Holger Osieck's headache about the length of the A-League season is warranted, says Jonathan Cook, but there is no easy fix for the Socceroos
By JONATHAN COOK
Holger Osieck's concerns over the length and timing of the A-League season are understandable, given the Socceroos coach's immediate priority is to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
It is true that revenue generated from the Socceroos is crucial to the general well-being of the game, not to mention the warm and fuzzy feeling of a World Cup campaign [for a couple of weeks]. But it comes around once every four years and it would be a dangerous game to rely entirely on Socceroos success to keep up the game's momentum.
The A-League, which is something of a drain on football resources, is also vital to the long-term success of football in this country.
It is important for the player development pathway and also serves to remind audiences of the quality of talent right here, right now. It might not be the English Premier League but neither is the Dutch Eredivisie, the French Ligue 1 and the Belgian Jupiler League, and they still manage to unearth talent and draw significant interest.
Australian football's hopes of success are not about one or the other. The game needs both: Hand in hand; head to head; back to back; A-League and Socceroos.
So while Osieck is right to fight for his corner, and to swing away at a system that denies potential internationals the match time they need heading into June's World Cup qualifiers, those in charge of the game will always be mindful of football's place in the Australian sporting pyramid.
With the A-League season to come to a conclusion in April, domestic-based players will be largely inactive ahead of crucial international matches in June.
In a commercial sense, Australian football is compromised and, to this point at least, has been unable to deliver what is best for the Socceroos and the A-League at the same time. It is constantly shifting and requires regular adjustments to meet the expectations of fans, its broadcaster and those in charge of clubs and national teams.
As much as the domestic competition has made great strides in recent years – Western Sydney Wanderers being the most obvious success story this season – it still trails some way behind the strength and popularity of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League.
The notion of extending the A-League season, or adjusting it to accommodate international matches in June, is more than complex. The league currently falls mainly into the domestic void created by the absence of the NRL and AFL. For now, at least, it is football's place.
To go directly against such powerful commercial and culturally ingrained competitions for any length of time would be foolish - and is unlikely to be accepted by the broadcast partner anyway. By its very singular nature, the AFL stands apart, while there is no higher standard of rugby league in the world than the NRL. This is stiff competition.
Football should not get ahead of itself. The game's place is defined – for now. Like a younger brother being bullied by his sibling, there may come a time when the game can stand up for itself and have a greater say in how the house is ruled. But not just yet.
Jonathan Cook was football writer for The West Australian newspaper for 17 years. He covered Glory’s highs and lows for 15 seasons. He also reported on two World Cups, three Olympic Games and two Commonwealth Games.