If, by chance, you were to ask Football Federation Australia to show a bit of Anzac spirit, the game’s top brass would more than likely rifle through their drinks cabinet searching for a fancy liquor they will never find.
Just as there would be no bottles overflowing with the milk of human kindness, especially the ones labelled “Wellington Phoenix”.
All this is a long way of saying that when it comes to the future of New Zealand football, those in charge of the game in the Lucky Country could not give a toss whether there is one or not.
Ever since Australia switched from FIFA’s Oceanic Confederation to its Asian cousin ten years ago, football authorities across the Tasman have turned their backs on New Zealand and other South Pacific nations.
The All Blacks, rugby league’s Kiwis and the Silver Ferns netball team all have games, if not whole series scheduled every year with their Australian counterparts.The last time the All Whites saw battle against the Socceroos in an international was in 2011.
The Auckland Warriors, along wth the same city’s Breakers’ basketballers play in domestic Australian competitions without causing much angst being being displayed by administrators on that side of the Ditch.
Federation Football Federation Australia no doubt rues the day — or should that be roos the day — when the sole New Zealand franchise in the Hyundai A-League was transferred from the hapless Auckland Knights to the rapidly put together Pheonix.
The federation’s ill-feelings were nakedly apparent during negotiations last year over the extension of the Phoenix’s license which the club required to remain in the A-League.
The federation’s antipathy was equally evident when the league’s new season kicked off earlier this month.
Despite being part of the A-League for nigh on a decade, the Phoenix have won their first game of the season on only one occasion.
There has been far more optimism than in past years that key signings made during the off-season will not only lift the quality of the team’s play — especially in attack — but will also strengthen the whole squad so when players get injured their are replacements who can do the job just as well.
So there was disappointment that the Pheonix went down 0-1 to Melbourne City in the opening round.
But there was also much frustration.
The game was lost as much off the pitch as on it.
The Phoenix were deprived of five senior players — Kosta Barbarouses, Andrew Durante, Michael McGlinchey, Louis Fenton, and Matt Ridenton — who were on
international duty for the All Whites in Mexico and the United States.
Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick pleaded with the federations’ officials to allow the match to be postponed to a later date.
But he got nowhere. Under FIFA’s rules, once players are called up to represent their national team, their clubs are obliged to release them.
That rule even applies to so-called “friendly” internationals like those two games the New Zealand national team played in the Americas.
There are stiff penalties — including the loss of points in their domestic league — for clubs that flout that rule.
Taken in isolation, such regulations would obviously severely disadvantage clubs with squads stacked with foreign players.
But — as in the case with the Phoenix — there are clubs where international call-ups for the domestic national team can also reek havoc.
FIFA has dealt with this dilemma by the introduction of “international windows”.
This device enables countries to agree to a “co-ordinated calendar” which sees them playing one another during brief periods set aside for that purpose in their domestic season.
Each such window lasts nine days and thus includes Saturday and Sunday, the two days often preferred for the scheduling of international matches.
The nine-day limit is deemed to be sufficient to enable players to fly to wherever their national side is playing, allow some time for pre-match training, take part in the match itself and then fly back to the country where their club is located.
The crucial thing, however, is that while the window applies, no games take place in domestic competitions, be that league or cup.
This is all very straight forward. It is just common sense.
But go tell that to Federation Football Australia.
It has repeatably refused to follow suit despite calls to do so from other A-League managers and coaches, not just Merrick.
The federation claims “FIFA windows” would result in drastic cuts to broadcasting royalties which are a vital source of revenue for A-League clubs.
That would be so detrimental to the A-League that it would halt its expansion and could make it too difficult for some clubs to continue operating.
The federation insists broadcasters put a premium on “consistency” in the scheduling of fixtures to keep advertisers and sponsors happy. To ensure viewer ratings are high enough to meet that criteria, people have got to know when the matches are on the television so that they can establish “viewing patterns”.
That is a rather archaic statement in the digital age where the positive is that viewers are no longer tied to the television set and have other options for watching sport.
The obvious negative is that they now usually have to pay extra to watch live sport — thus creating a rather large incentive to be well-informed about programming schedules.
The federation also argues that football has to be careful not to annoy broadcaster because there is huge competition for the advertising dollar from AFL, rugby league and Super rugby union.
All of that offers no comfort for the Phoenix who face Catch-22. If the club asks New Zealand Football not to select players from the club’s squad the All Whites end up being handicapped.
This is a crucial period for the national team. The All Whites have qualified for next year’s Confederation Cup finals in Russia. They could well end up being drawn to play football giants such as Germany and Portugal. Ironically, they could end up meeting Australia, who have also qualified.
On top of that, there are qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup finals, which are also being hosted by the Russians.
It is thus vital that the All Whites arrange matches with quality opponents during international windows.
Merrick is adamant the national team takes priority. His big worry, however, is that there are more such windows on the horizon this season.
Of particular concern is that the Pheonix’s highly-talented and exciting striker Roy Krishna, who is a Fijian international, may be absent for some Key club games.make a
Merrick makes a valid point in arguing that the A-League’s integrity is at risk of being compromised by the fact that some clubs will play a depleted Pheonix.
Those which do not and instead come up against the full Wellington team and lose will have grounds to gripe.
It is also worth noting that Australia’s best players are contracted to overseas clubs because it is much more lucrative to do so.
The consequence of that is not surprising: the most recently announced Soceroos squad contained 23 players, but only two of those came from A-League clubs.
You can only wonder what Football Federation Australia would do if the ratio was reversed. But that is highly unlikely to happen.
Slightly more likely is a possible promotion-relegation system which would see poorly-performing clubs drop to some kind of second tier.
The home crowds for the Pheonix now average around the 8000-mark. They would plummet if supporters were subjected to watching second-rate Australian teams. The club would fold.
Ultimately, the A-League will want expand into Asia.
That is where the big television audiences reside.
That is where the big money is. And for Football Federation Australia, that seems to be its only bottom-line.