Players shouldn’t bear the brunt

The Smith Review’s call to cut players wages is wrong – the game should find other ways to achieve financial sustainability.

The Smith Review was released last week and Football Federation Australia accepted the findings but in my opinion there was a bigger thing to come out of it – the findings are incorrect.

The Review says that A-League players get 46 per cent of the revenue in comparison with other sports such as cricket, which was 26 per cent, and rugby, which was 20 per cent. And to fund that is obviously unsustainable.

But Braham Dabscheck (author of the report on which the Review was largely based) says the report ignored the Socceroos, which obviously play a huge part in the game, and he found that player payments, with Socceroos and A-League players combined, are actually between 21-29 per cent, which then is comparable with other sports and very similar to cricket in the way money is raised.

This is what the PFA are arguing about; there-s been a review and there-s still no clarification. At the moment there are too many ifs and buts, which after a review there shouldn-t be.

It-s very difficult to see how wages can be slashed. On an individual basis, when there are 300-odd players, I don-t know how they-d do that. If they-re talking about freezing payments until there-s real clarity on the situation then I don-t think anybody has a problem with that.

Nobody wants to see our game fall over; it has to be sustainable – but if you-ve signed a deal that-s worth, say, $10,000 a year and then after a year they say, “Well, we-ve looked at that, it-s not right, you-re going to have to take $8000” – what are you going to tell them?

You-re going to ask a player that-s on a minimum wage of $42,000 a year to take a wage cut? It-s a can of worms. Each player has their own contract that clubs – and FFA, in effect – have been happy to sign off on, because every contract is known to FFA.

The minimum wage might even be less than $42,000. OK, the guys aren-t working 9-5 but when they-re working their working hard, it-s physically very demanding, you-re away from home a lot – there-s a lot of sacrifice in that job.

Everybody assumes sports people make fantastic money – 42k is good if you-re a young kid still living at home but it-s not bundles of cash if you-ve got a house and a family. There are players earning good money but they-re the ones who have been here since day one and have the runs on the board so their negotiating power is strong.

But all contracts have to be honoured, otherwise you run into all sorts of trouble. We don-t want to be seen as one of these volatile leagues where there are money problems, because that gives us no chance to continue to develop our league or to encourage the best players to come out here. The likes of Besart Berisha and Thomas Broich – if they know there are financial problems what chance do we have of attracting players of that quality?

I don-t know if this is likely to lead to more Australian players leaving. We-ve had talent leaving the country already; they-re overseas and not playing. I spoke to Tommy Oar the other night and the three boys over at Utrecht – Tommy, Adam Sarota and Michael Zullo – and none of them are getting games. It doesn-t benefit us a nation.

The whole league and club models need seriously looking at. We know there-s possibly one that works, which is Melbourne Victory and I-ve heard Melbourne Heart do OK, but there are severe problems at some clubs where the numbers don-t stack up. If a club-s bleeding two or three million every year, it-s certainly not sustainable.

Clubs should be given an opportunity to actually turn over some money; merchandise was an 80-20 split but if 100 per cent of the merchandise goes to the clubs, that sort of thing can help.

And look at the finals series – that-s all FFA money but it-s when teams generate their biggest crowds and it-s another big opportunity missed.

FFA need to sit down with all the owners of the clubs and figure out how we can come to a conclusion to give clubs some encouragement, which might mean FFA softening their stance on some things.

On a lighter note, I had the honour of being inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame last week as well. I-m coming up on two years retired and when you reflect on your career it-s pleasing that you-ve been rewarded for what you-ve contributed to the national team and also my domestic career. It-s a huge honour and an award I-m extremely proud of.

But I-ve been very privileged to have played with some excellent teammates and individual awards have never really been something i desired or chased. For me it was just great being involved with teammates that you knew when you go into battle, they-re there with you and will give their all.

I played in a few different teams and experienced some great relationships along the way and you need your teammates to achieve anything in this game.