President of Football Coaches Australia (FCA) Phil Moss has acknowledged the challenges facing Australian football but believes that the opportunity is there for the game to emerge as a stronger force.
Formed in 2017, the body representing Australia’s professional coaches has mostly kept to the background since the suspension of the A-League, with the fast-moving events of COVID-19 preventing a proper canvassing of opinions until this past week.
Since then, the FCA staged multiple calls with the Australian coaching community, collating opinion from national team, A-League, W-League, and Y-League coaches, Member Federation Technical Directors and specialised roles such as Strength and Conditioning coaches.
“The mood is one of strength,” Moss told FTBL.
“That’s what coaches are, we are leaders and we’re the ones that people look to in times of hardship. You lose a game, two games or three games and everyone’s looking to you for direction and this is no different.
“We’ve all got families that depend on us for our livelihoods, and this is an extremely tough time that really tests that mental resolve to its very core, but I can safely say and confidently say that the mod on the call was one of real strength, resilience, camaraderie.
“That’s really promising moving forward.
“Everyone has their own situation, of course, but strength in numbers and feeling that camaraderie the other night was very encouraging.”
Chief among the short-term issues facing coaches in the A-League is stand-downs, which have been instituted by several clubs in the wake of the A-League’s suspension.
While much of the focus on the issue has revolved around the visceral reaction to the notices by Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), staff across the breadth of clubs have been effected - including coaches.
In an interview with the Dutch arm of Fox Sports, Adelaide United Head Coach Gertjan Verbeek expressed frustration with the way the stand-downs have been handled by the club and a post on an Adelaide-based Facebook buying and selling group by the Dutchman’s wife seemingly indicated that return to Europe was imminent.
Unlike A-League players, who through the PFA negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with clubs, coaches in Australia don’t operate with standardized contracts.
The situation has therefore presented a challenge to the FCA as it attempts to respond to the stand-down notices that have swept the A-League.
But while Moss is insistent that “public slanging matches” are not beneficial, he is hopeful that a push towards more uniform working conditions for coaches can emerge from the storm the game currently finds itself in.
“It’s a difficult one because each club and each coach has their own contract requirements,” he said of the stand-downs.
“And that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been fighting so hard for standardized contracts, so in situations like this, which is obviously very unique, there is a standardization of working conditions for coaches.
“Moving forward I’m hopeful that that will be one of the things that comes out of this.
“But certainly, we’re there on a coach by coach basis to lend that wellbeing support and legal support and just work through those issues.”
Coaches, of course, also face an uncertain long-term future.
FFA CEO James Johnson has acknowledged that the game will emerge into the post-COVID-19 landscape a different landscape than the one that entered it, with the economic realities of the new landscape still unknown.
A-League decision-makers are understood to be considering a number of truncated options for the 2020/21 season, while The Daily Telegraph has reported that some owners are seeking to slash the salary cap by over 50%.
Should clubs seek to cut further costs as they enter this new landscape, coaches are likely to find themselves in the firing line.
Remuneration for those in senior roles could come into focus for cuts and opportunities for coaches in more specialised positions such as strength and conditioning, academy and positional coaching could dissipate.
“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a concern,” Moss said.
“If you look at the financial state of the game at the moment, it’s not fantastic.
“Will we be looking at the coaching jobs that were full-time jobs that provided livelihoods decreased in size? Decreased in salaries? That’s something that will play out and it is a concern.”
Nonetheless, according to Moss, the situation is not all doom and gloom.
The former Central Coast Mariners’ gaffer believes that the COVID-19-imposed hibernation offers the game a chance to recalibrate itself and emerge as a stronger entity.
“Ultimately, if we do this right during this period of non-activity then I don’t’ see why the game can’t go to a stronger space,” said Moss.
“That’s going to be tough, that’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take leadership, some really hard decisions and some patience.
“But if we’re in a position now where we can reset, realign and reunite, then I can’t see why we can’t be in a stronger position down the track because of this experience.
“For me, the game needed to take a step back, a big deep breath and work out why we’re all involved in this game – and that’s not what the game can do for us, but what we can do for the game.
“And we can’t do it as a one-off, James Johnson as a CEO cannot make the changes he needs to make to make the game thrive unless we’re all behind him and allowing him to do the job that he’s been paid to do.”