Sydney FC coach Ian Crook obviously has too much time on his hands. Not in the YouTube surfing and eating an entire packet of Iced VoVos kind of way, but the Hyundai A-League season hasn’t even started yet and he’s already saying he wants more, more, more.
Crook’s argument is that, for the sake of increased competition and player development, A-League clubs should play each other four times a year, rather than the three fixtures they currently have.
This “fourth round” would increase the season from 27 matches to 36, with finals tagged on to the end of that.
It’s hard to know how to feel about this. My first reaction: brilliant! More football! Too much is never enough!
It’s easy to pity dedicated football fans in Australia, as their true love gets swamped by lesser but more popular codes. There isn’t enough football in this country.
A six-month off-season is a terrible famine, with naught to sustain us but the late-night left-overs from the other side of the globe. If football is Macca’s, let’s super-size it and become a nation of footy fatties. I’m with the Crookie Monster! Om nom nom nom!
Then the brain overtakes the gluttony, and argues there is already too much football in the world.
Like most football fans, I also follow the major European competitions, and with the various international tournaments wedged in between, football never stops and I never sleep.
Sometimes I think I suffer from football fatigue. Try to converse with me in the December-January high season, and I’m a haunted man, black-eyed, slack-jawed, drooling and moaning “4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1”. I’m a football zombie lumbering across continents and existing in between time zones with a remote control in one hand and a constantly updating Twitter feed in the other, feasting on the brains of anyone willing to talk about transfer windows and managerial meltdowns.
Being a football journo doesn’t help that state of ceaseless unrest. It sounds like a dream job (and I’m not denying almost everyone has it worse than me) but when football’s your Monday-Sunday job, it can squeeze just a little bit of the joy out of it.
If they do decide to stretch the competition out further, I think I may end up divorced, with my laptop hardwired straight into my brain. A single soccer cyborg, like Robocop, with 36 weeks to comply.
But this isn’t all about me. You have to ask, is this season extension even feasible in Australia? Do clubs have the resources and the playing squads to last the distance?
European clubs have mammoth playing rosters exactly because they have to cope with the demands of a 38-week season, give or take. Nicky Carle can hardly last a whole season as it is. His knees might hand in a transfer request if it goes on any longer.
And could the game carry this sort of growth? We would either have to extend into the AFL and NRL seasons, which is hardly an ideal situation to start or finish our competition, or have more midweek games, which haven’t proven a sure-fire hit in the past.
And, with all due respect and love, can the A-League sustain interest in teams playing each other four times a year? Would I really like to watch Perth v Wellington four times in one season?
Perhaps the better solution is the long-mooted FFA Cup, which would deliver extra games with all the added incentive and drama of a knockout competition, and offer good development for clubs and players within and beyond the A-League, but without a 36-week season stretching out in front of you like crossing the Nullarbor on a flat-tyred bike without a saddle.