Always pay attention to the soothsayer as Ides of March approach

Beware the Ides of March.
Nanjing Night Net

World soccer’s governing body FIFA has ordered Australia’s peak soccer body, Football Federation Australia, to hold an emergency general meeting by the end of March to bring about wholesale change to the way its board and governing statutes are constituted.

Steven Lowy, the under-pressure chairman of the FFA, would do well to heed the advice of the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, who warned the emperor to beware that March date as it could prove catastrophic. It ultimately did when Caesar was assassinated by his former colleagues and supporters.

If he can’t bring about the necessary change to the game’s governance structure, satisfy the increasingly impatient A-League clubs who want a greater share of the cash from the new TV deal and convince all of the game’s stakeholders that he has a credible plan for the future Lowy too could find himself under a real challenge.

There will be a growing number of dissidents who will be keen to press for revolutionary change if the Lowy-led FFA board does not bring about the kind of change they deem vital.

So, in the parlance of the game, has the head coach lost the dressing room?

Put it this way, if this was a relegation dogfight, Lowy’s team would certainly be battling for survival.

While he clearly has the support of his board – many of whom have close links through social or business connections – the full extent of disaffection with the way the FFA runs the game is now emerging with daily disclosures from disgruntled parties about the need for change in the face of alleged management inertia.

In many ways Lowy’s is a thankless task given his background.

His father Frank was an extraordinary, if at times controversial, force in the game and his predecessor for a decade: if the son blows up the governance model put in place by the family patriarch – as he is being urged to do by his critics – he may feel disloyal to the legacy of his father.

But if he doesn’t make significant change he will simply be accused of being a puppet of his predecessor, in thrall to his memory and solely concerned with maintaining the family’s grip on power in the game.

The mark of his leadership now will chiefly be determined by how he will satisfy the demands of the clubs.

They want far more autonomy and say in the running of the A-League, which they argue is the game’s major cash cow, as well as far more of the broadcast rights cash so they can plan for a bigger future and invest in developing local talent and signing better marquee and foreign players.

This has already become something of a dirty war, with both sides briefing against the other and heavy-handed threats and counter-threats having been made.

In some cases attitudes have hardened and the fear is that there is now little room for negotiation and compromise.

But for the centre to hold, some compromise is what has to happen, particularly on the composition of the new FFA board. Currently that comprises nine members, mainly all business people with little connection to the clubs. All may be characterised as supportive of the chairman.

In talks earlier in February, Lowy and his team floated the idea of a 17-person board (including representatives from the women’s game, referees and other areas of soccer) of which the clubs could nominate three.

It does not look as though this will mollify the clubs.

As one critic said this week: “The clubs are only valued at 18 per cent in that arrangement. It’s not workable and we won’t stand for it. They will have to give us more say. The clubs really need to be financially, operationally and in a governance sense independent of the FFA. But they want to control us so they can retain control of the money.”

So will civil war ensue at the extraordinary general meeting in March?

Several names have been floated as potential replacements for the incumbent if things fall apart, with Melbourne Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro, who has built his club into a domestic powerhouse, often touted as the sort of candidate who might be desirable. But Di Pietro, who made a critical speech against the FFA earlier this month, has always ruled himself out and has recently distanced himself from such speculation.

The statutes, in any case, make it almost impossible for a club official such as Di Pietro to run for chairman anyway as the rules state that no one who has been involved with a club can stand until they have been away from their club involvement for two years.

Expect that to be challenged strongly if the critics do not get satisfaction next month. There is much hard talking to be done in the interim.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.