a very high financial threshold that the eight foundation clubs needed to reach in order to be granted a licence and unfortunately with rumours of some in the eight sceptical of its viability, other NPL clubs with a proposal in the original plan have backed away from the idea for the time being.

For what is meant to be a ‘national competition’, having clubs from NSW and Victoria only is quite restricted but the search for a financially strong club outside of the two states, willing to take that massive financial risk, is a task that is too difficult in the country’s current state of football affairs.

There has been a lack of a clear message from Football Australia across the past 12 months. The eight foundation clubs were left on standby about important information like the correct format, whether it was going to expand to 10 or 12 teams that Football Australia promised multiple times, or when the league would actually kick off in winter of 2025 or beyond that considering the shaky A-League finances being the main subject of discussion surrounding the initial success of the NSD.

After the A-Leagues controversial call to reduce initial funding of top tier clubs to $530k a year from its usual $2m a year, a properly run second division seems like a task too far down its priority list despite the positive feedback it has received from fans and clubs about implementing a ‘transformative’ system mirroring European football.

An idea being floated around as a possible solution to the unviability of a separate league is to add existing A-League teams to the ‘Champions League-style’ second division, which would essentially be a more exclusive version of the existing Australia Cup.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson told The Asian Game exclusively that “we will have a (national) second tier it will exist,” but the home and away format played during the winter is a long shot and the foundation clubs are left in limbo wondering what their immediate futures are considering the heavy financial investment they will have to make if it goes ahead.

This whole saga has been a case of Football Australia pushing away the problems that quickly arose from this ambitious idea and being too reactive when it comes to finding a solution that would be fair for the foundation clubs financially.

The NSD must wait and not force itself into a fragile Australian football landscape that has many more issues it must worry about in the top flight before building a second division that could financially damage some of the most historic clubs in Victoria and NSW.

In a world where Australian football needs authority and structure, the collapse of the original idea of the NSD proves there is a long way to go and communication towards the clubs and fans involved has to improve.

Melbourne Knights to kick-start NordVPN’s ventures in the Australian football market

Melbourne Knights FC have announced their latest partnership with one of the world’s leading VPN providers, NordVPN.

Established in 2012, NordVPN is a Lithuanian VPN service that aims to provide secure and private access to the internet. It works by enveloping all of your online activities in a layer of encryption and hiding information about your virtual location.

This enables users to stay invisible to hackers, your internet service provider (ISP), governmental agencies and others from looking while you’re browsing the net. NordVPN also protects data such as bank details from potential attacks.

NordVPN has partnered with many clubs in Europe – such as Rangers, Atlético Madrid and Barnsley – and now they are venturing out to clubs around Australia.

Speaking with Soccerscene, Head of Commercial Operations at Melbourne Knights FC, Ange Hrastov, and NordVPN Country Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Ian Wheller, discuss the early discussions between them, the main outcomes from this partnership and potential collaborations between the pair in the future.

What were the early discussions like between NordVPN and the Melbourne Knights?

Ange Hrastov: NordVPN reached out to us and sent the Club an email, just asking whether we were interested in partnership opportunities with NordVPN.

It was right in the middle of all our other sponsors and at the time we were doing our season launch. We got back to NordVPN and said we’re always open to partnership opportunities as we’ve done with others.

We also asked them for a little bit of clarity on what they wanted and what the opportunity represented.

So that’s when I got a hold of Ian and both of us had a chat and he explained a couple of ways you can go; you can get a percentage of each subscription that they get, or we can get a flat fee. So, we chose the flat fee with them and that’s how it was.

As a Club, we’re just looking for opportunities to expand our network and our business partner base. We also saw it as an opportunity to be able to offer to our members, particularly our younger ones, who are more tech savvy and something that could benefit them in conjunction with being associated with the Club.

Ian Wheller: NordVPN reached out directly to Melbourne Knights. Australia is a relatively mature market for NordVPN, but local sports clubs are an area where we’ve seen great success in European markets that we want to try and replicate here.

We’ve had success with top-tier clubs such as Rangers FC and Barnsley FC, all the way down to the lower leagues, showcasing growth opportunities.

What were the main outcomes for both parties in this partnership?

Ange Hrastov: From our perspective at Melbourne Knights, our sponsor base and our business partner base have been pretty much the same businesses, and that’s been the case for many years now.

I came into it saying that we actually do need to start to expand our business partner network. We were looking for business partners that could also contribute in terms of their business experience, knowledge and acumen towards the future success of our club as much as any financial benefit we obtain from such partnerships.

It’s not just about the dollars, we wanted to see how the two businesses could coexist and work together. One of the things that they did before we made any decisions to partner with NordVPN is they pointed us in the direction of what they’ve been doing in the UK with football clubs.

It was Ipswich Town that they have a partnership with over in the UK in the Championship, and I looked at the website and it appeared a good fit. They seem to have a healthy partnership and relationship with Ipswich Town, and we thought why not give it a crack?

This is an opportunity that takes us into areas that we haven’t worked with before and to partner with someone where we give back to our members, it is a partnership where our members can tangibly gain from it.

Ian Wheller: Due to our successful partnerships in Europe with football teams, we’ve decided to follow a similar trend in Australia due to the closely aligned love for the game. Bringing it back to Melbourne Knights specifically, we purposely targeted the lower leagues to begin with to understand growth appetite and partnering with the Melbourne Knights is a great way for us to support the local community.

We are looking to grow brand awareness and subsequent customer subscriptions off the back of the Melbourne Knights sponsorship and the plan is to roll this out nationally to clubs that we see are a good fit.

Are there any future collaborations being discussed after the agreement of this partnership such as jersey and pitch sponsorships?

Ange Hrastov: At the moment, there have been very limited discussions and we’re at very early stages. We will need to see how it goes for both them and us in terms of what kind of return they get for what they’re doing.

Let’s show them what the outcome can be and how successful it can be and from that point, then we can start talking about further opportunities that we can look at with NordVPN.

Let’s walk first, then once we’ve established a relationship, we’ll start running later.

Ian Wheller: We are starting light when it comes to sponsorships across Australia. Both pitch and jersey sponsorship are positive for the future, our current approach will allow us to test different strategies.

Due to this partnership between the Melbourne Knights and NordVPN, fans have been given an exclusive offer when they sign up with NordVPN. The offer is a 72% discount off monthly plans and a Saily eSim for those who are planning to go overseas.

For more information, visit the article about the partnership on the Melbourne Knights website.

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