Does the A-League need a “football person” to lead it?

To whomever should replace Damien de Bohun as head of the
A-League: good luck, you’re going to need it.

In case you missed the news, Damien de Bohun stepped down this week in a move which is believed to be more about the fact he needed to commute from
Melbourne to Sydney every couple of days rather than performance issues.

Although, there were quite a few of them towards the end of
his tenure which made some people question whether he walked out of FFA
headquarters or was given a less-than-gentle nudge towards the door.

Featuring on the long list of red-face moments:

The failure to secure Etihad Stadium for last year’s
A-League Grand Final; appearing to completely miss the point during the fan
protests earlier this season; acrimonious collective bargaining agreement
negotiations; and perhaps the most cardinal sin of all in the eyes of
supporters: not being a “football person”.

Despite the fact that he headed up Football Federation
Victoria in 2003, he came to the FFA largely from Cricket Australia, where he
was an administrator – and was forever tarnished as an ex-cricket person
jumping on the bandwagon.

My own personal observations of de Bohun are mainly informed
around a fan forum he was a part of in Perth a few years ago.

On the panel which ventured west were FFA CEO David Gallop,
head of communications Kyle Patterson, along with then-Perth Glory manager
Alistair Edwards and owner Tony Sage.

As fans asked their questions and generally vented their
spleen at the eastern state interlopers, they all listened keenly – but de
Bohun was the only one actually taking notes.

But now he’s gone (or at least he’ll be gone at the end of
the A-League season), and a new candidate will need to fill his shoes at a
critical juncture for the domestic league.

Borrowing from the Chinese fashion, earlier in the week the
FFA released a four year plan for the game, having
earlier released a whole of football 20 year plan.

The four year plan put the A-League squarely at the
forefront of the game’s future – as it has more scope for delivering revenue
than the national sides.

“The 4-year strategic plan represents a significant
shift in emphasis towards our showcase competition, the Hyundai A-League,”
FFA chairman Steven Lowy told fans via an open letter.

“This is primarily about broadcast rights and
commercial partnerships, which are the economic foundation of football around
the world.”

I have chronicled the game’s dire need for cash in great
detail, but suffice to say it needs cash and it needs it yesterday. That desire
leads to things like raffling off the naming rights to the national side to
fossil fuel company Caltex.

By the core constituency in the football community, after
the de Bohun experience seem to have football pedigree at the top of the list
when speculating about a potential replacement rather than commercial acumen.

It’s a fair call in a way as well, with football having the
unique underlying issues like no other major sport in the country.

The game’s history in Australia, however, is littered with
administrators who have grassroots football support, but not the necessary
skill to do the kinds of deals the FFA is seeking over the next four years.

As sinister as it sounds, the best fit for the A-League may
be an administrator who can extract the maximum commercial value from the game.

Ideally, the next head of the A-League will be a person who
can walk both sides of the line – but the next appointment may also be an
opportunity to re-shape thinking on the W-League.

With The Matildas winning all the plaudits in Japan this
week, is it time for a separate head of the W-League?

It was a point raised by The Women’s Game editor Ann
Odong that de Bohun at the moment is also the head of the W-League,
as well as his A-League duties.

So to bring new energy to the domestic competition from head
office, is it time for a dedicated CEO to drive the competition forward?

Now would be a great time to seize The Matildas’ momentum
and seek to really develop the W-League into one of the world’s flagship
domestic competitions – but that takes money the FFA clearly doesn’t have.

Again, the FFA has made it abundantly clear that the
priority is securing enough capital to drive the game for the next decade or
more.

If it able to do this, it opens up a raft of development
options for the game which are currently shut off by a lack of resources.

So if given the choice between a CEO who can talk better to
rusted-on fans or commercial clients – is the FFA better served looking a
deal-making credentials first and then football credentials second?

By James McGrath  (He’s also on twitter here)

Photography- Aleks K 

(He’s also on twitter here)

THE TURF