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No Optimism Rises From The Phoenix

01/11/2015 7:03 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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After years of unprecedented good news stories about the fortunes of football in Australia, Football Federation Australia is in grave danger of losing control of the narrative -- if it hasn't done so already.

The first PR disaster of the week was was the decision to all-but cut the Wellington Phoenix out of the competition by not allowing a 10-year license.

A second club to many in Australia, the decision means that after the current season finishes all that's left on the table is to apply for a four-to-five-year license.

However, the FFA's scant words on the decision left no doubt that the long-term viability of the franchise was an issue.

"FFA has carefully evaluated the role and contribution of the Wellington franchise in terms of game development, player pathway, commercial factors, broadcast rights and the long-term strategic outlook," FFA CEO David Gallop said via a press release.

"The application for a 10-year extension to the licence does not meet the requirements we see as fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League."

It gives one the impression that a four-year license would be rather pointless for the consortium backing the NZ club.

But there was no press conference and no other comment was given. Fans were simply left to guess what the requirements the FFA sees as "fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League" actually were.

The fans, surely the most important stakeholders in the game if we're being a touch naive here, were left to speculate as to the fortunes of the A-League without the Phoenix.

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After all, broadcaster FoxSports was hardly going to pleased during the next round of TV negotiations if the FFA came to the table with fewer games in hand.

A Southern Sydney franchise to plug the gap was mooted, and the FFA didn't exactly do a lot to stop the speculation from spreading.

In light of the Phoenix rejection, stakeholders in the game were left to speculate (or hope) that the FFA had a back-up plan. Some filled the dead air with ideas about a third Sydney team, or a fifth team from NSW.

Almost universally it was decried as a bad idea, a cynical ploy from the FFA to make the Western Sydney Wanderers' lightning strike twice. The A-League already has enough derbies, the great unwashed said, and adding more would simply dilute the power of existing derbies.

It also raised the question on whether a few existing struggling franchises such as the Central Coast Mariners fit within requirements which the FFA sees as "fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League" -- whatever those are.

Psychology is a funny thing, and nobody greets a yawning pitch-black chasm with an 'I bet there's something nice down there' mentality.

Instead, they fear what may lurk in the dark.

The clear lack of a roadmap forward on the A-League have played into a certain kind of nihilism, where A-League fans and general well-wishers fill the nothingness with their fears.

Without perceived strong leadership from the FFA, fans are simply left to wonder what was at the bottom of the chasm.

While once upon a time the chasm of uncertainty would have been filled with the undoubted strong fundamentals of Australian football and a 'she'll be right attitude', lower-than-expected TV viewing figures, the failure of the FFA to find a replacement partner for SBS and ongoing financial woes mean things look decidedly less rosy.

It's really not the best PR strategy to do nothing.

It may very well be that several of the answers fans seek may be commercial in confidence to be fair, but to offer very little in this environment feeds a negative sentiment around the game not felt in years.

There are undoubtedly bright spots at the moment but these are simply being washed away.

The fans of the game are simply crying out for long-term certainty around the strategic direction the A-League is taking. It is apparent this week that saying next to nothing is the absolute worst thing the FFA could do.

However, there's also one possible reason for the silence that doesn't bear talking about.

There is no plan.

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