A-League must open its closed shop to stop future debacles

Asked if the Mariners inept performance was the best argument in favour of creating a second division, Fraser said: “Yes, you could say that, as people were last night.

“But what it also really shows up are the negative effects of having a closed league where there is no punishment for failure.

“We should be asking the question why there are very few closed leagues anywhere else in the football world and whether, having had a 15-year experiment with this kind of set up, it’s delivering the right outcomes.”

Saturday night’s loss was not the first horror show staged in Gosford by former A-League champions  Mariners, who are a pale imitiation of the Graham Arnold-coached team that won the title and was a regular championship challenger in the early years of the A-League.

And the decision to sack coach Mike Mulvey – at 1am on Sunday morning – was something that hardly came as a surprise. Under English owner Mike Charlesworth, the Mariners have had  numerous coaches  – and no success – as they try to operate on a shoestring budget to save money.

Fraser, who was also chief executive of AFL club St Kilda earlier in his career, says the lack of pressure on clubs in the A-League, protected by long-term franchise agreements, is bad for players, spectators, broadcasters, the media and the game itself.

“The big clubs have separated away at the top of the league and we now get so many games in the past few seasons that mean nothing,” Fraser said.

“How can that be good for anyone, how will people be interested in that?

“Promotion and relegation would change all that. It would provide incentive for aspirational clubs who want to invest and develop their supporter base, and it would provide a competitive incentive for clubs in the A-League to invest in better coaching, better players and develop a more competitive edge.

“Games would mean something at both ends of the table and viewers, fans and media would all have engagement through the whole season for most games, unlike now.

“Promotion and relegation won’t come in straight away. We know that. They have to build up the A-League and get that right first. But we believe there is enough interest and potential investors who aspire to back clubs who will be competitive once the system is introduced.”

The closed-shop system was regarded as necessary when the league was begun in 2005-06 so as to give owners and investors certainty. The salary cap was introduced for the same reason.

The FFA announced in 2014 that it would give the then 10 A-League clubs a guarantee of a license in the top tier until 2034 – a gesture that now looks to be a big mistake given the way the landscape is changing.

Whether the mooted shift by the A-League clubs to break from FFA control and manage their own competition will invalidate previous agreements struck under the FFA remains to be seen.

Fraser also says that the closed-league system prevents soccer from capitalising on its key points of difference to the other major football codes such as AFL and the NRL.

”Why do we decide to run our game like the other codes? They have a limited footprint internationally and a shortage of elite players so have traditonally run as closed competitions with one top division,” Fraser said.

“We don’t. There is no shortage of available talent, both at home and overseas we could bring in if necessary.

“Having a closed league means our younger players are denied opportunities to play professionally and develop; A-League clubs so often sign experienced players or those past their best when we have younger players itching for the chance to play.

”Nobody wants to watch what we had to watch on Saturday night.”

Rabieh Krayem is the chairman of the Association of Australian Football Clubs, the body pushing for the establishment of The Championship as a supporting division for the A-League.

He is optimistic that The Championship will kick off in 2020-21 season.

“There is now a very broad concensus from virtually all areas of the game – the state federations, ourselves, the players’ union and the FFA that it needs to happen.

“We still have to work out a timeframe and the mechanisms through which it can be introduced and promotion and relegation is subject to discussion. But in the long run it will add value to the A-League as well because it will increase interest, engage supporters and media and make the sport more compelling.”

Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing

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