Significant reforms are potentially on the way for Australian football in the form of a domestic transfer system and national second division, but as this week's ESPN Australia and New Zealand football wrap details, introducing them is never easy. Beyond that, we hear from two of the A-League's most lethal strikers and pay respect to Sam Kerr.
PFA wary of domestic transfer system
Players' union Professional Footballers Australia remain wary of the ramifications that the introduction of a domestic transfer system (DTS) would hold for Australian football.
A former head of professional football at FIFA, Football Australia CEO James Johnson has made the introduction of a DTS one of the key goals of the federation ever since his appointment in late 2019; its establishment the third of the XI Principles for the future of Australian football strategy document released in 2020.
But with a DTS potentially one of the most seismic reforms the Australian game will have seen in decades, the PFA has already signalled its objection to its introduction and the maintenance of the salary cap; co-chief executive Beau Busch bluntly telling ESPN in December that "a salary cap and transfer system are incompatible."
"Because there's no Domestic Transfer System (DTS) in place, our football market value is very low."— Football Australia (@FootballAUS) December 3, 2020
Watch Graham Arnold, @BDjite and @simonhill1894 discuss the benefits and challenges of a DTS in the first Webinar: https://t.co/hXLcAMvQbA pic.twitter.com/Jgf05NuAbZ
In a subsequent interview with Lucy Zelic, Busch and co-chief executive Kate Gill signalled their view that the former's introduction "must be [collectively] bargained, and [players] will not allow it to be imposed on them."
Australian clubs already able to sell players on the international market, the union remains unconvinced of the evidence that a domestic equivalent will actually grow the size of the Australian football economy or spur its youth development -- the latter the subject of numerous research papers by the organisation.
Busch told ESPN the union was concerned its introduction would simply serve as an added tax on the employment of players -- whose wages are already artificially limited -- at the same time clubs have sought to reduce the salary cap due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
"To further develop our game here in Australia, there needs to be a focus on building real value," he said. "It remains unclear what role, if any, re-introducing a local tax on the employment of players via a DTS has to play in these efforts.
"Additionally, there is little evidence to suggest that a DTS -- in Australia or globally -- is a fundamental component of player development or linked to building value on the international market, which is already open to all of our clubs.
"The operation of a DTS during the NSL did not ensure a thriving domestic football economy and, conversely, resulted in a raft of governance failings that severely damaged the reputation of the game.
"In considering its re-introduction the players would need to be satisfied that the problems of the past would not return and that the business case was clear, well researched and undeniable.
"For example, if we were to double or even triple the training compensation by A-League clubs to NPL clubs, the impact would be minimal on the game's economy but could result in many players being unable to make the leap from the NPL to the A-League."
A DTS, however, is just one of a number of reforms and initiatives being explored by Football Australia.
Taking part in a question and answer session at a Melbourne Knights home game, its chairperson Chris Nikou indicated that he was seeking to oversee a cultural reset at the organisation.
"Football Australia has historically been a very Sydney-based organisation, but under my chairmanship, I'd like us to go back to a more traditional football environment, which means 'football as we know it,'" Nikou said.
"Which means alignment from top to bottom and the ability to move up and down that spectrum depending on ability."
Inevitably in a room full of its longstanding advocates, the subject of a national second division (NSD) was also raised by interviewer Josh Parish. AAFC chairperson Nick Galatas revealed to ESPN last week that his organisation intends to finalise its report on an NSD by the end of June and then submit it to the federation.
"Nick [Galatas] and I speak regularly on this, and I think there's a much greater level of cooperation and understanding of the issues on both sides," Nikou explained.
"I think having a football CEO [Johnson] -- brought up in Rockhampton, played in the NSL -- who understands football, has lived it in the Asian region and FIFA means we're aware of where we want to get to at the moment.
"I'm expecting the matter to come to the Football Australia board in the second half of this year, and I'd love to see a second division up for the 2023 season."
Good Social Media Thing of the Week
Sam Kerr, what a gun.
Congrats to @TheMatildas captain @samkerr1 🏆— Football Australia (@FootballAUS) May 9, 2021
On top of becoming Champions of England with @ChelseaFCW, Sam took home the Golden Boot with 21 goals from 22 games.
Sam has now claimed 6 Golden Boots, in 5 years, with 4 different teams, & in 3 different leagues and continents! 👏 pic.twitter.com/6LLyWsa33D
Though goalless in City's 3-2 win over Brisbane Roar, Maclaren's 22 goals in 20 games in 2020-21 represent a hitherto unmatched level of lethality across the history of the A-League. On his own, the Sunbury-raised attacker's individual attacking output is five greater than the combined sum of every Newcastle Jets player.
Maclaren's closest individual challenger -- Macarthur FC's Matt Derbyshire -- sits on just 11 goals, so the City star looms as not just a nigh-unbackable favourite to secure a third A-League Golden Boot, but also as odds on to shatter Bobo's record of 27 goals in a season.
Inevitably, these levels of production lead to speculation and conjecture about the prospect of a move overseas, especially for a player ostensibly entering their prime like the 27-year-old Maclaren.
"I want to make clear that I'm very happy at Melbourne City and enjoying my football -- which is the key part," Maclaren told ESPN.
Nonetheless, with 12 months remaining on his City contract, the Socceroo spearhead acknowledges that he's approaching a critical juncture in his playing career: the subject of if he stays or if he goes at the forefront of it.
"I think it's going to be an interesting period," he said. "I'll sit down with my agent whenever the season does end and really analyse things and assess.
"You always have that sort of ambition to test yourself and have new challenges. But I've still got 12 months left on my contract at City and who knows what happens?
"But goals bring interest. Goals bring offers. And right now that's all I can control -- my performances for this club.
"You'd have to ask Melbourne City [for specifics on offers that have arrived already]. I'm a player. For me, any offers that come in go through them.
"There's always interest, there's always offers. I'm not going to sit here and say there's not. But until Melbourne City find a club or find an offer that's deemed worthy of losing me, then that's up to them.
"Paddy [Dominguez] is my agent, and he's had my best interests for the best part of 10 years. He's just basically said to me 'stay on this path, keep scoring goals and whether you do end up extending and staying at Melbourne City or move on, goals bring those sort of moments.'
"But at the same time, I've got a big challenge here and my sole focus is making sure that City has silverware at the end of this season and that we just carry on the way we're doing, playing some great football.
"I think my performances will inevitably make decisions for people."
Should he indeed take up a position in the shop window in coming months, Maclaren's movement, or non-movement, should make for illuminating viewing.
If available, he would be up for grabs after what might be the best offensive season in A-League history delivered while still in his 20s. His signature would ostensibly only become more valuable should he continue his goal-scoring form in a Socceroos shirt at coming World Cup qualifiers.
How much of a fee such a resume demands would provide significant insight into international perceptions of the A-League in 2020-21. Money talks.
The emotional and leadership aspects that Simon brings his side have been well explored this season but one on-field area that 'The Wizard of Woy Woy' has thrived -- and is perhaps easily lost in his easily meme-able character -- has been his ability to hold the play up and lay the ball off for a teammate.
"I've always thought that was a strong part of my game -- to bring players into the play," Simon told ESPN.
"Holding up the ball is a critical part of being a No. 9. And when you're playing with two No. 9s and you have one running in behind and one coming short, it's critical that you've got someone there that can hold up the ball.
"It's something that probably when I started -- a few years ago now -- it probably wasn't a strong point of my game. I actually had to really work on that. Obviously getting some advice from coaches that I've had in the past did help me a lot along the way.
"A big one for me and the one that I try and help the kids in our team with is that holding up the ball, you've got to use your strength and not get pushed off the ball.
"You can't be running 100mph towards the ball, you need to stop and take the hit from the defender before you can control the ball. I've found that is a good way to be able to do it. I find that it helps all strikers to be able to do that and to do it better."
Good Football Thing of the Week
Ajdin Hrustic producing a rarely seen feat these days. Not the goal, but a Socceroo playing in one of Europe's major leagues.