21 April 2006

FFA Clinches New Pay TV Deal

It wasn't quite the $20 million per year deal announced earlier in the year, but Football Australia and Fox Sports have agreed to terms on a new seven-year $120 million contract for television rights to all A-League matches, Asian Champions League games involving A-League clubs, and all Socceroos matches excluding the World Cup.

The news must come as a welcome relief for cash-strapped A-League clubs, who will share earnings from the TV deal.

For supporters of football on free-to-air television, especially national team matches, the news is dire. Coverage of the match recently played between Australia and Bahrain in the Asian Cup qualifying tournament was absolutely woeful, with constant drop outs plaguing the SBS transmission. Nevertheless, viewers didn't have to pay a cable provider for the service. The great pity of the new deal is that non-subscribers of pay television will be effectively locked out of national team matches for the forseeable future. In my mind, these games ought to be offered to the general public as a free-to-air service, without requiring viewers to leave the comfort of their homes in order to nip down to the local.

There is one exception that, if pursued by Fox, would alleviate matters. Why not allow viewers to subscribe to only the cable channels they truly want, rather than oblige viewers to pay a set fee for the bundled service that Fox offers? Some of us aren't interested in weather stations, fashion channels, made-for-television movies, documentaries about government-sponsored artists investigating the cultural implications of eating toast upside-down and the like. If Fox wants to convert football followers with this new deal, how about letting us (1) choose only the cable content we really want, e.g. football fixtures, and (2) setting a reasonable price for the service, e.g. not much more than the cost of electricity plus depreciation of the television unit.

The new television deal is a fantastic and much-needed boost for the commercialisation of the sport in Australia. Given the extent of their investment, we should very pleased with Fox as a business partner. In the longer term, though, the effects of minimal A-League, ACL and Socceroos coverage on the broadcast networks remains dangerously unknown. How are non-Fox subscribers expected to follow the game with reasonable ease? Will children in non-affluent areas take up the sport or continue to identify with the heroes from other codes that are spattered over every weekend's programming schedules? Money is an obviously important asset that the game desperately needs, but so too is the emotional support of the general community. Hopefully, the FFA can figure out a way to reconcile lingering issues with the latter now that the immediate concerns with the former have been resolved.

20 April 2006

Everybody Loves Stan

Competition for the signature of Stan Lazaridis is really heating up, with the New Zealand Knights reportedly set to offer the flyer a whopping (by A-League standards) $350,000 per year contract.

Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne have all been linked with Lazaridis at some point in the last six months, but until the Knights deal surfaced it appeared that Newcastle were leading the race to sign him. With expensive Newcastle striker Ante Milicic still in talks with Queensland (who don't necessarily want him, given that a deal with former Cameroon international Patrick Suffo is also on the cards), it seems that the Jets will struggle to come up with a deal for Lazaridis comparable to the one offered by the Knights.

The proposed offer represents more than 20% of the Knights' $1.6 million salary cap for 2006-07.

12 April 2006

Melbourne's New Stadium

Curious where Melbourne's new 20,000 capacity rectangular stadium (depicted above) is actually going to reside? This Google satellite image centered on ex-greyhound track Edwin Flack Park displays the proposed building site of the new football and rugby venue.

You might want to keep the overhead view handy in order to decipher the hullabaloo brewing over the future usage of facilities at Olympic Park (adjacent to Edwin Flack Park on the left of the satellite image) and Gosch's Paddock (the two ovals on the far right) once the new stadium has been occupied.

Once Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Storm move into the new stadium, Athletics Victoria and two AFL football teams (Collingwood and the Melbourne Demons) are set to tussle over the territory that remains. Currently, Athletics Victoria is based within the Olympic Park stadium, Collingwood trains at Edwin Flack, and the Demon's try not to get caught up in the heavy traffic of Punt Road (extreme right of the satellite image) when they train on the open access turf of Gosch's Paddock.

Inevitably, since this is Melbourne, Eddie McGuire is right in the thick of things. The chairman of Collingwood and concurrent board member of Athletics Australia clearly isn't fazed by such big business irrelevancies as conflict of interest. From McGuire's point of view the solution to the issue is relatively simple: in return for cordially stepping aside from the rundown dogheap that is Edwin Flack, Collingwood ought to be granted full and independent use of Olympic Park's facilities. Sharing should not be an option for Australia's Greatest Sporting Institution.

As a result, Athletics Victoria and thousands of high school track & field carnival participants may need to find a new home (e.g. Albert Park), while the Demons might have to put up with the fringe of the parklands, i.e. where grass meets asphalt, for good. In the meantime, while the new stadium is being built, Collingwood is set to share Gosch's Paddock with the Demons, thus acquiring a small taste of what they're asking of their rivals. It remains to be seen if the tough stance of the Magpies will be altered by future traffic dodging incidents....

Back to matters at hand. I like the design of the new stadium, but I do have to wonder where the regular Victory and Storm fans are going to park. The semi-official data for the venture suggests that there are going to 320-350 car parking spaces "on site", probably just enough to cover board members and VIPs with one spot leftover for Victory's continually absent number one ticket holder, Premier Steve Bracks. Perhaps the "Open Air car park" will accomodate more spaces, but if so Victory, the government, nor the project's developers are indicating how many. "Catch a train," seems to be the emphasis. I don't drive, but on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people who don't live next to a train station in Melbourne nor those who feel like utilising the grottiest suburban bus service in Australia, the response is obvious: After you, Mr Bracks.

For a more extensive view of the new stadium in relation to the surrounding landscape, check out this nifty video flyover (997 KB).

Carney On Trial

David Carney scored two goals for Alemannia Aachen in a trial game against minnow Neuss. Apparently, fans liked what they saw in the fleet-footed leftie.

I wonder if one of Guus Hiddink's unnamed and unknown scouts attended the game, given how close Carney is to selection for the Socceroos in the World Cup?

Carney's progress in Germany can be followed on this thread in the Sydney FC forums.

11 April 2006

Returning Veterans

Much of the buzz these days concerns potential Socceroos and overseas based Australians who might be compelled to return home and join A-League squads for the 2006-07 season. So who are we dealing with here, and where might they choose to wind down their careers? Definite (or almost definite) returnees are identified in bold red text.

Let me know who I may have overlooked!


None of the top number ones playing overseas have been openly contemplating a move home. It would be very surprising if Mark Schwarzer and Zeljko Kalac didn't end their careers overseas after playing at least two more seasons. Ante Covic has spoken of his desire to play for a bigger club in Europe, and some significant match time with the Socceroos in the Asian Cup qualifiers may grant him an opportunity. Michael Petkovic is a regular starter in Turkey with Sivasspor, and he too must be contemplating/seeking a move to a club with a more substantial reputation.

Meanwhile, Frank Juric seems quite satisfied with his long-term backup roles in the Bundesliga. Paul Henderson has cracked Leicester's first team in recent weeks and appears set to extend his stay in England. Les Pogliacomi would probably struggle to wrestle a starting position from the league's elite 'keepers. (Update Apr-14: Les does want to return home and apparently is in the midst of striking a deal with an unknown club. Only Adelaide and perhaps Newcastle might need a goalkeeper at this point. Perth and Queensland could potentially seek an upgrade or long-term replacement I suppose.) Only Adelaide really seem to lack a definite top flight number one. Mark Bosnich's proclaimed intention to return to football should be taken with a grain of salt regardless of the undeniably gifted goalkeeper he once was. In any case, he has no apparent desire to return to Australia.

Central Defenders:

Craig Moore recently signalled his intention to return to Australia, but not until he sees out the final year of his contract with Newcastle in 2006-07. After failing to secure a new deal with NAC Breda, Tony Vidmar will certainly be heading home. Adelaide, where family including brother Aurelio await, is the obvious contender for his signature. The Mariners may be a bit of a dark horse, however. Following the departure of Michael Beauchamp they are in the market for a centre half, and with Vidmar's ex-teammate Alex Tobin in charge of player development an approach at the very least seems likely. Tony Popovic appears to want another year with Crystal Palace. Given a lack of match practice, his World Cup prospects are still in doubt and one imagines that any decision regarding his long term future will be put on hold until at least early-May. If he decides to come home, Popovic will be expected to sign for Sydney, Newcastle or the Mariners.

Now to the dark horses. Stephen Laybutt's international career may have nosedived of late but he is a regular for K.A.A. Gent who currently lie in a respectable fourth position in the Jupiler League. Even though he remains firmly out of the spotlight, a return to Australia next season seems very unlikely. Anthony Grdic was considered by Melbourne Victory before they signed Geoffrey Claeys. The thiry-one year-old was last seen playing for NK Karlovac in the Croatian second-tier. Surely he deserves a better send off. Since being dumped by Watford and picked up by Bournemouth, Adam Griffiths is a one of the younger overseas based players who may decide that constant job insecurity is not worth prolonging dreams of larger ambitions. Adrian Madaschi is a higher profile stopper who seems to be out of a job at the moment. Surely he's been approached by one or more of the A-League clubs, but the Athens Olympics competitor may be looking at extending his overseas journeys. Hayden Foxe is perhaps the best centre back in the country, but only a mircale cure will resurrect him from premature retirement.


Aside from Stan Lazaridis, who appears bound for Newcastle, this is a depressing list. Not too long ago, when Danny Tiatto deserted the national team he already signalled his intention to see out his career in England. Money and his desire to remain in first team contention for Leicester was the obvious reason for his decision to turn his back on his country. It's no surprise that he has announced his availability to other clubs in England, possibly after receiving a financial offer from Melbourne that was less than comparable with his potential bench warming salary elsewhere. Eddie Bosnar shares a similar story. Now with HNK Rijeka in Croatia, the ex-Sturm and Everton man had a lengthy spell on the cusp of international selection before he publicly berated Frank Farina and disappeared off the Socceroos radar. It would be great to see him resurrect things back home if for no other reason than he is a valued left-footer and has time on his side. He can also play in the middle, thus accomodating the current national team's preference for multi-positional talent. Lindsay Wilson, currently with Guus Hiddink's championship winning PSV team, is another overseas-based fullback who may need to return home to secure any possible chance of a Socceroos jersey. Significantly outclased at the Dutch club, Wilson is not a Jason Culina waiting to happen, i.e. it doesn't look like he's going to suddenly blossom copious skills after his lengthy spell waiting in the wings. The A-League might be more suited to his abilities. (Update Apr-14: Well, silly me, it appears Wilson moved to Kilmarnock on loan until the end of the season. He's playing regularly, but a quick Google News search discovers phrases like "Wilson's error was punished..." and "Wilson, twisted inside out". My hasty prognosis is that an A-League career remains a possibility.)

Central Midfielders:

Out of contract Paul Okon is almost certain to attract the interest of an A-League team, while Josip Skoko is clearly the best of all the potential returnees for next season should he decide that another frustrating year in the English Premier League is not for him. I'm a great admirer of Okon and would dearly love to see him play in Australia again. Newcastle and the Knights seem to be his major suitors, but considering the Knights just signed Gemmill and Johnson it does seem that the Jets have the advantage. Skoko would be an outstanding pickup for any team, making whichever it is an immediate finals contender. Barring Nick Carle, no other player in the league matches him for guile and creative flair, and nobody can top his vast overseas experience, which includes a stint as captain of Genk. Somehow I can't see Skoko in anything but a Sydney shirt, given the sort of money that would need to be thrown his way in order to bring him home. Anthony Danze is another significant playmaker back in Australia. Injured and released by Crystal Palace, Danze was one of our best players at the Athens Olympics in 2004. He has been contracted to Perth Glory in the past, but it is unknown what his plans are for the near future. Also a member of the Athens squad, Carl Valeri is still very much in the eye of national selectors. He is currently playing in the Italian lower leagues, however. Similarly to David Carney, Valeri is still young and capable of improvement. A short stint back home with an A-League club might be just the boost he needs for a more extensive European career. Kasey Wehrmann seems quite happy playing in Norway with Lillestrom SK, but there have been rumours throughout 2005-06 that he may consider a move back to Queensland one day. The current season in Norway is scheduled for a November 5 finish, i.e. before the close of the A-League transfer window.

Wide Midfielders:

Before he made a sudden exit from Barnsley and moved to Polish first division team Wisla Krakow, I would have put Jacob Burns in this list. Burns thinks he has an outside shot at making the World Cup squad, quite an eyebrow-raising belief. Regardless, he won't be coming home anytime soon with Wisla a potential Champions League or UEFA Cup prospect. Perth have probably already spoken to local product Richard Garcia who plays with Colchester in the English third-tier. His performance against Chelsea in a recent cup match was excellent, which should be more than enough to earn him a new contract with a suitable team should Colchester lose or not participate in the race for his signature. Sasa Radulovic is currently playing for FC Augsburg in the German regional set-up, i.e. the third-tier. Seeing through the season with them will take him through to the end of May. Could a return home be on the cards after that?


It was a surprise when both John Aloisi and Paul Agostino declared their intentions to return home this season. I remain a bit dubious, especially regarding Aloisi, but will mark Agostino among the almost definites. Aloisi is in top form heading into the World Cup and if he plays well in Germany he will surely attract a number of offers. Adelaide and Sydney may have to wait for his signature. Agostino on the other hand has been languishing in the 2. Bundesliga for a while now and his hopes of making the squad are almost negligble. Holding him back from returning home, again to Adelaide, were his connections in Germany, notably his wife. Now it seems that the family is prepared to make the move to Australia if the competition and the price is right. Personally I think he would make a solid addition to any team, but the same could have been said of David Zdrilic last season. Scott Tunbridge is another ex-Adelaide player who has announced that he is ready to ditch a part-time career in Scotland for a return to the local league. The overseas experience may have improved his game slightly, but he's hardly the top shelf striker every team is on the lookout for.

10 April 2006

Adshead Steps Down

After resigning from the New Zealand Knights today, John Adshead signalled his intention to retire from football management for good. Adshead admitted half way through last year's woeful season that he was at fault for the club's poor recruitment, signalling an up front approach to public relations that an incredulous Knights office would be well advised to heed.

Paul Nevin has taken over the top job on a caretaker basis. Considering Nevin's signing record so far (Richard Johnson, Scott Gemmill) chief executive Steve O'Hara and chairman Anthony Lee should have already appointed him as Adshead's immediate successor as both coach and manager. Expect more dithering over the coming weeks, however.

Gemmill, a recently accredited coach, may be another intriguing alternative.

7 April 2006

Knights Sign Gemmill

Ex-Nottingham Forest and Everton midfielder Scott Gemmill, pictured here tussling with Mark Viduka, has signed with the New Zealand Knights.

Capped 27 times by Scotland, the 35 year-old recently became a certified coach and is the son of 1978 World Cup legend Archie Gemmill. Clearly he's not short of experience nor the football intelligence that comes with playing almost 400 matches in England. The pairing of Gemmill's creative flair with Richard Johnson's hardnosed grit in the heart of the Knights lineup seems like a good combination on paper. But with many overseas veterans struggling to cope with the skill and pace of the A-League last season, it remains to be seen if Gemmill's signing indicates a turn for the better for the Knights.

Incidentally, it seems that new coach Paul Nevin rather than John Adshead was instrumental in bringing this signing to fruition.

4 April 2006

No More Money

Newcastle United Jets owner Con Constantine has applied the stick to head coach Richard Money, with both parties agreeing to terminate Money's original three year contract. Money will earn a pay out of some as yet unknown description.

Nick Theodorakopoulos is the front-runner to assume control of the team. Keep your eyes on Liam Reddy should this eventuate. Due to the Reddy family's ostensible hatred of Nick T, the goalkeeper may feel compelled to depart the club (Adelaide has been mooted as a potential buyer).

I think it's fair to say that the Jets under-performed last season and so this measure from Constantine doesn't really come as a major surprise. Money was yet another high profile coach chosen over local alternatives. Unlike Pierre Littbarski he didn't win anything, and similarly to Steve McMahon the players seemed to find his tactically defensive system quite challenging. Perhaps he brought some prestige to the team, but the cost seems to have been his inability to gel the various personalities and egos on and off the field (Liam Reddy, Ned Zelic and Ante Milicic for starters -- phew, that equates to some tough man management requirements right there).

Update (Apr-5): Nick Theodorakopoulos has indeed taken over as Jets head coach.

Neil Kilkenny

Nicky Butt on Birmingham teammate and emerging Australian national team prospect, twenty year-old Neil Kilkenny:

"Neil could go on to be a top player as he has got all the necessary attributes," Butt said.

"Maybe he might have to do a little bit more of the other side of football. The nasty bits that no one likes to do. But he's a top-class footballer, who is technically gifted and a hard trainer who is prepared to listen to the coaches and all the other players.

"As long as he keeps his feet on the ground and digs a bit on the other side of the game, he will be a top, top player."

It's a pity he doesn't play in defence. Graham Arnold has compiled a visual dossier on the young central midfielder in order for Guus Hiddink to decide if it is in the best interests of the national team to select Kilkenny in the 2006 World Cup squad.

It seems that we can add Kilkenny to the list of potential young bolters for World Cup selection, which already includes the likes of Joshua Kennedy, David Carney and Brett Holman. Given the strength of our midfield, however, and the recent paucity of first team appearances for Kilkenny, his prospects appear slim. In the long-term, he would be a very welcome addition to the squad. Let's get him into the U-23 Olympic team set-up already!

Update (Apr-12): Long-term Socceroo supporters have got to love discoveries like Kilkenny. Stan Lazaridis, another Birmingham teammate but obviously one closer to home, has chimed in with further praise:

He's not the biggest player, but he's a real footballer. He likes to attack, he's got a good strike on him. He's a lot like Bresh (Marco Bresciano), although he's still got a way to go. He can be a big part of the next generation, definitely. I mean he wants to play for Australia, so what have we got to lose? If you're his age, and you're holding your own in the premiership, then obviously you've got to have something.

3 April 2006

Meggsy and Sonic Sign for 1. FC Nürnberg

Central Coast Mariners defensive duo Michael Beauchamp and Dean Heffernan have reportedly signed for Bundesliga team 1. FC Nürnberg (aka Der Club). The Mariners will receive $250,000 in compensation for the pair, both of whom seem to have agreed to one-year loan deals with a view to sealing permanent contracts in the future.

Champions of the second-tier competition two years ago and 14th in the Bundesliga last year, Nürnberg currently reside in a safe mid-table position. Among the best players in their team are Slovakian internationals Robert Vittek and Marek Mintal. Vittek has scored a remarkable nine goals in Nürnberg's last five league games. Fellow Australian Joshua Kennedy will be joining the team next year from 2. Bundesliga outfit 1. FC Dynamo Dresden.

Nürnberg's home ground is the Frankenstadion, a 45,000 all-seater that will host five matches at the 2006 World Cup (including England versus Trinidad & Tobago, Japan versus Croatia, and a second round match likely to feature Argentina or Holland). Crowds for league games fluctuate wildly, but it seems that houses in excess of 40,000 are the norm for visitations of the bigger local clubs.

Update (Apr-4): In relation to the above speculated fee for the duo, Mariners chairman Lyle Gorman has declared, "That figure is bullshit". Central Coast will be pursuing a more lucrative deal for the still contracted players.