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FFA’s appointment of James Johnson is promising but where in the world does he start?

The Australian football community cheered as a collective with Friday’s official FFA announcement that James Johnson would take the reigns as Chief Executive Officer.

The primary reason for such a reaction is two fold. Many will see the departure of former CEO David Gallop as potentially the best thing to happen to the game on our shores for some time. Seen as a risk adverse, conservative and football novice by many, Gallop failed to build trust in relationships nor any belief in his approach throughout his reign.

The site of the CEO of Australian football enjoying champagne celebrations after successful Socceroo qualifications and wonderful Matilda victories only made critics and cynics irate. Most saw football as his second or third language at best, with his rather ponderous time involved in the game of rugby league also cited as another reason behind his mostly ineffectual time at the FFA.

The second reason for the broadly positive acceptance of the appointment of Johnson is quite clearly that the initial perception and hope around his ascension to the top job will bring exactly the opposite of what we currently have.

Those invested as stakeholders in the game, all the way from the local parks to the boardrooms of some of the most powerful clubs in the land, hope that Johnson’s football DNA is strong enough to bring about the structural and cultural changes that the game needs to undertake in order to grow and prosper.

Nothing brings ‘football cred’ like playing the game and Johnson’s career with the Brisbane Strikers and the fact that he also loomed on the radar of national selectors in restricted age play during the late 1990’s, gives him just that. Now a lawyer, and after a burgeoning career in sports administration and governance, where he worked with the PFA, AFC and FIFA, Johnson returns home to Australia and will attempt to clean up what many believe is a football mess

Johnson has spent his recent past as Senior Vice-President External Affairs at the City Football Group, no doubt an asset considering the group’s now global footprint in the game. His awareness of the eight different leagues into which City Football Group have become involved with will no doubt ensure Johnson sees the Australian game through the global lens required and not an A-League restricted bubble.

With a reputation for intelligence, collegiality and creating effective channels of dialogue between stakeholders, Johnson will take the reigns in January with myriad issues demanding his immediate attention. Unifying the game will be his most urgent matter of business, yet there are a number of more short term steps that will, if taken, convince people even further that he is the man to lead the game into it’s next phase.

Accelerating the creation of a national second division that brings Australian clubs under the one umbrella is vital and something that fans have seen stalled countless times by those previously charged with its implementation.

Related Article: Phil Moss: Australian football coaches deserve better

Ensuring fans of the Australian game are permitted to support actively and avoiding the ludicrous sight of domestic supporters being escorted from stadiums for merely standing, is also key. Opening lines of communication between the FFA, stadium authorities and security companies could perhaps create some common ground and understanding.

The cost of junior football also looms on the horizon for Johnson, with an urgent need for a restructure of the expenses involved for parents of junior players. Ticket prices, stadium development and the correct expansion of the women’s game will also occupy much of his thinking in the near future.

As daunting as many of those issues sound and as difficult as the way forward may be, Australian football fans are speaking hopefully and positively about their new CEO. If he is able to use his experience and skills to implement real change and briskly, it will confirm to many that the previous CEO was doing little more than letting the game down and holding it back.

If not, Johnson will also begin to feel the pressures and weight of expectation, so clearly evident amongst passionate football fans.

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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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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