Dispute deepens over Asian clubs in A-League

Football Federation Australia has been criticised for bagging an ambitious plan to expand the A-League into Asia. 

FFA boss David Gallop said there is "no enthusiasm" for a proposal to invite teams from Asia to join Australia’s top flight.

Central Coast Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth contracted English football consultant Jon Smith to explore the prospect. 

It is understood they held discussions with both the AFC and FIFA to get feedback on the concept. 

Gallop said he told Charlesworth and Smith: "You need to cross the Grand Canyon in a rocket ship. When it lands on the other side it needs to explode into cash to make this worth looking at.

“There’s been no indication of any commercial return guaranteed. I didn’t discourage them - I wanted them to go to see for themselves how problematic their proposal was. What conceptually on one level might look OK, on another had no meat to the bone.”

Under the proposal, up to six teams from the South-East Asia, like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia would become members of the Australian competition. 

Gallop poured cold water on the idea, saying it was a non-starter that would fail to pass FIFA and the AFC.

“At the current time we have no enthusiasm for this type of expansion,” he told News Ltd.

Meanwhile Smith, who met with representatives from the Asian and world governing bodies in Bahrain said he was surprised to read Gallop’s somewhat disparaging comments about the potential Hyundai A-League expansion project”.

And he urged the FFA to reconsider the proposal.

"This began after a conversation with Mike Charlesworth the owner of Central Coast Mariners, who has a vision to grow the Hyundai A-League beyond the boundaries of Australia” Smith said.

"The Socceroos and the Hyundai A-League have much to celebrate but ultimately a 10-team league expanding into potentially conflictive geographic locations needs a plan B.

"We took on the project, which Mike funded, held in-depth conversations with broadcasters and sponsors alike together with Australia's ASEAN neighbouring FAs and indeed the Hong Kong football association too.”

"We followed that with lengthy meetings at General Secretary and Executive levels at the AFC and FIFA.

"Without exception, every party understood that the logistics could work (10 day, two game road trips twice a season for each club including training camps) and financially were talking numbers way beyond the Hyundai A-League's expanded expectation, which in turn would have given rise to a number of marquee players plying their trade in the region.”

Smith said while the governing bodies acknowledged barriers they were more than happy to look at special case scenarios for the South East Asian region as well as the Caribbean.

“So Mr Gallop’s recent comments, I am afraid are a little disingenuous,” he added.

Gallop had said FIFA and the AFC would not permit that type of cross-country competition, and if they did it would only be in countries without an established league.

As it is, Oceania Football Confederation ring-in, Wellington Phoenix, is in the process of trying to renew its A-League licence with FFA.

Gallop said the Asian expansion would be in “direct competition with the Asian Champions League, which on any view is still a fledgling exercise for Australian football, where a number of games are difficult to sell in terms of attendance and TV ratings.

“It would potentially damage our domestic TV relationship, given there is no guarantee of ratings success. In fact current ratings suggest local derbies are far more popular with viewers than games against Asian teams. 

“There are significant travel and logistical problems associated with up to six teams participating in the A-League. It’s clearly not going to dedicate resources to the development of Australian players.

“We allowed (the concept) to be explored to a logical decision point. If we had not, we’d have been criticised for that as well,” he said. 

“It was time to stop expecting Jon Smith to explore this for free. But if we truly were to take this forward, we have the expertise and the relationships internally. 

“The current A-League is still very much at a stage of haves and have-nots financially, and this season has again highlighted that closing the gap is a challenge.” 

Smith said the FFA boss and his management team had been “courteous, encouraging and indeed very professional” in their dealings with Charlesworth’s team.

“Which is why we are somewhat surprised by his public comments in the last 48 hours,” he said.

"As a professional outsider looking in, we really must give great respect to Mr Gallop and his team for their achievements to date."

"We wish the Hyundai A-League only success and hope that our 24 years’ experience in the English Premier League can help benefit Australian football in the future.”