What will a National Second Tier mean for the NPL?

As the concept of a National Second Tier becomes a reality in Australia, there are questions on what the removal of the biggest clubs will mean for the State League competitions.

Football Australia are still discussing and workshopping the format of the concept, and how it operates and coexists with the National Premier Leagues (NPL) is one of the biggest questions.

When the NPL was created in 2013, the aim was to standardise the State League competitions across Australia and serve as a second tier to the A-League. The competition has been the top division in each state outside the A-League, with the winners playing off against each other at the end of the season.

The NPL hasn’t managed to bridge the gap between the State League clubs and the A-League, shown by the push for a true National Second Tier.

We know that the current NPL clubs would jump at the chance to join a National Second Tier, however, what would this mean for the State Leagues moving forward?

There is certainly commercial value to having South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights play off in the Victorian State League. Without the traditional powerhouse clubs in there, the Victorian NPL would struggle to attract sponsors and fans that drive the clubs, allowing them to perform at a semi-professional level.

Determining what the value of the NPL is without traditional clubs is a question that will be asked across every state competition if a National Second Tier drags them away.

Football Australia has previously floated a Champions League-style competition idea, with 32 teams competing in a group stage format followed by a knockout stage.

The allure of this concept is to reduce the cost of travel and the financial burden on the clubs at the league’s inception while allowing the clubs to continue to play in their respective state NPL competitions.

However, this is a stop-gap solution to get the competition off the ground, with the intention of easing into the transition from semi-professional into a fully professional second tier with promotion and relegation down the track.

There are certainly positives to this structure. Using the Champions League-style format to get the competition off the ground and running before evolving into a traditional league format could be the best way for a National Second Tier to launch.

The reality is that the first few years in a National Second Tier will be difficult for the clubs if the competition is a complete home and away league featuring at least 18 games. It is a distinct possibility clubs will fold, or flee back to the relative safety of their state competitions.

This isn’t a reason not to proceed with the competition, however, it is a danger that the clubs must recognise. To alleviate this danger, clubs can play in their state competitions while featuring in a parallel Champions League-style competition.

Some of the NPL’s biggest clubs would prefer a traditional style home and away season. South Melbourne President Nick Maikousis outlined in an interview with Soccerscene that a National Second Tier could mean some of the biggest clubs depart the State Leagues.

“We don’t agree that a Champions League-style competition is a National Second Division. Our views are that it needs to be a stand-alone competition. The challenge for the state federations is potentially losing some of their biggest member clubs,” Maikousis said.

“If you take South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, and Heidelberg out of the NPL Victoria competition, it becomes a different conversation.”

He also pointed out that reluctance to lose these clubs from their respective state leagues by some stakeholders is similar to arguments raised against the formation of the National Soccer League in the 1970s.

Fears of losing the State League’s biggest clubs aren’t new. At the NSL’s inception in 1977, the Victorian Premier League forbid its clubs from joining the new competition. Mooroolbark SC, an unremarkable Eastern Suburbs club, broke the deadlock, paving the way for South Melbourne, Heidelberg and Footscray just to follow in their footsteps.

Mooroolbark unfortunately found themselves relegated out of the NSL in their only year in the competition, before ending up in the provisional league at the bottom of the football pyramid by the 1980s.

Eventually, any national second tier competition must become a stand-alone league if Australian football is to have a proper pyramid of competitions featuring promotion and relegation. The state NPL competitions will lose their biggest clubs to this, but it creates opportunities for other clubs to forge ahead and take their place.

Australian football needs to be brave in its attempt to create something that will outlast us all. Countries like England, Spain, and Italy have built their football not only on heritage, but also a deep talent pool developed playing in the leagues below their top division.

Promotion and relegation must be the end game for football if it’s to reach its full potential in Australia. For a club to climb from State League 5 to the A-League, from amateur to professional, is the ultimate expression of the beautiful game.

The state leagues will survive losing their biggest clubs, like they did at the NSL’s inception. The question is what value these competitions still have without their biggest assets.

Western Melbourne Group unveils plans for landmark sports and residential development

Western Melbourne Group project partners

The Western Melbourne Group (WMG) has revealed its major partners for the $2 billion project that will become Australia’s first sport and recreation focused suburb.

WMG and Western United FC Executive Chairman, Jason Sourasis, made the announcement via the club’s website last Friday, revealing Victorian property developer YourLand Developments and global building technology firm Johnson Controls as its major project partners.

Johnson Controls are a world leader in building sustainability and technology, and will provide valuable input to the sporting infrastructure of the development, which includes Australia’s first privately-owned, football-specific stadium.

They will also assist in the expansion of United’s current football facilities, including 3 FIFA Pro outdoor playing surfaces and a 5,000 capacity second stadium.

“We’re absolutely delighted to work alongside some of the leading Australian and international property partners for this ground-breaking project, which will deliver both economic and social benefits to Melbourne’s West and, more broadly, the state of Victoria,” Sourasis said via press release.

Ali Badreddine, Vice-president and head of Project Delivery and Sustainable Infrastructure for Johnson Controls – Asia Pacific, is confident the company will deliver the long-held aspirations of Western United.

“At Johnson Controls, we have a legacy of nearly 140 years of innovation, technology, and energy efficiency. We are proud to be a technology leader with deep experience in the sports and entertainment sector, providing enhanced safety, improved sustainability, and more connected experiences for fans and athletes,” he added in a statement.

“We look forward to working with Western Melbourne Group and other valued partners to deliver sustainable development through our integrated solutions.”

The second major partner announced, YourLand Developments, has delivered several residential projects and redevelopments across the state of Victoria.

It is expected to take the lead on the project’s residential plans in conjunction with the Wyndham City Council, aiming to provide over 900 residential dwellings and recreation focused wetlands.

Sourasis believes its affiliation with the property developer is a no-brainer.

“YourLand Developments’ experience in creating sustainable communities, where people aspire to live and work, aligns perfectly to the values of our region and was therefore a natural partner,” he added via press release.

“YourLand has a proud legacy in Melbourne’s west, delivering over 2,500 lots as well as town centres, parks, open spaces and wetlands, in addition to commercial assets.”

YourLand Developments Chief Operating Officer Dean Gold considers the company as the best fit for the community-building aspect of the project.

“YourLand Developments has a proud history of successful development in the western suburbs of Melbourne, delivering places and communities with real substance and integrity that are designed to leave a positive and enduring legacy. YourLand’s team of highly skilled professionals have the experience and passion to take this project from vision to reality,” he added in a statement.

Returning to its focus on sport and recreation, WMG plans to include a high-performance district within the mixed-use suburb that Western United’s official gym partner, VERVE Fitness, will help to develop.

The club is currently in a four-year collaboration with the Australian-owned company, who provide the club with state-of-the-art gym facilities that aid the development of its A-Leagues and football academy players.

VERVE CEO Niall Wogan explained it will make a valuable contribution to WMG’s desire for a high-performance district.

“Our sponsorship of Western United Football Club marks a commitment to not only fostering athletic excellence but also championing the development of the precinct area, where our facilities will serve as a vibrant hub for the entire Wyndham community,” he said via media release.

“Together, we aim to build a legacy of health, unity, and shared victories that resonate far beyond the pitch.”

The entire project is forecast for completion by 2034 and will play a huge role in football’s expansion both locally and nationally. Executive Chairman Sourasis summated the importance of the plan.

“This is truly the most exciting project in Melbourne’s sporting landscape and will create only the second A-League broadcast compliant, rectangular stadium in the State. As one of the newest football teams in the Australian domestic league, creating a welcoming and safe space for our fans is our top priority and this project will set our club up for the long-term,” he added in a statement.

The investment in football infrastructure and community development by Western United should inspire its competitors to make similar headway, and capture the sport’s current boom following the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Ange Postecoglou’s journey has laid a path for future Australian coaches to succeed in Europe

At Football Victoria’s Community in Business Full Time Luncheon event, special guests discussed Ange Postecoglou’s brilliant start at Tottenham Hotspur and explained his journey through the coaching ranks.

Postecoglou’s incredible 27-year coaching resume started at South Melbourne FC, the team he played 10 years with in the old NSL. Ange’s stint at the Roar was memorable, most notably his record-breaking 36-game unbeaten run which saw them win multiple titles during his reign.

After spending time managing the national team and Japanese club Yokohama F. Marinos, it wasn’t until his Celtic managerial move that contributed to the positive reputation spike of Australian managers in the world game.

The Celtic appointment was faced with lots of criticism from the Scottish media and Celtic supporters, but his success made sure that simmered down quickly. It was a huge milestone in Australian football as it was the first time an Aussie manager not only managed a major team in Europe but also won a league title in Europe.

Former South Melbourne FC player Paul Trimboli and Melbourne Victory legend Archie Thompson were on the panel that told their personal anecdotes about how he was on and off the field. This has opened up a wider discussion about Australian coaches in general and how there is quite a lack of success in that area.

Archie Thompson, who played under Postecoglou for his short stint at Melbourne Victory, spoke about his coaching style at the Community in Business event recently.

“He is a little bit difficult to read at first for sure but what I admire is how he was able to evolve. He came into Victory and changed the way he played the game from his Roar days, and it worked. We scored heaps of goals and had success,” Thompson said.

“Ange was solely focused on the team first over any individuals. It was never Thompson 1 or 2-0; it was Victory 2-0 and that’s why he has been so great. He has a knack of appreciating individuals but always keeping the team-first mentality.”

Ange’s incredible journey does paint a picture however of the struggles that Australian coaches have breaking into European football, which is increasingly becoming an issue as more Aussie coaches succeed in both the men’s and women’s game domestically and in Asia.

Gary Cole, President of Football Coaches Australia (FCA) has previously discussed in length about the significant hurdle that these coaches face, which is acquiring the UEFA pro license.

Despite Postecoglou’s deep football coaching resume, his move to Celtic could have been derailed because of the system and rules set in place in order to attain the license, which review the coach’s ability to manage a professional football team.

However, there is no doubt that Ange’s incredible journey and early Manager of the Month success at Tottenham Hotspur will open doors for fellow Aussie managers to be firstly given a chance but to also succeed in Europe.

Kevin Muscat had a small stint at Belgian club Sint-Truiden in 2020, whilst Patrick Kisnorbo managed ESTAC Troyes and became the first ever Australian manager of a team in a ‘top five’ European men’s league. Kisnorbo’s move to fellow City group club  Troyes, thanks to his success at Melbourne City, also presents as a future opportunity for A-League managers who impress.

Whilst the results from both weren’t or haven’t been fantastic, the opportunity was granted to them due to recent success and the foundation potentially laid for the future of Australian coaches in Europe. These moves only increase the validity of the A-League and Australian coaches, especially because of the long journey a lot of these managers go through just to reach that sort of level.

The future is brighter for the reputation and validity of Australian football, a country that is quickly latching on to the sport especially after Men’s and Women’s World cup successes.

Ange Postecoglou continues to shine in the Premier League and his impressive story has no doubt created its own pathway for more Australian coaches to follow with hopefully less obstacles and difficulties.

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