Players feeling good about future of the A-League

THERE is, it seems, light at the end of the tunnel.

After several seasons of frustration, Australia’s footballers are newly optimistic about the future of the A-League and W-League, about their own situation and about the direction the game is taking.

Less than nine months after the A-League and W-League clubs took control of their competitions, sentiment has changed significantly according to data from the players’ own association PFA). The difference with recent seasons is striking.

More than of players would like to stay playing in the A-League next season, up from 45% from the 2019/20 season, according to the PFA’s annual A-League report. An even higher number, 56%, are confident about the future of their careers, a figure which has risen from just 33% in 2019/20.

Only a tiny handful of players say they would move overseas to a comparable league and/or for comparable money, and only 16% would go to a league where the standards and money were actually better.

Obviously the environment of a global pandemic plays a part, but anecdotal evidence tells the same story as the numbers – players feel more comfortable about the future, and believe the A-League and W-League are on an upward curve.

With a five-year collective pay deal in place, and a similar length broadcast arrangement, there is a sense of looking beyond the immediate term, said PFA co-CEO Beau Bush.

“Separating the leagues away from Football Australia was an important first step, to give clarity about who was responsible for the future of the competitions,” Bush said.

“Getting a new broadcast deal was a point of anxiety (for the players) after the uncertainty of the last 18 months, and now we have Ten/CBS Viacom showing faith in the leagues with a five-year deal.

“On top of that, (APL MD) Danny Townsend talked the players through the strategy for the Leagues and that helped with the process then of negotiating the CBA.

“The past 12 months have shown that there is a strategy, there is a plan. These deals mean we can all look up beyond the immediate term and plan further ahead.”

There are other interesting numbers in the PFA Report, showing how the competition has changed. The average age of its players has fallen by two and a half years over the past two seasons to 25, with champions Melbourne City having the second-youngest squad with an average age of 23.7.

For years it has been the older squads that did best, by and large, but the switch to youth has more than just a feel-good aspect – finalists Central Coast and Adelaide had the youngest and third youngest squads respectively. Right across the league, more than a third of players were aged 21 and younger.