Chief executive of Football Federation Australia James Johnson recently cited a need to re-evaluate the transfer fee system in the domestic game. At the same time, the newly independent A-League owners and the PFA appear determined to implement changes to the rules around marquee and foreign players; allowing clubs to sign up to five whose wages would sit outside the salary cap.
Both are long called for and would have instant and immense ramifications for the A-League.
Johnson’s comments around the transfer system stem from a desire to increase revenue streams for clubs currently bound by regulations that allow no internal A-League transfer fees. In 2019, Australian clubs took in a paltry A$1.9 million; well below the fees gathered by other heavy hitters in the Asian Confederation.
The amount ranks Australia 67th internationally, something that Johnson feels is unacceptable considering the men’s national team sits in 42nd place in the international rankings. Johnson wrote the book on transfer fees and regulations in his role at FIFA and as those changes filter through internationally, his view is that Australia does not have the option to change, but must change, should they wish to keep step with the rest of the globe.
Much of the discussion in the area of transfer fees lies in junior development, with many NPL clubs feeling they remain unrewarded for developing talent. Such talent is often poached by A-League clubs with no reward received for the financial and resource commitment made to the player and their youth structures.
Should the payment of transfer fees in such a situation become a reality, clubs that churn out junior talent will be rewarded with financial compensation. Those funds could be re-invested into the next crop of players and clubs that have traditionally been effective in producing young talent, only for others to swoop and pounce as they reach maturity, could develop a substantial and consistent revenue stream.
Clubs with vast nurseries in major capital cities will surely hold an advantage, however, the process of assigning true value to footballers and ensuring that clubs pay and receive the appropriate sum is a no-brainer when it comes to advancing the Australian game.
Potentially more ground breaking are the discussions between the A-League owners and the PFA in regards to marquee and foreign wages. Currently, each club is permitted two marquee men whose wages fall outside the salary cap.
Of the current eleven clubs, only Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory and Western United have two such marquees. Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets have none whatsoever and the remaining five clubs all have one man on the books whose wages do not impinge on the A$3.2 million salary cap.
The argument for an opening of the purse strings that could see the 12 A-League clubs in 2020/2021 bring up to 60 marquee/foreign men from around the globe into the league is all about quality. The lure is a suggestion that clubs with the financial clout to attract better pedigree from overseas would effectively raise the standard of play across the league.
Moreover, the commercial ramifications of the introduction of big name international players has some salivating at the thought. Many will cite Alessandro Del Piero’s time at Sydney FC as the benchmark and the goal; where the domestic league garnered interest from many fans who had rarely, if ever, attended an A-League match.
Whilst the excitement of each and every A-League club acquiring up to five Del Pierro like players to ignite the competition is an attractive thought, the feasibility of such a boom in spending is questionable. With just 11 of the 22 current A-League marquee spots filled, one wonders how the club’s owners could dare engage in a spending spree that would see their wage bill increase exponentially.
Certainly, ticket sales and corporate interest would generate revenue in the medium term. However, with owners making consistent losses across the league, the chances of wholesale spending with little assurance of return appears low.
More important could be the ramifications of a more open market in terms of marquee and foreign wages, where the spending power of smaller clubs could well see them phased out of competitiveness quite briskly. The Central Coast Mariners function in a region of somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 people. The club spent just A$2.88 million on wages for the 2019/20 season; the salary floor figure mandated by FFA.
Should Sydney FC, Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory be afforded the license to acquire up to five foreigners outside the salary cap restrictions, one can only imagine the increased chasm between the playing talent in their squads compared to that of the Mariners.
Natural attrition would almost certainly take place; something that exists across the globe in world football as one team is relegated and another promoted. However, without a current and efficient system of promotion/relegation in the domestic game and a host of clubs with the facilities and finances ready to step into the top tier, the A-League could potentially lose now competitive teams well before the games growth permits an expanded competition of at least 16 teams; something we all hope to see.
Whilst Johnson’s desire to change the Australian transfer fee regulations and the proposed freeing up of the current buying power of the clubs when it comes to marquee/foreign wages sound exciting for the domestic game, there will be casualties.
The question that must be asked and considered carefully is whether the game can afford those causalities right now. The salary cap and the restriction on transfer fees were implemented to protect the A-League in its infancy.
Whether the competition is old enough for such measures to be lifted is, in my opinion, up for debate.