In this age of uncertainty, Australian football faces great challenges to maintain prosperity in the professional sporting environment.
The decision makers would assure the football fraternity, the right decisions are being made by the people who are responsible for the governance of the game.
However, the history of the game is highlighted by the failure to provide former players the opportunity to contribute in their life after football.
Many of these players have succeeded in the business world but have never been sighted by the hierarchy.
In 1992, the former Socceroo great, Marshall Soper, commented the game was all about administrators, not players.
Two former players who have succeeded in the business world are former Sydney Olympic team-mates, Peter Katholos and Manny Spanoudakis.
Katholos commenced a business in the manufacture and supply of football equipment while still playing professionally, has applied his electronics background in telecommunications and pursued extensive property and development interests.
Spanoudakis’s specialty was in electronic engineering with Unisys and is now General Manager of Sales for global technology company, Cisco Systems, in the Asia Pacific region.
In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Katholos and Spanoudakis provide their insights into Australian football.
With the restart of the A- League, what are your views on the current state of the game?
Like all fans, I’ve missed the game and it wasn’t before time that the League was recommenced.
Ironically, the pandemic is an inflexion point for the stakeholders to reassess the existing status of the key areas of operational, technical and administrative procedures, and to implement necessary change.
The restart was critical because if the League wasn’t to be completed, it could’ve potentially led to its premature demise.
Some players and coaches haven’t returned and without a competition, there was no publicity and the League became a distant memory.
However, the game probably required a reset so it could come out stronger at the other end.
What was your opinion of the playing standard before the halt?
Watching overseas football with no crowds over the last few months has given me the opportunity to reflect and compare against the standard of the A League. Whilst the tempo, skill and intensity overseas is more advanced than the A League, turnover of possession and defensive frailties even at the most elite level are still there to be seen. That said, the standard of the A League still has significant scope for improvement in order to be compared with most European leagues.
There are a couple of good teams in the League but it’s far from exciting as there is an absence of creative players.
I watched Leeds United v Stoke City a few weeks ago in the English Championship and it was breathtaking.
It highlighted the speed, technique and intensity which is lacking in our game and the bottom line is broadcasters woudn’t be pulling out of A-League coverage ,and subscriptions wouldn’t have been declining so consistently in the last few seasons if the product was better.
What is your view on the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, recently released?
The document is voluminous so it’s better to consider the main points.
Point number 1 refers to the requirement for a strong brand and identity. I believe the Socceroos and Matildas already have a strong affinity with even the most casual sports fan across Australia. However, at the domestic level, promotion and marketing of the A League is almost non existant.
The awarding of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will certainly increase awareness of our sport across all demographics and we should look to leverage this great event to amplify the A League at every opportunity.
To improve the identity of the game, there has to be consistent marketing for the benefit of the sporting public.
People are aware we qualified for the last four World Cups which we should continually market to the masses.
Personally, I was pretty disturbed by the total lack of coverage when the A-League and NPL competitions ceased at the start of the Pandemic.
On that note, what are your thoughts about the viewing audience last Saturday for Central Coast v Perth of 9,000 compared to NRL of 804,000 and AFL 978,000.
Before their seasons recommenced, the other codes launched their publicity machines and people knew what was happening.
Honestly, I wasn’t aware that Sydney FC played Wellington in the first match of A- league until I saw the score the day after.
Also, I didn’t know about the Central Coast match so the message is, there has to be some money spent on promotion because I didn’t see any advertising for the A-League.
The figures don’t lie which suggests the A-League isn’t exactly capturing the imagination of the sporting public.
Point 3 of the Principles highlights payments in the transfer system.
Your thoughts about player transfer payments.
In order to stimulate the football economy, the most immediate focus should be for the establishment of a transfer system across all levels of football in Australia.
For example, I remember in 1989, Zlatko Arambasic was an up and coming striker playing for Canterbury Marrickville Olympic in the NSW Super League. Blacktown City was in the NSL and paid a $50,000 transfer fee to secure his services.
If NPL clubs can generate revenue from developing players, they can reinvest in better facilities and coaching which sustains the football economy.
We need a vibrant and sustainable development system so the NPL clubs can be rewarded via a transfer system which provides the resources for them to continue to churn out quality players for the A- League and the national teams.
Point 5 in the Principles refers to creating a world class environment for youth development.
Your take on this.
The whole youth development system needs to be revamped and a funding structure established.
In order to improve the end product, we need a 5-10 year plan which entails developing better youth coaches and investing more in player education.
Parent education also has a key role to play in assisting youth development because up to 80% of the player’s available time during the week is at home.
Consequently, nutrition, fitness levels and private practice of technique and drills have to be of the highest order.
Our major objective should be to develop better players who can boost attendances and bring more money into the game with the help of companies and the government.
In the 80’s, when I played at Sydney Olympic, our star local players attracted crowds of 10-15,000 without much promotion.
If you raise standards, more money will naturally flow into the game and also players can be sold overseas providing another substantial revenue stream.
There is a severe absence of past players involved in the game.
How can this change?
As a corporate manager, I believe you need football people in the key positions of financial, operations and marketing.
Historically, the CEO role was awarded to a non-football industry candidate but times have changed and James Johnson’s appointment was a positive one and quite timely.
The previous CEO’S had a lack of emotional connection to the game so at least giant strides have been made here.
There are enough football people and former players available to be involved in all areas of the game like in Europe.
When the FFA started, their executives didn’t know who we were.
The skill set of former players should be utilized in coaching, mentoring, marketing and administration.
I applaud the selection of the first eleven but the key issue is, some of these current and former players may have little business experience.
Undoubtedly, there are many former players who have succeeded in business and willing to make a contribution to the progress of the game.
Is the administration hanging its hat on the success of the Women’s World Cup bid?
This is a fantastic victory for the sport as it promotes gender equality and it should be an amazing tournament.
During the difficult times, a better good news story couldn’t have happened to the sport.
This was a real success after the failure of the Men’s World Cup bid and hopefully it will encourage a large commitment to building better infrastructure for the sport.
Frankly, I didn’t follow the women’s game closely until the Stajic saga prompted me to take interest.
However, I believe the players like our men, have to improve the technical side of their game if they’re going to be a threat in the tournament.