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Could COVID-19 stunt progress towards the Second Division?

The ongoing worldwide pandemic has seen the A-League, as well as all state competitions postpone their fixtures until further notice.

The current situation is bleak, with no timeframe set for when on-field competition can restart or whether the current season will be cancelled in favour of a fresh start next season.

The FFA has a lot on their plates right now and no-one would envy them right now. However, if they’re not careful enough, they could potentially set Australian soccer back several seasons.

The COVID-19 pandemic will end, but things won’t normalise for a long time. The health and safety of Australians is of the utmost priority and thankfully, the country hasn’t been as seriously affected as some.

In saying that, several aspects of the game in our country cannot be sacrificed and must not be put on the backburner.

The National Second Division was easily the most necessary adjustment to the elite level of our sport prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obviously, these bizarre times have altered this. But when the dust settles, and it will, the FFA needs to act upon the National Second Division.

When life-changing events take place, it becomes second nature to drop whatever you’re doing and focus solely on the important matter at hand.

After a while, it becomes easy to forget on what you were originally focused on. Sometimes, it gets left in the rear-view mirror altogether and you never do a U-turn to find it.

The FFA cannot do this to their current plans on the National Second Division.

At the time of writing, no ‘set in stone’ plans currently exist for the FFA and the National Second Division. Nothing concrete has been put to paper.

On the flipside, it is known there are strong motivations to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. Like a cheese wheel going down a hill.

Weird analogy, but the point remains. The FFA is acutely aware of how important the National Second Division is to the future of the A-League and the sport in Australia, as a whole.

It goes without saying what makes the European leagues so cutthroat and enviable to Australians.

The promotion and relegation, the seemingly endless divisions in countries like England, Germany and Spain. The possibility of playing against some of the best in the world, both domestically and in continental tournaments. The knowledge that if you’re not up to scratch, you can be out the door as quick as the snap of a finger.

Or as quick as a cheese wheel going down a hill. How’s that come up again?

There isn’t as much accountability for poor performance in Australian soccer. If you finish bottom in the A-League, there’s no real punishment. Some seasons can be a real lottery.

The point of all this? To ensure the FFA doesn’t allow COVID-19 to halt their plans on the National Second Division.

They can be excused for ignoring other issues right now, some just simply aren’t essential. But the future of Australian soccer is one of the most essential issues for them.

Let’s say for arguments sake that the FFA planned to introduce the National Second Division at the start of the 2022-23 A-League season.

Let’s also say that the COVID-19 pandemic happened in another universe, allowing them a near uninterrupted 18-24 months to figure out a setup for the National Second Division.

With their current motives to get the National Second Division started, it’s more than plausible that it could become a reality in that timeframe.

However, we live in the universe where COVID-19 has wreaked havoc upon the world and these plans have been temporarily put to the side.

It’s foreseeable that the FFA will allow things to completely settle before they resume planning on the National Second Division.

That is easily one of the biggest mistake they could make at that time, when it comes.

They can’t afford to delay any longer. If they push plans back to 2024-25 or even longer down the line, the game in this country will suffer even more.

We can’t imagine having to make these tough decisions during this time such as cutting or furloughing staff amongst other things.

But if they make the decision to delay the National Second Division plans, they’ll regret it sooner than they think.

We’re hopeful this is not the case.

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Also, get involved in the conversation on Twitter @Soccersceneau

 

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

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.

DFL and AWS introduce two new Match Facts to Bundesliga coverage

Bundesliga analysis

The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have announced the addition of two new Bundesliga Match Facts powered by AWS that will premiere as graphics during broadcasts and in the official Bundesliga app during the 2021-2022 season.

The two new Match Facts – Shot Efficiency and Passing Profile – will bring the total number of advanced statistics to eight, with each of them aiming to give fans deeper insights into the action on the pitch.

The first of the new advanced stats – Shot Efficiency – compares the number of goals that a player or team has scored with how many goals the player or team should have scored based on the quality of their chances.

The second – Passing Profile – provides deeper insights into the pass quality of a player or an entire team. Both of the stats are generated by gathering and analysing the match feeds from live games in real time as they are streamed into AWS.

Both new stats made their debut during Matchday 4 on the clash between German Champion FC Bayern München and the second-placed team of the previous season RB Leipzig.

The two new Match Facts will better showcase the action on the field – giving fans, coaches, players, and commentators visual support for analysing the decision-making of players and teams.

Andreas Heyden, Executive Vice President of Digital Innovations for DFL Group, was excited to further innovate the matchday experience for viewers based both domestically and internationally.

“Bundesliga Match Facts powered by AWS allows us to give fans more insight into the game of football, broadcasters more interesting stories to tell and coaches and teams, more data to excel at their game,” he said.

“Last year, the reception for Bundesliga Match Facts around the world was very positive, and we expect through ML and AI to continue to innovate on these analytics to make them even better.

“These two new stats give fans a view into player efficiency that hasn’t been achieved before, and we are just at the beginning of our relationship with AWS. I’m excited to see how technology will continue to evolve the fan experience and the game.”

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