Aussie Football’s Peep Show

Following Australian football at the moment is a bit like standing in the women’s changing rooms when your girlfriend wants some advice on a dress. While you should be focusing on what’s in front of you, something you obviously hold dear, you can’t quite draw your gaze away from the cubicle next door, where the curtain has been left slightly open by the curvy blond trying on a mini skirt.

It’s the same with football. You really want to just settle down and watch the action on the pitch – which incidentally has been as good as we’ve seen in the A-League – but your attention is constantly being drawn to other more salacious goings on

Take the week just gone, for example. Round eight served up a first vs third clash, four red cards in five games and a Sydney striker called Bruno. Instead all the headlines were stolen by off-field antics yet again, as earlier in the week FFA ousted Newcastle Jets owner Con Constantine and replaced him with a man, who by his own admission, has only a passing interest in the game.

In a strange state of affairs, last Wednesday saw two hastily arranged press conferences; a lunchtime announcement by FFA, followed by an afternoon meeting organised by Constantine. Whatever the Newcastle owner had planned to talk about was blown out of the water at lunch, as the governing body announced they would be revoking Con’s licence and giving it to local businessman Nathan Tinkler instead. Constantine, a long time critic of the FFA, reportedly heard the news from a reporter calling him for a reaction.

His ‘reaction’ at the afternoon presser was typical Con, all mouth and trousers, saying he was “stabbed in the back” by chairman Frank Lowy and revealing he was told if he went quietly, he would be “looked after” when the new Western Sydney club began operations.

Having pumped several million dollars of his own money into the club, Constantine elicited some amount of sympathy for his dumping but when players were reportedly unpaid for several months and helping each other out with rent cheques, a change was inevitable.

The choice of Newcastle coal magnate Nathan Tinkler did garner a few chortles from the back of the class, not least because Australian football doesn’t have a very good record when handing over control of clubs to overweight, mining billionaires. Gold Coast United’s Clive Palmer famously made headlines by enforcing a 5,000 fan cap at his club’s matches (not something he’s had to worry about recently though…) and it looked like more of the same when Tinkler said he had “no desire to own a football club” in an early statement. Although the 32 year-old said his takeover of the Jets is an act of community for the region he calls home, it remains to be seen if he will stay with the club in the long term.

Elsewhere, the World Football Insider released an update to its sexily titled World Cup Bid Power Index, where Australia have fallen to third last place in their Top Trumps-like ratings, behind only Japan and Spain/Portugal. The most telling of the stats is a low score for ‘Bid Operation/Leadership’, a sure sign that FIFA powerbrokers are taking note of the A-League’s current ills and the shaky leadership of the FFA.

Back in the women’s changing rooms and looking where we should be looking, Socceroos coach Holger Osieck has been looking to endear himself to Aussie fans by selecting six A-League players in the Australia squad to face Paraguay on October 9.

Former coach Pim Verbeek was never a fan of the domestic league, infamously stating that training in Europe was better experience than playing in the A-League. However, the 62 year-old German is of a different mind, giving half a dozen Australia-based players the chance to impress in the lead up to January’s Asian Cup tournament, where many first choice players may not be granted release to participate by their clubs.

Defender Jade North and midfielder Jason Culina are already established in the Socceroo set-up, but keeper Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide), defender Michael Thwaite (Gold Coast), midfielder Matt McKay (Brisbane) and striker Alex Brosque (Sydney) have just 18 appearances between them and are proof Osieck has been doing his homework on the local scene. As well as attending games, the German has clearly been gathering opinions and advice on potential squad members, something evident in his selection of Brosque, who has only played three times this campaign.

If there was any criticism of the Osieck’s squad it was down to the average age of the group – almost touching 30 – but with young guns such as Tommy Oar, Matthew Leckie and Ben Kantarovski on Young Socceroos duty, his hands were tied.

Facing a strong Paraguayan side who performed well in South Africa, the coach will be keen to continue his undefeated start as Socceroos coach but might feel compelled to risk the result by blooding some players for much needed international experience.

In other news, the much-anticipated first Melbourne derby between Victory and new team Heart has been postponed a week due to it clashing with the replay of the AFL (Aussie rules football) Grand Final. The game between St Kilda and Collingwood ended in a 68-68 tie, only the third time there’s been a draw in it’s 151-year history, and AFL supremo Andrew Demetriou couldn’t resist a sly dig at our game when explaining the need for a replay over sudden death extra-time.

“Of course there was a strange feeling after the game but it would have been even more strange and hollow for a team that loses after extra time,” Demetriou said. “I think we've all seen the lack of satisfaction from a World Cup or major game that's decided on penalties.”

Strong words from a man whose league is refereed by butchers…

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