FFA in management restructure after horror season

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In response to an alarming drop off in crowds across all key sectors and demographics of the fan base; a World Cup bid strategy that made football fans cringe; a failure to engage football’s traditional heartland in Western Sydney; disenfranchising the Hyundai A-League’s fan base by hiring a Blackwater style outfit to monitor rational fan behaviour; and finally the deemed failure of North Queensland Fury all in the last season, Football Federation Australia has moved to wring in the changes at management level.

FFA Chief Executive Ben Buckley announced the changes from Sydney today in a move that has been designed with the next four years in mind.

Its core focus being a three-pronged approach in terms of further success and improvement in the ranking of the Socceroos measured by a target to win at home in the 2015 Asian Cup (though alarmingly no mention of the World Cup in Brazil), growth for the A-League and crucially better engagement with football’s grassroots and tradition constituents.

The moves sees a rationalisation and expansion of the responsibilities of Han Berger who has been entrusted with a broad mandate to foster further aspects of elite performance development, delivering specifically increased technical proficiency to players across all age groups of the national teams.

As Technical Director Berger has instituted wide-ranging reforms and has been one of the few performers in the past year amongst FFA management.

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Amongst the list of administrators who have recently left are Rob Abernethy (freestyle swimming background, former Head of Asian Cup 2015 bid), Leeanne Grantham (former Head of Women’s Football), Stuart Taggart (rugby background, former Head of Bid Operations and Events Operations), Gary Power (football background, former National Elite Referees Coordinator), Melissa King (football background, former Manager of National Youth League and W-League Operations) and Desi Kaligiannis (football background, former Manager of Operations and Events).

The loss of genuinely passionate football people is a concern at the FFA where it is clear the guiding principles have been lost in recent times. Certainly, with well-known Socceroos in their twilight years, the lack of engagement with fans, and a general sporting public who recognise the passion isn’t in the game at present, there have been insurmountable issues for the administration of our game.

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The loss of Power, King and Kaligiannis in terms of football understanding will need to be a focus of the remaining stalwarts at the FFA, many of whom are sports administrators without being part of the football fraternity and sharing the passion of people who have had a long connection to the game as players or fans.

The FFA seem to have recognised this in part with the appointment of former On The Ball presenter Kyle Patterson in the role of Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications. The predecessor to The World Game brought together some of football’s most loyal servants including the legendary combination of Johnny Warren and Les Murray, together with Kyle Patterson, Andrew Orsatti, Francis Awaritefe and the fondly remembered Paul Williams who passed away in 2009.

The FFA hopes that Patterson’s appointment will reengage some of football’s traditional constituents and its passionate fan base. The rumbling of the twittersphere suggests that Buckley is trying to placate what he may have erroneously characterised as a threat from the depth of analysis arising from The World Game and SBS Television.

For Patterson, leaving SBS Television after 18 years to take up the position of Media and Communications Manager at Soccer NSW (as it was then termed) has paid dividends by being entrusted with the role in reengaging with the football family and managing media messages from the FFA to the press, government and key stakeholders.

Buckley said today of the changes: “While we celebrate the many achievements in this period we also want to reconnect with the game’s foundations and history. We recognise the need to engage with the people who are the lifeblood of the game and are a vital part of both its heritage and its future.”

It remains to be seen how this will be achieved rather than being merely stated by Ben Buckley, but what cannot be denied is that the game’s foundation is all about passion. The game will periodically deliver this by itself, when a zenith will appear due to the magnetic attraction of our sport to absolute drama and theatre, but the lack of passion amongst its administrators too rarely capitilises on what it stumbles across and too rarely generates this level of engagement amongst its fans in a season of the Hyundai A-League.

We can be sure that Frank Lowy will be watching for results and that Buckley has been given a short and performance intensive brief to kick goals from the board room for our beautiful game.

Football fans will be glad to see the FFA changing its personnel but what will really be focused on is the games’ guiding philosophies, principles and passions being reflected by Ben Buckley and football starting to deliver in Australia what it already delivers around the world.

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