FFA must get its priorities straight

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The continued debate over the merits of the A-League All Stars came to the fore again over the weekend with Football Federation Australia’s statement around Michael Thwaite’s call up for the clash with Juventus.

The Perth Glory defender is a late inclusion for the game, which takes place this Sunday, after Sydney FC’s Sasa Ognenovski withdrew and the FFA has barred the 31-year-old from his FFA Cup club commitments tomorrow.

Though it is a nice achievement to be part of the squad to play the Italian champions, Thwaite’s call up comes at a huge cost to Glory who now have to do without their captain for a competitive cup tie.

According to FFA:

While we sympathise with the Hyundai A-League clubs whose players miss training and matches, it is important that we protect the integrity of the match for the continued growth of football in Australia.

This poses quite the head-scratcher because surely protecting the integrity of a cup competition in its debut season is far more important than that of what is ultimately a friendly against a side irrelevant to football in Australia.

By closing the gap between the professional A-League sides and those in the State League through the FFA Cup, FFA has indeed done a lot more to grow the game than a once off showpiece friendly ever will.

Thwaite isn’t the only player who will be absent from Tuesday’s cup action with both Youssouf Hersi (Glory) and Mark Birighitti (Jets) also unable to take part due to their part in the All Stars contest.

Twelve months ago there was plenty of negative feedback from supporters over the amount of absences and withdrawals from the All Stars team that took on Manchester United in Sydney; the concept was being devalued so stipulations were added to players’ contracts stating that they must accept a call up if fit.

If you are selected by FFA to compete for a representative team:
a) The Club must release and make you available to participate in the Representative Matches on notice from FFA acting reasonably
b) You must promptly report for, and punctually attend, all Representative Matches, camps, training sessions, media conferences, promotional activities or other functions.

However, that was before the schedule for the FFA Cup was determined so the goal posts have shifted again, yet FFA are effectively punishing participating clubs by not allowing players to take part in games that are, in the Jets/Glory example, five days apart.

Realistically, neither Birighitti nor Thwaite are likely to start against Juventus so why couldn’t they play 90 minutes for their clubs days in advance?

Of course, there is the possibility of players picking up injuries during the FFA Cup games, thus missing the All Stars.

However, the All Stars squad has its own medical team who have already passed Western Sydney Wanderers striker Tomi Juric fit for Saturday, despite his club initially stating that he should not train for ten days due to a thigh injury. The same process could just as easily be applied to Thwaite, Hersi and Birighitti.

There’s no denying that the All Stars concept is a handy money spinner for FFA but when all is said and done, it is still a friendly and should not take precedence over the FFA Cup which is far more important to the game here in the long term.

The Australian football calendar has been skewed this year by the Asian Cup and we might not experience such congestion again – well, for four years anyway – but that shouldn’t excuse the current mess.

Common sense would have allowed players partake in the FFA Cup while also fulfilling their All Stars commitments; unfortunately, that path wasn’t taken by the powers that be.

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Neil Sherwin
Neil has covered the Perth Glory and the Hyundai A-League for five years and is one of Western Australia's most knowledgeable football journalists.

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