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Western United to play Australia Day fixture at Whitten Oval

On Friday, newly formed A-League club Western United announced that they would host their match against Adelaide United at the Whitten Oval.

The match, set to take place on Australia Day (January 26) will mark the third AFL ground that Mark Rudan’s side has used this season as a home venue.

Previously to this, Mars Stadium in Ballarat and GMBHA Stadium in Geelong have been used.

On paper, this is a perfect move for the expansion club. Their match against the Reds will mark their first official match to take place in western Melbourne, opposed to greater western Victoria.

Their stadium in Tarneit is on course for a 2021 completion, so obviously until then, they need to make do with what’s available.

But now, they finally have a chance to play in front of the people who were their targeted demographic from day one.

The Whitten Oval is a great location in itself, having played host to large scale AFLW games and consistent seasons of the VFL. So the ground will be up to scratch for 90 minutes of A-League football.

Currently, the AFL, AFLW and VFL are in their off-seasons, so there is no risk of any clash between AFL side the Western Bulldogs and Western United.

There was only a minor risk of clash between the match and any pre-season training for the Bulldogs. But thankfully, the 2016 AFL premiers are on a training camp up north on the Sunshine Coast at the time of Australia Day.

In an article from The Age, United CEO Chris Pehlivanis and Western Bulldogs CEO Ameet Bains echoed each other’s thoughts on the prospect of A-League football at Whitten.

“We will continue to be a club for all who call the west home as we take this journey together,” Pehlivanis said.

“Relocating our round 16 fixture to Whitten Oval gives the club’s growing fanbase an opportunity to taste the A-League at another family friendly, community venue in the west.”

“Hosting A-League football at Whitten Oval is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the broad capability of our venue and to connect with a new audience,” said Bains.

“We have been able to create a unique, family-friendly atmosphere for sporting events we have hosted at Whitten Oval, particularly in the summer months at our AFLW matches.”

United’s start to the season has been a mixed bag, both on and off the field.

Many A-League fans would agree in us saying that it’s a nice breath of fresh air to have a new side, boasting new names as well as some familiar faces in the competition.

Their on field performance has been decent. They currently sit in fifth on the A-League table and despite some disappointing results as of late, they remain firmly in contention for a finals berth in their inaugural season.

That in itself is a remarkable achievement, should Alessandro Diamanti and co. get it done.

But off the field, there has been a struggle for numbers, particularly at home games.

They currently hold the second-lowest attendance record in the competition this season, averaging a measly 6,225 per game. They also hold the record for lowest attendance at a single game this season.

In their round nine encounter against Sydney FC, a mere 4,187 fans clicked through the turnstiles in Geelong as the reigning champions of the A-League ran out 2-0 winners.

Understandably, as a new side it’s tough to acquire fans from the get-go and to establish genuine connections with fans will take time. Poor on-field results would go a long way to diminishing any hopes of that.

But with time and the opening of their new stadium in the near future, it’s a simple case of staying the course for Pehlivanis and co.

This match on Australia Day in the heart of Melbourne’s inner-western suburbs could do a world of good for Western. With tickets reportedly going for as little as $6, it could be the beginning of a wonderful new relationship between them and the Western Bulldogs.

Fingers crossed for them that regardless of the on-field result, they have a good showing from their fans and any neutrals who watch them as well.

Barcelona the most popular online club in China from Red Card report findings

Barcelona has overtaken fellow La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid to become China’s most popular soccer club online, based off Mailman’s 2020 Red Card report.

In Mailman’s 2020 rankings, it shows that Barcelona have risen significantly from fifth to first place since last year, mainly due off the back of their impressive growth on Chinese social media.

The club’s followers on Chinese social media platform Weibo went up from eight million to 16.3 million, a massive 104 per cent jump. In turn Barcelona improved on it’s engagement through Weibo, trending up 45 per cent from their 2018 efforts.

The club also gained huge exposure on short form video platform Douyin, with Lionel Messi’s penalty pass to Luis Suarez ranking as the fourth most watched video last year, accumulating 64 million views and 2.3 million engagements.

“[The award is] a testament to the effort, teamwork and innovation of all of those involved with FC Barcelona in China,” said Barcelona Board Member Didac Lee.

“Our challenge is to create content for China that is bespoke to the ever-evolving digital landscape, culture and habits of this market and we’re proud to be recognised for outstanding fan growth and engagement.”

In English Premier League standings, Chelsea are the most popular club from England and sit third in Mailman’s rankings overall.

There are two more Premier League outfits in the top five, with Manchester City and Manchester United in fourth and joint fifth alongside Juventus respectively.

City went up from ninth place in 2019 to leapfrog rivals United this year, while Liverpool are seventh, dropping down a single place.

The Premier League itself is the most popular competition with China’s digital community, ahead of the LaLiga which overtook the Bundesliga to claim second place. The German top-tier sits third, recording its lowest ever ranking.

“To receive this Red Card award for the second year running is a great honour and testament to the Premier League and our clubs’ loyal fanbase in China,” said Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters.

“We witnessed their passionate support during last year’s successful Premier League Asia Trophy in Nanjing and Shanghai, something that has been reflected by the growing popularity of our digital coverage in the country.”

Cristiano Ronaldo is the most popular player with China’s digital soccer fans according to Mailman, ahead of Neymar and Lionel Messi respectively.

It’s the second consecutive year that Ronaldo has topped the poll, being one of the few players to see increased engagement and followers on Weibo despite a decrease in soccer-related user activity on the platform. Neymar found himself the most followed player on rival platform Douyin.

“I am very pleased with this award. I know that I have a huge part of fans in China and it means a lot to be on top of the table for the second year in a row,” said Ronaldo.

Chinese fans have contributed many commercial opportunities for European soccer clubs, with an estimated AUD$98.9 million of digital sponsorship revenue still on the table, according to Mailman.

Despite a lack of funding and support, Arnold’s Olyroos are punching well above their weight

Graham Arnold’s recent comments on ABC Grandstand in regards to the lack of funding and support given to Australian football’s junior national teams, were laced with frustration.

He should know.

The Socceroos boss is currently fulfilling his second most important job and attempting to guide the Olyroos to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics via the AFC U-23 Championships in Thailand. It would be an impressive achievement should the former Sydney FC manager pull it off, with Australia having failed to qualify for the previous two games and only ever twice advancing beyond the group stage.

That reality is a far cry from the Olyroos inaugural appearance in 1992, where a creditable fourth place was achieved in Barcelona. Since, things have been lean. Until now that is.

Watching potentially the best crop of youthful talent we have seen for some time advance to the semi-finals has been thrilling.

Al Hassan Toure’s extra-time goal against Syria sent Australia into the final four, with all remaining countries well aware that there are only three spots up for grabs due to Japan’s automatic qualification as hosts.

Draws with Iraq and Bahrain, along with an absorbing win over Thailand in the group stage, preceded the victory over Syria. Now South Korea becomes the next target, with Arnold’s men confident and more assured as they move within one victory of a ticket to an Olympic experience.

Arnold’s frustration around the money and support given to Australia’s best young footballers stems from his immense experience as a domestic and international player, championship winning A-League manager and his current role as the mentor of both the Olyroos and Socceroos.

The 56-year-old made it abundantly clear of his dissatisfaction at having just two of his Olyroos with experience in and around the Socceroos squad; gaining experience and knowledge.

Opposition teams in Thailand are nurturing their youth, exposing them at the top level and preparing for the next generation of footballers. They do so by investing money and resources that in turn create more matches and tournaments within which their national team competes. That allows for developmental players to enjoy a taste of what potentially lies ahead in their careers; creating a fluid link between the U-23 squad and the full national team.

Both Bahrain and Jordan arrived in Thailand with six players having already been granted full national caps. Arnold’s disappointment lies in the fact that of his squad, Thomas Deng has just the solitary appearance for the Socceroos, whilst Alex Gersbach has played six times in full national colours.

Sadly, without further investment and subsequent opportunity, Arnold’s Socceroo teams will continue to be picked with limited developmental intention. The current reality for the Socceroos is World Cup qualification and Asian Cup play or bust, with an absence of further friendlies or tournaments for the manager to see the next wave of Socceroos perform.

When combined with the fact that many of Australia’s best young players are given only limited opportunity abroad with their clubs, it could be suggested that Australia’s talented youth is playing less football than many of their counterparts across the globe.

Despite Arnold’s concerns and the need to address the current structures and level of investment, the squad has taken a typically Australian approach to its work in Thailand, punching well above its weight and now seeming capable of winning the event.

Even without the recently returned from injury Daniel Arzani and the suspended quartet of Lachlan Wales, Nathaniel Atkinson, Brandon Wilson and Riley McGree, the team has gelled under Arnold. Nicholas D’Agostino, Reno Piscopo and Toure have announced themselves to the football world.

Tom Glover looks a goal keeper of immense promise, whilst Dennis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe appear to have a kit bag of tools that should one day seem them as important members of the Socceroos. With McGree permitted to play in Tokyo should Australia qualify, Arzani back into calculations and Arnold keen to increase the opportunities for a selected group of Olyroo players with a trip to the Copa America this winter, the future holds much promise.

No doubt Arnold will remain frustrated in the near future; desperately keen to see more of what appears to be an exciting wave of talent appearing in Australia. Vast sums to invest are simply not available in the current climate and shrewd management of resources is required to ensure that these young emerging stars fulfil their potential.

As for now, let’s hope they keep punching well above their weight, despite the challenges, and find their way to the Olympics for the adventure of a lifetime.

Football Queensland’s CEO Robert Cavallucci to reform Junior Development on the Sunshine Coast

Football Queensland today released a statement on the current state of junior development on the Sunshine Coast.

In their statement, FQ say that they have discussed potential pathways for women and girls to play soccer on the Sunshine Coast. Talks were held with NPL club Sunshine Coast Wanderers.

The statement in full can be found below, per footballqueensland.com.au:

Football Queensland (FQ) Chief Executive Officer Robert Cavallucci met with club officials from Sunshine Coast Wanderers on Monday to discuss future pathways for women and girls on the Sunshine Coast.

Following a review of junior development opportunities across the state, discussions were held around how FQ can support the club moving forward to strengthen pathways for women and girls in the region, including the National Premier Leagues Women’s (NPLW) Queensland.

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Football Queensland announce reformed junior NPL competition

Football Queensland welcomes new SWQ Technical Development Manager

Over the next few weeks, FQ will work collaboratively with Football Queensland Sunshine Coast Zone and Sunshine Coast Wanderers as the NPLW licence holders to grow opportunities for women and girls.

FQ will not be making any changes to the current NPLW licence holders on the Sunshine Coast.

Further details around the support package will be announced in the coming weeks.

*ENDS*

The Sunshine Coast Wanderers are the leaders in their geographical area for promoting the women’s game and making it as readily available as possible.

The club has women’s sides in under 13’s, under 15’s, under 17’s and seniors.

However, Football Queensland have clearly seen the women’s game and the junior side of that, in particular to be an area in need of addressing.

This is a great show of initiative from Robert Cavallucci and FQ. The women’s game is arguably as important as any area of soccer in Australia at this point in time. They have clearly noticed the need to maximise coverage of the sport in the state and we here at Soccerscene tip our hats off to them.

In recent weeks, some of our best exports have been making all the headlines.

Sam Kerr, who recently signed for English club Chelsea FC, scored her very first goal in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League (the female equivalent of the Premier League) in the Blues’ 4-1 win over Arsenal.

The win itself came as a real surprise as Arsenal, for all their struggles in the men’s league, are the reigning champions and currently sit second on the table in the Barclays FAWSL.

They are only behind Manchester City on goal difference.

It’s great to see Sammy hitting the scoreboard in England and let’s hope that this is merely the beginning for the Matildas star.

Fellow Australian Hayley Raso also made waves by joining Everton’s women’s side from Brisbane Roar.

Raso, who is from the Gold Coast originally, had stints at Brisbane, Canberra United in the W-League and the Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League (the female equivalent of the MLS).

Raso has been riddled with injuries in recent times and after moving from the United States, then to Australia and now to England, let’s hope she can make a splash like that of Sam Kerr.

Australian soccer legend Tim Cahill, who made his name at Everton as well as Millwall, made the announcement via Everton’s Twitter page. The video can be found below.

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