Over the past eight years, the A-League has come a long way: salaries have increased, exposure has been amplified both in Australia and abroad, star players have been acquired and now the league has produced a manager deemed necessary to the cause for the national team. While every league and federation have unique agreements and squabbles, the recent bitterness on the part of Melbourne Victory toward FFA threatens to replace potential wariness with outright conflict.
Though it may be true that Ange Postecoglou is the best man at the right time for the Socceroos' head coaching vacancy, it is also true that the way in which his hiring was completed left a lot to be desired. From the outset, Melbourne Victory expressed disappointment that FFA showed little regard for the impact of such a move on the club. With the hiring now complete, club chairman Anthony Di Pietro has unleashed his full fury, pushing the limit of what a member club can or should say about the national federation.
"Are we furious? The simple answer is 'yes.'
"I want to put some facts about this league into perspective. Melbourne Victory is the jewel of the A-League. We are strong. We are successful. We have a long-term sustainable club.
"The league thinks of nothing to use our brand, our fans, our players, our success to strengthen that of the entire league. The league crowed about record first-round attendances of 100,000. The fact is half the spectators were at our home game. We have 21,000 paid-up members, we don't hand out free memberships or two-for-one deals. We never fudge attendance figures and then not televise them so as not to embarrass the league. We have never asked the FFA to prop us up, to pay our players, to pay our coaches. And we have never interfered or tried to stop the FFA in its dealings with other clubs' shortfalls.
"Sadly, however, some of those very clubs thought nothing of trying to interfere in our exclusive business with the FFA. Our club's philosophy is not to be given a sucker punch without getting back up and start swinging."
Those incendiary words followed Di Pietro's calmer explanation a week earlier in a club press release:
"We are disappointed with the process undertaken by the FFA, given the outcomes we tried to secure could never have been achieved within the timeframes offered, which ultimately forced us to accelerate our decision not to stand in Ange's way."
This is no petty quarrel. The Victory believe they were robbed by FFA and that none of their fellow A-League clubs offered to help slow down the process or demand fair treatment. Of course FFA has its own perspective, which can largely be explained by the following phrase: for the good of the country. Given the relationship many A-League clubs have with FFA, including Western Sydney Wanderers, who are currently owned and operated by the federation, trying to stand in the way of 'good of the country' was a non-starter. Clearly that was also the case for the Victory, who received no compensation from FFA for the same reason.
So it makes sense how this happened, but why did FFA allow the process to get to the point where it would need to poach a manager from its own league, three games into the new season? Holger Osieck earned World Cup qualification, so firing him early in the A-League offseason would have been a difficult move to justify. But so too is waiting months, scheduling unrealistic friendlies against top countries and then sacking the manager because he could not fare well against Brazil and France. That game played by FFA delayed their hiring process and makes the injury to Melbourne Victory that much greater.
There is no easy way to mend the relationship as it now stands. The Victory have already lost heavily and will be unlikely to make future dealings very pleasant for FFA. Though Di Pietro may have overstepped his bounds in his pre-game dinner rant, he is not wrong to suggest that the Melbourne club are at the very least among the most stable clubs in the league. Alienating one of the league's strongest clubs for the benefit of the national team brings back to the fore the challenge in balancing club and country.
Melbourne Victory have a press conference scheduled for Thursday at 10am with 'Major Announcement' as the subject and only Di Pietro listed as attending. A-League fans will remember Perth Glory's major announcement regarding its switch to Macron as a kit supplier, so perhaps this is nothing more than a sponsorship update or simply a statement from the club's chairman. Though re-reading Di Pietro's public comments over the past two weeks, it seems unlikely he would sit in front of the gathered media and not have something important to say.
This is a story that is far from over. The Victory need a new manager, the Socceroos have one but an uncertain short-term future and the A-League, which has gained so much ground over the past few years, has a new hurdle to overcome. That the hurdle was set in place by the football federation is the wrinkle that makes this situation unique and is sure to have consequences reaching far beyond who will sit in a plastic chair at AAMI Park on summer nights.