Cup Crazy

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With all the recent UEFA Champions League and FA Cup coverage, it begs the question, if and when will Australia get its own knock-out competition.
Everyone knows the grandeur behind cup competitions, the mystique of competing and the magic of fairytale runs from struggling and lower league clubs (re Portsmouth this year). And it can be said without much controversy that the majority of football fans in Australia would love to experience a cup competition they can call their own. Now even with good intentions there are of course obstacles and issues to resolve as has already been seen in the now dismantled Pre-Season Cup, which folded due to general disinterest from the actual clubs themselves.

One major issue of course, is financial. With large prize money and crippling travel costs (Australia is a big country after all) not to mention set-up, maintenance and promotion expenses it’s needless to say there will need to be a big outlay of money to get all this going, let alone keeping it afloat. A major sponsor, willing to part with a relatively large amount of cash would need to be found, which is of course easier said than done.

But, for discussions sake let’s assume there is enough financial muscle for the competition to go ahead. Suddenly the crucial matter of the cup format arises. The obvious first question is will it be strictly A-league or will it involve lower tier clubs. The answer has to involve lower tier clubs as an A-League only cup competition would almost certainly be meaningless. This in itself brings upon problems, finance again being one, while another is the risk of too many lopsided results. As there is no promotion/relegation between the first and second tier of football in Australia, the gap in standards between the two is ever increasing.

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A way around both issues (or at least limiting the dangers), is rather than have a random draw involving all clubs at the start, regionalise the tournament until the latter stages.

For example, the five main State Premier Leagues (Football West, South Australia, NSW, Victoria, and Queensland/Brisbane) have their own mini cup competition with one winner from each league. Each winner then gets put into the draw with the eleven A-league clubs, making sixteen teams in total. The cup can then continue as a normal knock-out with the possibility of making the quarters and/or semi’s two-legged. With this format it will cut down on travel costs as there will be no interstate trips until the round of sixteen, and will also cut down on lop-sided results as A-League clubs enter relatively late, when in theory only the stronger of the State League teams will still be in contention.
Now, even if everything falls into place there is still the question of whether or not the clubs involved will take the cup seriously. It should be safe to assume that the State League teams will take it seriously enough, with television and ticket revenue, plus prize money on the cards the financial rewards have the potential to be rather generous, not to mention the fact that national exposure will be incentive enough. The problem will lie in getting the A-League clubs to take it seriously, given the lower quality opposition, stretched resources and risk of injury.

There would be two main options in raising the interest of the A-League clubs. One would be significant financial gain in the form of prize money, the other which would almost certainly guarantee the clubs take it seriously (but would be a whole lot harder to put into place) would be automatic Asian Champions League qualification to the cup winners.

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The Hyundai A-League is currently granted two spots in the ACL (with the Champions and Premiers qualifying), but now after expansion the A-League meets the criterion to be granted a third spot, which could possibly be granted to the cup winner. Although they meet the criterion it may not be as simple as asking for a third spot, as the Asian Confederation has only just revamped and changed the format of their Champions League and may be unwilling to grant new spots so soon after the change. This is why offering ACL qualification to the cup winner may be difficult, though not impossible, as there is the possibility the A-League could be granted a place for a third side in an ACL qualifying round.

Another option to add some variation to the cup, as well as promoting youth could be a rule that there must be a certain number of youth league players in each A-League clubs cup squad (say three). This would give youngsters a great chance to play against senior opposition, while giving supporters a chance to see their new up-and-comers and giving some of the first team members a rest.

As can be seen, a cup competition for Australia is not totally out of the question, but there are a lot of issues for Football Federation Australia to overcome before something can be done about it.

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Financial muscle, good promotion, a relatively even playing field and support from the A-League clubs will all be needed to make a cup competition successful. While not saying it’s impossible, it wouldn’t be recommended to hold your breath.

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Christian Layland
Christian is co-founder and Chief of Staff of The Football Sack and has worked in media/marketing for FIFA, AFC, Football Australia, Western Sydney Wanderers, and Melbourne Victory. Also a coach, Christian has been on the Y-League coaching staff for Wanderers, and the A-League coaching staff for Central Coast Mariners.

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