The A-League’s most influential figures on and off the pitch

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At the end of the season, the A-League will be removed from the hands of the Football Federation Australia for the first time in its 14-year history.

The Federation effectively splits into two halves, the chief executive officer departs, and the league will belong to the clubs.

As we head towards the end of this era of the A-League, here is a look at some of its most influential figures on the pitch, on the touchline and at headquarters.

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David Crawford

The A-League, born from the ashes of the National Soccer League, was established as a part of the federally funded report into the administration of Australian football, the Crawford Report.

The report was put together by the Independent Soccer Review Committee which was chaired by Crawford, former chairman of Foster’s Group and director of BHP Billiton, and also included Johnny Warren.

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The report led to the establishment of the FFA to replace Soccer Australia, which had many of its own issues with mismanagement, and a change in governance structure at the state associations. Ultimately, this all led to a Frank Lowy led FFA forming the A-League.

Crawford received an Order of Australia Medal for services to business and sport.

Frank Lowy

Lowy, the former chairperson of Westfield Corporation, was appointed FFA chairperson after the report and remained in the role for 12 years.

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His negotiations in the formative stages of the A-League led to the still-standing naming rights agreement with Hyundai and have ensured the league has been televised in some form every year since its inception.

For Australian football more broadly, he saw the move to the Asian Football Confederation, and the bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

His son, Steven Lowy, followed him into the role as FFA chairperson, keeping it in the family for a further three years.

Lowy was inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame in 2019, just recognition for a great contribution to the game in Australia.

Ange Postecoglou

Postecoglou was the first of the A-League head coaches to have repeat success in his home country.

Appointed to replace Frank Farina at Brisbane Roar after a modest stint in the Greece third division, he became the first A-League coach to win multiple championships.

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The possession-based style Postecoglou brought to the A-League was like nothing Australian football had seen. The Roar broke the record for the most games undefeated in any competition in any sport by an Australian club with 36.

He had two premierships in addition to his two grand final victories when he left for Melbourne Victory in 2012, where he released a fair proportion of his squad, just as he had at Roar, and went on to make a preliminary final with the club before taking on the top job with the Socceroos.

The Greek-born manager became the leading voice in Australian football and brought a new footballing style to the country, not to mention consistent success.

Lou Sticca

Lou Sticca is not a household name, but he certainly knows a few of them. He established the Carlton Soccer Club in the late 1990s before moving into the world of player management and eventually being tasked with putting together the football department for Sydney FC’s inaugural season.

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The playing squad included Mark Rudan, David Zdrillic and future Socceroos’ captain Mark Milligan but it was the signing of former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke that Sticca received the most acclaim.

Yorke became the first of a string of marquee signings for the league, a few of which were also Sticca driven. Juventus and Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero also went to Sydney in the twilight of his career, and despite never quite living up to expectations on-field, he brought with him some international attention and a whole lot of hype.

Shinji Ono followed Del Piero to Sydney and brought similar attention this time from the Japanese market, having just played at the 2014 World Cup.

Sticca is also well known for negotiating glamour friendlies for A-League clubs. LA Galaxy, Glasgow Celtic, Juventus, Tottenham, and Liverpool have all come to Australia for tours or friendlies arranged by Sticca.

His efforts to promote Australian football are underappreciated by the fans who enjoy them, as are his work to establish a strong base at Sydney, a club that has now won an equal record four championships and three premierships.

Simon Hill

Hill has been commentating on the A-League since 2006 for Fox Sports and is one of the most influential broadcasters in the league’s history.

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Hill came to Australia after a career in the UK that included sports work at ITV and with BBC 5 Live, working on the Premier League and European football.

He is arguably Australia’s most proficient football caller but also promotes the A-League on a range of media formats. He holds strong opinions on VAR and puts great weight on the success of young Australian footballers.

Besart Berisha

The A-League’s greatest-ever goalscorer followed Archie Thompson and Shane Smeltz as the great frontmen, not only for their club but for the league.

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Berisha joined Postecoglou’s Roar side after doing the rounds in an attempt to develop a career in Europe. A rough-looking mohawk and some on-field biff meant opinion of Berisha was almost entirely dependent on Brisbane, but he led his club to two championships and was the beneficiary of Postecoglou’s style.

Berisha followed his coach to Victory where he continued to hit the scoresheet and finished with two championships, a premiership and an FFA Cup.

The Kosovo Albanian striker is the most dominant in his position in league history.

He was a lead character in the narrative of the league in its first decade and has now returned to have possibly his greatest influence yet, leading the line alongside Scott McDonald at the brand new Western United.

Tony Popovic

Popovic, a former Premier League and Socceroos’ defender, was the successor to Postecoglou as the league’s premier head coach.

He remains the only manager to have success with an A-League club in the AFC Champions League, having led the Western Sydney Wanderers to the title in 2014 as well as the 2012/13 A-League premiership.

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At the start of last season, after a failed stint in Turkey, he shifted to Perth Glory, the oldest club in the league, and led them to their first A-League premiership.

Not only has Popovic’s arrival brought great interest back to Glory but it also brought his two sons, who are underage representatives for Australia.

Expansion is hugely important for the future of the competition, and like Berisha and Rudan, Popovic was integral in turning an organisation built from scratch into one of the country’s leading football clubs.

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