The Wizard of Woy Woy is taking on apprentices, the leagues are going independent but the Nix aren't in the W-League, Arnie and the Olyroos are in camp, Tass Mourdoukoutas and the Wanderers are loving life under Carl Robinson, Adelaide is controlling their chaos and much more -- here's what you might have missed from Australian and New Zealand football this week!
A Little Piece of Home
Lampshaded by his comments following the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, Matt Simon made it official on Thursday: inking a new deal with Central Coast Mariners that will take him through the end of the coming campaign. A born and bred Coastie, Simon is in the midst of his third stint with the Mariners; set to add to his 194 games and 51 goals -- and hopefully not his 35 yellow cards -- under the Palm Trees at Central Coast Stadium.
"It's been a tough period this year with everything that's been going on, but it's nice for it to be announced and to be around the club for the next season," Simon, fresh off a team yoga and medical session, told ESPN.
"I'm really looking forward to being amongst the young group that we have. My first professional contract was with this club under Lawrie [McKinna] and, being from the Coast, it's always special to play in front of your family and friends. I'm looking forward and feel privileged to be able to do that every time we play in Gosford and it's something I'm really looking forward to doing for another year."
Though the shaka-throwing veteran's re-signing isn't accompanied with a formal coaching title as has been reported, he is set to take on an expanded mentorship role with the club's young squad this coming campaign; working with couch Alen Stajcic to guide the likes of Josh Nisbet, Lewis Miller and Alou Kuol as they integrate themselves into life as a professional footballer.
"It's a good opportunity to start looking at the different avenues that could arise post-football," Simon explained. "It's something that I'm looking forward to: making sure that we help them -- not just me, but the other older boys in the team -- to steer them in the right direction and give them a positive environment.
"First and foremost, I'm a player, but I'm just taking on that bit of an extra role to make sure the young ones are doing ok in the professional setup."
For the Man Who Has Everything
It finally happened. Years after it helped spur the revolt that saw Steven Lowy deposed as FFA chairman, clubs are set to take control of Australia's professional leagues by Christmas; James Johnson confirming that a deal had been struck betwixt the FFA and club representative body Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA) in a video update posted by the federation on Friday evening.
The APFCA will assume control of marketing and commercialising the league while the FFA, as it did during the bitter CBA talks between clubs and players, will take on the role of regulator. The regulatory role will allow the federation to retain a voice on structural issues such as second tiers (which Johnson has highlighted rested on unbundling), promotion and relegation and the league calendar.
Sydney FC CEO Danny Townend has previously told ESPN that clubs will launch a digital-first approach to their efforts to market the leagues as part of their plans for the four competitions now under their purview -- with each league possessing 100-page strategies written up and ready to go.
The new certainty surrounding the future of the league's management is welcome news, with Johnson bemoaning the lack of progress towards unbundling in an interview with Optus Sport in late October. Clubs, their coffers hit hard by COVID-19, will now be able to approach the marketplace searching for investment with the added feature of control of the leagues to spruik -- a bonus for clubs such as Central Coast and Newcastle Jets who are openly courting new investment.
Citing "sensitivities around the process in regards to the sale of the club," a Jets' spokesperson declined to comment to ESPN when approached about the status of CEO McKinna's efforts to secure a new owner ahead of the next season.
🔊 𝙐𝙥𝙙𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝘾𝙀𝙊— Football Federation Australia (@FFA) November 6, 2020
This week James Johnson discusses:
▪️ Upcoming Australia U-23 matches
▪️ NAIDOC Week and #IFW2020
▪️ The Performance Gap report
▪️ Latest #GenerationsOfAustralians episode
▪️ Unbundling of the @ALeague and Westfield @WLeague
The Greatest Story Never Told
The Wellington Phoenix will not be playing in the W-League in 2020-21.
As first revealed by ESPN, the Nix had been seeking to field a women's side for the first time this coming campaign; part of plans to grow the women's game ahead of the 2023 Women's World Cup. However, the NZ Herald reported on Tuesday that those plans had fallen at the final hurdle -- the FFA refusing to change regulations that would have allowed the side, which was set to be coached by Football Ferns boss Tom Sermanni, to field New Zealanders as domestic players -- as is the case for their A-League side.
Without such a designation, the Nix would only be able to field five New Zealanders, rendering the endeavour -- designed to improve pathways for young Kiwi women -- unworkable. The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that the FFA's reluctance to extend the regulations that govern the Nix's A-League side to their W-League equivalent was born out of a desire to not provide a potential World Cup rival with a boost by giving them access to Australia's elite competition.
For their part, the FFA put out a lengthy statement on Tuesday evening declaring that the request to alter the competition regulations had come "in recent days" and that concerns surrounding competition integrity, club management of squads and a lack of consultation time with other stakeholders led to the decision.
"Access to the Australian professional leagues through expansion and player eligibility rules are two separate and distinct matters," FFA said. "Access relates to which clubs can enter a competition, whereas player eligibility rules control a player's ability to play in a competition.
Writing in the NZ Herald, respected Kiwi sports journalist Jason Pine noted that the FFA's declaration that the request to change eligibility rules only arrived in "recent days" was a curious one; given that planning over the Nix entry to the league had been ongoing for "several months."
Ultimately, regardless of if it was driven by realpolitik or devotion to procedure, the decision by the FFA to retain the current eligibility rules is one rooted in pragmatism. Of course, it wasn't too long ago that a pragmatic vote by the English FA for the rival Colombian Women's World Cup bid, despite the latent sentimentality, was labelled as a "betrayal" here in Australia.
The Brave and the Bold
After a long COVID-break, Socceroos and Olyroos' boss Graham Arnold is finally back on the sidelines. The national team boss convened a 26-player squad for a nine-day Olyroos camp in Sydney this week -- a camp that will be highlighted with friendly fixtures against A-League sides Sydney FC and Macarthur FC on Thursday and Tuesday evening respectively.
It's been nine months since the Olyroos qualified for the now-rescheduled Tokyo Olympics -- set to commence in July 2021 -- but Arnold said that delay may have inadvertently strengthened the Olyroos medal chances with players having more opportunities to develop and emerge. Arnold said he was now approaching his squad with a blank slate.
"[Qualification] happened 11 months ago," Arnold said. "[It] was a completely different group of players. It's a fresh start for everybody; what everyone does from today, moving forward, will be about selection for the Tokyo Olympics. It's not like I'll be paying players back and saying thank you for what you did in Thailand or what you did earlier on in the piece, it's now a fresh start, there's been a nine-month break."
Since taking on the role of Olyroos boss alongside his Socceroos duties, Arnold has emphasised the role that the under-23 squad plays in building towards the senior side. According to Macarthur's Denis Genreau, one of the 26 players in Sydney, said that was a major boost to the group's spirits.
"He's so big on the Olympics and the under-23s," Genreau told ESPN. "Most of the players that go to the Olympics go on to represent the Socceroos and get a lot of caps. [Macarthur captain] Mark Milligan has been to the Olympics and you've seen the career he's had. To go to the Olympics and have a coach that believes in the process of representing at U23 level and then bringing them into the Socceroos is huge."
First revealed by ESPN, the FFA publicly unveiled its research into a growing "performance gap" in youth development last week, the response to which Arnold described as being positive in nature.
The report, in conjunction with calls from NPL coaches to remove the widely unpopular Player Points System (PPS) from state leagues, comes at a critical juncture for development. Whereas young players will likely receive boosted opportunities in the A-League this season, multiple sources have indicated to ESPN that, while there has been no official word on its status, the Y-League is likely to be shelved for the coming season; clubs instead tapping the return of NPL action as the next chance to expose their youth sides to a sustained run of games.
The FFA has been pushing for reforms to the NPL system to shrink the performance gap identified by their new research and there is understood to be little resistance towards raising the age limit of academy sides competing in their state leagues. However, other reforms pursued by the national federation such as extended competitions and academy sides in their local NPL1 competitions may need to wait; the two largest state federations in New South Wales and Victoria both having already unveiled their 2021 competition structures -- both free from any such changes.
New Kids in Town
One of the youngsters seemingly set to benefit most from the A-League's changing demographics is Western Sydney Wanderers' Tass Mourdoukoutas.
A former Sydney Olympic youth, Mourdoukoutas made 10 appearances, with just two starts, for the Red and Black during the 2019-20 season. Yet, with the departure of Matt Jurman to Xanthi FC and the arrival of new coach Carl Robinson, he looms as a possible regular starter for 2020-21.
"[Preseason has] been quality," the 21-year-old told ESPN. "We've really enjoyed having the new gaffer in and his coaching staff -- it's really lifted a lot of the boys. It's pretty evident to see the enthusiasm that he brings to the group and is really going to help us massively this year.
"[Robinson] loves getting his centre-backs on the ball and [them] not being scared to play; not being scared to show and demand the ball and get it into the midfielders and create from the back. But at the same time, it's about understanding that your job is to defend and to stay mentally aware that, even when we have the ball, you've got to already be thinking about defending."
Already a favourite of fans on social media, Mourdoukoutas has had a chance to strut his stuff off the field this offseason. The defender recently modelled the club's new Kappa kits during their launch and was the focus of "Tass Week" on the Wanderers' social channels.
"Football is multi-dimensional, it's not just about the game," he said. "There's a bit of being smart with your life and with your career. I've kind of gone and run with that a little bit. I'm having a good time so far this season, I love the club and love playing for the club so I'm happy to do any other kind of social things."
What got between Viduka & Kewell's relationship?
Mark Viduka believes Bernie Mandic played a detrimental role in his relationship with former Leeds and Socceroos teammate Harry Kewell.
There's been a lot of talk about a youth-led South Australian revolution at Adelaide United.
The club's successful sale of Riley McGree, Nikola Mileusnic and others leaving observers itching to get a look at the next generation croweaters under the care of Carl Veart. However, entering his first full season in charge Adelaide, possibly Veart's most important player isn't a fresh-faced teen or even South Australian: 28-year-old Cairns-born winger Ben Halloran getting set to commence his third season at Coopers Stadium.
"[Veart's] really been trying to create a positive environment and I think he's done that," Halloran told ESPN. "It's always exciting to train, there's a lot of positivity -- especially having a lot of young boys around. They've got the freedom to express themselves and that's the new direction of the club at the moment: promoting this young talent.
"I'm taking on a bit more of a leadership role. We've lost a fair few older, more experienced players. There's a lot of youth coming through and we probably haven't replaced all the older players we've lost; it's kind of on these mid-aged players like me to step up a bit, take on some more responsibility and look to lead some of these young boys and help lead them through the system."
A vital reference point in the crimson hurricane that was the Reds' attack under Gertjan Verbeek in 2019-20, the former Gold Coast United and Fortuna Dusseldorf man is anticipating a bit more controlled chaos under Veart.
"The million-miles-an-hour, back-and-forth with Gertjan was good if we were playing good football, but we were very vulnerable at the back," Halloran explained. "So I think having a bit more of a balance and picking and choosing the right times to play this kind of counter-attacking style is important; especially playing through the summer it's basically impossible to do it for 90 minutes. A bit more of a focus on keeping the ball and controlling the game a bit more is the direction now the club would like to go."
Elsewhere, Adelaide confirmed on Wednesday the signing of goalkeeper James Delianov on a two-year deal. Stuck behind Filip Kurto and battling with Ryan Scott for the back-up role at Western United, Delianov was clear in his desire for first-team football this offseason and should win the No. 1 jersey for the Reds in 2020-21. Don't be surprised to see him in Socceroos contention in a few years, either.