MVFCNET Feature Article | What can the FFA do about The City Group?

A-League

Crosstown rivals Melbourne City are beginning to make the kind of waves in the transfer market that we all expected would happen when the City Football Group bought Melbourne Heart in early 2014. Dave, host of melbournevictory.net podcast For Vuck’s Sake, explores whether the FFA can do anything to stop the Middle Eastern billionaires from destroying the integrity of the Australian national league.

 

What can the FFA do about The City Group’s actions? Umm, probably not much. 

 
The City Football Group (CFG) flexed its global muscles to great effect in Australia this week by signing Anthony Caceres from the Central Coast Mariners; and immediately loaning him out to their Melbourne satellite club – Melbourne City. Whilst this move will be seen as “good business” by the Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City, it has caused consternation across the rest of the league.  

No other club in the league has the ability to just drop a few 100 thousand dollars here and there; to participate in the game of global football chess. 

Transfer fees between A-League clubs do not exist. If an A-League club seeks the services of a player from another A-League club; they have to wait for that player’s contract to expireAlternatively, a player needs to be released by his current club and his contract costs absorbed into the selling club’s salary cap. But, the CFG have reminded Australia that football is very much subject to global whims. 

The CFG has found a convenient (and let’s face it, brilliant) way to circumvent A-League player transfer regulations. Simply engage its Mancunian branch to acquire the Australian player it seeks for the financial equivalent of “chicken feed”. Then, farm this player out to its Australian club, no questions asked.  

But questions are being asked. 

One A-League club (currently) has an advantage over others; based solely on its global reach as a football entity. As the only professional football league in Australia; the A-League has clearly established rules about what transfer shenanigans can or cannot take place between Australian clubsHowever, at the time these regulations were established who could have possibly anticipated the kind of global football influence that the CFG exerts? Not many I’d suggest. 

Greater regulation around our own locally produced talent is an unavoidable necessityIf we don’t protect local talent, we experience a degradation of local football on two fronts: (1) the local top flight and eventually, (2) the national team. We need to be able to protect local players and ensure that they are given every opportunity to take part in local, professional football. In 2016there happens to be a peculiar entity in Australian football that has the power to make a determination on burgeoning Australian talent. And that entity is not the FFA, but rather, the CFG.  

As football increasingly becomes even more global; these sorts of scenarios involving “conglomerate football clubs” will become commonplace. It reminds us quite suddenly just how small we are in global terms.  

But what can the FFA do about this issue within the current regulatory framework? Not much, in reality. To suddenly deem this kind of action against the regulations is to ignore the fact that arrangements of this kind are frequent and rarely scrutinised around the world. 

The City Football Group purchased Melbourne Heart in January 2014 to add to their stable of football teams around the world.

The City Football Group purchased Melbourne Heart in January 2014 to add to their stable of football teams around the world.

 
So what are the FFA’s options? 

Ban Manchester City (aka CFG) from buying A-League players?  

The FFA simply does not have the ability to do this right now. Currently, the A-League only prohibits its own clubs from partaking in transfer deals with each other.  

Prevent the City Group from loaning out recently acquired players to its A-League subsidiary?  

How can they do this without contravening the generally accepted norms around player movement in football? Particularly when this happens quite routinely everywhere else on the planet? Clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea manage to do this easily through various agreements they have in place with other European clubs in countries like Belgium and Holland. Quite often players are acquired by these clubs and immediately loaned out in order to fast-track or facilitate European work permits.  

In a statement last week, FFA Chief David Gallop said the Federation will “monitor” the situation in light of the CFG’s actions. In other words, there’s not a lot that the FFA can do when no regulations have been broken.  

The FFA would have to introduce specific regulations around the actions of the CFG; which raises all sorts of complications and questions around any pre-existing arrangements they may have had with them when they entered the Australian marketplace. Where does the line get drawn? If Scotland’s Dundee United ended up taking control of the struggling Central Coast Mariner’s franchise, would rival A-League clubs be making the same noises? Probably not.  

Will more loan deals like Anthony Caceres become the norm for Melbourne City?

Will more loan deals like Anthony Caceres become the norm for Melbourne City?

When you assess all of this dispassionately, the CFG are acting completely above board. It would take some serious audacity from the FFA to try and dictate who the CFG can and cannot buy, and who Melbourne City can and cannot loan from them. Modern football is often decried as a corporatised bastardisation of football in its purest forms, (that of a working class game where passion and tradition override fiscal imperatives). The FFA however, are firmly entrenched in a modern football landscape and are perennially being forced to officiate corporate requirements; against older football traditions.  

How they navigate this tricky terrain will be telling. If we’re to believe that foreign interests in Australian football are here to stay; then some kind of major review is called for.