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Ronaldo a no show in Korea – Do players truly care for pre-season trips?

Imagine being a soccer fan in South Korea.

You have your local sides such as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Seoul FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. But you prefer the higher quality leagues of Europe.

Your national team’s stars play there, including Heung Min-Son, Lee Jae-sung and Hwang Hee-chan. You dream of one day, seeing some of the world’s best play live.

Then, Italian champions Juventus are announced as the headline pre-season tournament side. You’d be pretty darn excited wouldn’t you?

Australian soccer fans would be over the moon if Juventus came Down Under for a few pre-season friendlies.

Understandably, you want tickets to see one of the greatest clubs in world football strut their stuff.

Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Giorgio Chiellini and Cristiano Ronaldo, just to name a few, will be kicking about in your own backyard.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Usually, this is where you’d see the phrase, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”

The only difference this time is that in this instance, it shouldn’t be.

We’ve seen international superstars play pre-season matches across the globe before. English clubs Arsenal, Manchester United and Leeds United sent strong squads to their respective tours.

Granted, younger and lesser-known players were given priority but these stars such as Paul Pogba, Mesut Ozil and Pablo Hernandez still played in front of fans who paid their dues.

Heck, even Real Madrid took new star signing Eden Hazard on their tour of the United States.

They understood and respected how far some fans go for their teams, and that some fans can’t travel to watch league or cup fixtures. They tried giving them lifelong memories.

Autographs, selfies and just the experience of having your heroes out there will do that for fans of these clubs.

Juventus, however and specifically Ronaldo, didn’t seem to care.

Not only was Ronaldo barely sighted during signing and photograph sessions with fans, he didn’t even play!

Imagine taking one the most highly decorated and talented footballers to a country filled with passionate soccer fans, for him to sit on the bench. That’s ludicrous enough.

Now imagine paying to see this match with the promise that he’d be out there playing. That’s where the line is drawn.

Understandably, fans are suing as a result of not getting what they were promised.

The event has gone from a harmless, pre-season friendly to a dumpster fire that the Italian giants have only themselves to blame.

But this begs the question. Do some players genuinely care for their pre-season tours?

Combined with this Ronaldo incident, Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny refused to travel with the squad on the Gunners’ trip across the United States.

It is becoming increasingly commonplace in the elite world of soccer and only time will tell if it becomes an unfortunately commonality.

We understand that some players may not want to risk injury and that’s fine. Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea injured his Achilles tendon during a friendly match and is set for a huge stint on the sidelines.

He is one of many examples where a player jeopardises the side after an injury during a non-competitive fixture.

If clubs and/or the players themselves come out and say that they don’t want to risk injuries to their stars, that’s totally acceptable.

But don’t give fans hope for it to be taken away when they least expect it.

Imagine the uproar if Paul Pogba didn’t play any minutes for Manchester United in the Australian tour. Fans would be left feeling totally ripped off, right?

That’s how all South Korean soccer fans feel right now. Trust me, it’s not an enviable feeling.

 

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

A new year brings optimism for Australian football

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

As always in Australian football, 2021 is set to be a big year.

After a year which was continually disrupted by a global pandemic, the game’s future seems to be much brighter in 2021. Here are some of the reasons why:

An Independent A-League and W-League

After years of infighting, the A-League and W-League were finally unbundled from Football Australia on the last day of 2020.

A new organisation of A-League club owners, under the moniker of Australian Professional Leagues (APL), will now take over the operational, commercial and marketing control of both leagues.

Essentially, the league’s power brokers will now have more incentive to invest and market the leagues as they now have the impetus to attract and organise their own business dealings.

Chair of APL and co-owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, Paul Lederer, spoke of the importance of the deal: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves. The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

Domestic Transfer System

One of Football Australia’s ‘XI Principles’ outlined the need to stimulate and grow the Australian football economy, with the establishment of a new and modern domestic transfer system mooted as a proposed measure.

Last week Football Australia released a Domestic Transfer System White Paper, which will set the wheels in motion to revamp the current model into one which falls in-line with the rest of the global game.

It’s an area where Australian football is falling behind, with FIFA reporting in 2019 that Australian clubs only received US$1.9 million in international transfer fees, compared to other Asian nations like Japan who garnered US$29.4 million.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has placed significant importance on the issue and the implementation of a proper domestic transfer system will finally reward a broad range of clubs across the Australian football pyramid.

“The establishment of a modern Domestic Transfer System in 2021 by Football Australia will seek to remedy the ‘gap’ that has been created in the Australian football ecosystem by providing opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves,” he said.

“We believe that the implementation of a fit-for-purpose system will have transformational benefits for football in Australia and particularly our professional and grassroots clubs by reconnecting the game and stimulating growth,” Johnson concluded.

National Second Division

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) is set to release a report on the progress of their plans for a national second division in the coming days, in a move which should enthuse the Australian football public.

A national second division (eventually with promotion and relegation) will bring a range of benefits to the football system here and will be a unique identifier which separates the game from a range of other sports played on our shores.

There does seem to be some hesitance from A-League clubs however, to immediately green-light a national second division.

Chair of the APL, Paul Lederer, recently stated that a national second division wouldn’t eventuate within the next two years, claiming that expanding the A-League to 16 teams was a more urgent priority.

Speaking with Box2Box, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas responded to Lederer’s comments. “It doesn’t really bother us much because I don’t think the issue will come down to Paul in the end. It’s not really about him”, he said.

“I was surprised to hear the comments, I’ve got to say, but equally had he said the opposite, it wouldn’t have mattered much either.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to Football Australia as the APL does not have the appropriate regulatory functions.

The current FA administration is much more willing than previous administrations to introduce a second tier, previously listing the need to continue the development of a framework for a national second division, in their ‘XI Principles’ document last year.

New Broadcast Deal

Fox Sports re-negotiated their TV deal with the A-League and other Australian football properties when the competition went into shutdown during the COVID pandemic.

The deal was reduced in both dollars and length, with Fox Sports paying just over $30 million for a one-year agreement which runs out in July of this year.

There is a possibility that Fox may pass on extending that deal, but that does present the game with opportunities to seek out a new broadcast partner or to take things into their own hands and build up their own streaming service.

The game’s TV deal with the ABC is also set to expire this year, with the need to find the right balance between free-to-air exposure and broadcast revenue becoming increasingly important.

New potential broadcasters that may be interested in striking an agreement include:

Optus Sport: Currently have the rights to competitions such as the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, J-League and K-League,

Stan Sport: Recently entered the market by signing a deal with Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition and are reportedly interested in securing the NBL rights in the future.

DAZN: Have started to dip their toes into the Australian landscape through other sports, after broadcasting football in multiple countries across the world.

Whatever the case, Australian football does seem to have options outside of Fox Sports, who have broadcasted the A-League for the past 16 seasons.

With many exciting possibilities to look forward to, the game should be in a stronger place by the end of 2021.

Does the A-League need a Big Bash style experiment?

The fans roar as the fireworks explode – with music blasting a Mexican wave engulfs the stadium. Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) has succeeded in attracting families to their sport, which is something that the A-League could look to replicate.

The A-League could learn from both the failures and successes of the Big Bash League to rejuvenate football in Australia, with a BBL style concept to attract consumers and fans to the A-League in a unique manner.

However, an approach into a BBL style experiment would have to be taken carefully as there is a fine line between creating a product that is viewed as a serious competition and creating a product that is looked down upon such as AFLX.

The BBL’s peak was on January 2, in 2016 when 80,883 fans packed into the MCG to watch a match between the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades.

While the Big Bash has been in a supposed decline in popularity since, the league has still been able to produce some large attendances.

54,478 people attended a Melbourne Derby on January 4 earlier this year – the third highest crowd for a BBL game in the league’s history.

Meanwhile the A-League’s highest crowd before COVID-19 interrupted the 2019/20 season was 33,523 people at October’s draw between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

Cricket Australia’s success with the BBL came from creating an experience geared towards families and children – with pump up music, fireworks and flamethrowers that were suited to T20 cricket with its high scoring, exciting and shorter format.

Former Liverpool star Craig Johnston has suggested an idea of what an A-League version of the BBL would look like.

“Four quarters, 15 minutes each, rotating substitutes, sin bins, all the things you’re not allowed to do in soccer,” he told The Daily Football Show in 2019.

“So effectively in midfield, you could take a touch, get past a player and you could shoot for goal. Then the goalkeeper’s either saving that shot or it’s a goal.”

“We’re utilising the same players but we’re taking out their midfield and we’re giving the players and the consumers four times more of what they want in the quarter of the time.”

Johnston believes that a Big Bash style format should be adapted by Australian football with A-League teams.

“The big idea is the Big Bash of soccer, but then the kids copy it at their training grounds,” he said.

“It is professional six-a-side with A-League teams. The A-League teams split in half, red versus blue, they play against each other.”

“The Big Bash and the One Day series is the best thing that ever happened to cricket in terms of engaging young minds and future minds.”

If the A-League was to try BBL style product it would need to make sure the best players are available – a weakness of the Big Bash has been that some of the biggest names in Australian cricket do not play regularly in the competition as the league clashes with international fixtures.

An A-League Big Bash competition would also be taken more seriously if the best players were playing regularly.

Perhaps the naming rights sponsor of the competition could provide a cash prize to the winning club, to entice clubs to field their best players.

One lesson that the A-League could learn from the Big Bash is that it has been made too long, something that even stars of the competition like Glen Maxwell have admitted.

“I think the length of the tournament when it was 10 games, I think we all really enjoyed that. I think it was the perfect amount,” Maxwell told SEN in early 2020.

“I just think 14 games is just a little bit much. It just makes for a very long tournament and probably goes for a touch too long.

“With school starting again it makes it a bit more difficult to keep the interest levels going until the end (of the season).”

The Big Bash was at its best when there was a limited number of games played predominantly in the school holidays.

If each A-League team played each other once in a new competition it could have an 11 game season plus a short finals series.

Ideally the A-League Big Bash concept would need to have as many games broadcast on free-to-air as possible – in order to easily accessible to fans.

There seems to be a lack of momentum coming into the 2020/21 A-League season, which is just under a week away. An Australian football version of the BBL could potentially be played as a lead in tournament to the A-League season, bringing attention and hype to the beginning of the competition.

Football Victoria celebrates International Day of People with Disability

Football Victoria has joined the global football community in celebrating International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD).

Football Victoria has joined the global football community in celebrating International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), as well as several updates from FV’s All Abilities football programs.

IDPwD is held yearly on December 3, a United Nations day that’s observed internationally. It helps to increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with an impairment and recognise their contributions to society.

“We are proud to be an inclusive sport supporting people with an impairment to play football,” Football Victoria said.

“Despite not being able to host our usual programs this year, we are more than determined to ensure our players with impairments will have the best football season in 2021 – aligning with the international theme for IDPwD 2020: “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.

“We are excited to share some updates across our All Abilities football programs.”

A new FV Blind Football Project Coordinator has been appointed, with Amir Abdi to commence from 2021. He will work closely with Football Victoria’s Inclusion team related to programs for blind or partially sighted Victorians.

At Fitzroy City SC, the second session of their pilot Autism Football Program for children with the condition will take place, with costs of the program going towards the KS Foundation where it ensures kids with autism can play and watch football in a safe environment.

The Disability Sport and Recreation Online Festival will be an online platform this year to make sure anyone can still attend and participate. Football Victoria has given support to the festival that will run from Friday 11th December – Saturday 12th December 2020.

Football Victoria are also looking to launch their GO Sevens All Abilities Competitions on January 9th 2021, at Darebin International Sports Centre. It will involve a six week, 7-a-side social competition for people who have impairments (intellectual or physical) for ages 15 years and over.

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