But what the comments also prove is just how true the saying is about football being a game of opinions. If I took notice of all the comments I received, there may be only one player left in the Sydney FC squad. Some people think Player X should go, others thing Player X works hard and deserves a chance; some think Player Y is not worth the money, others think it’s only a matter of time till Player Y puts in a blinder; some think Player Z should have more game time, others think he shouldn't ever wear a sky blue shirt. And so on.
So, in reading all these comments, I think it’s important to clarify something.
Players have contracts that are heavily weighted in the favour of the player. Organisations like the PFA, of which I am proud to be a Life Member and Alex Tobin Medal recipient, have worked hard to give players greater certainty and stability in earning their livelihoods. From a player perspective, it’s very welcome.
However, from a football management perspective it limits flexibility especially if there’s been no stability in coaching ranks and, therefore, player recruitment policy. It's part of the challenge of working with a roster.
Let me give you an example.
A new coach comes in and finds a player has two years to run on a four-year contract. But there are safeguards in that contract – the key one of which is that the player is paid out for the rest of his contract. If you want to move the player on, that’s two years payout. If a Club decides to pay out the contract, that payout comes from the salary cap. That might be acceptable and affordable if there’s three months to run, but not if there’s two years, as in my example.
In other words, a Club can have a player on the books who is going to get paid regardless of whether he plays or not and who is part of the salary cap.
What do you do?
You talk to the player of course. You work with the player and hope he can adapt. But that’s not always the case with every player. So then you tell him he’s not in your plans. Some players appreciate that that’s the way the cookie can crumble and look around for another position to progress their career and everyone’s happy - the Club isn’t paying money to someone who is doing nothing except training; the coach moves out a player he knows he isn’t going to play; the player gets a new Club and contract. But some players don’t do that; and a coach can have an immediate limitation in terms of the number of players in the squad and how much is available under the salary cap.
I can tell fans now that there won’t be much change in playing personnel next season. There are 19 players who are on contract for next season, which leaves six positions to fill, each on less money than the A-League average salary.
What do you do? Spend the money on two gun players that you need to shore up key positions, run the squad four players short and rely on injury protection from the NYL squad? Or bring in young players with potential to fill the roster and make sure you have player flexibility in terms of numbers?
I’m not the only coach/manager thinking around these issues, and it’s a key part of the job - and why we love it.
In the meantime, I’m focussed on the next four weeks. Despite the last two results, finals football is still within our grasp, as it is with other clubs, so it makes for an exciting finish for fans and the media even if – as I joked to a friend the other day – it might be handy to have a cardiologist travel with us for we older guys on the coaching bench.
There are four big games ahead starting with next Saturday’s match against Central Coast Mariners. Last time we met them at home, just after Christmas, we beat them 1-0 – a shock to many, but not to the boys and me. It’s also Lucas Neill’s first home game. Get along to Allianz Stadium at 5.30pm.
The following week we meet our old nemesis, Melbourne Victory, at home after they lived up to their namesake yesterday. That match kicks-off at 7.45pm.
Hope to see you at both matches.
And keep all those tweets and e-mails coming! I enjoy your passion greatly, even if not all of us share a point-of-view.
P.S. You can buy tickets to the next two home games here.