A second division for the A-League is on its way as part of a radical overhaul of Australian football, FFA chairman Chris Nikou revealed today.
The FFA will next week confirm a new working party made up of FFA executives, A-League clubs and NPL clubs to get the project planning underway immediately.
A national second tier – ostensibly made up initially from the best of the NPL clubs from across the country – would be the starting point for introducing promotion and relegation to the A-League.
And there is already speculation it could be the mechanism used to bring in the final two clubs into a 16-team A-League in the next few years.
Nikou said: "This is not the full stop for the expansion process. Expansion is an ongoing dialogue for us and stakeholders. We haven‘t put a number on it but it will be more than 14 teams.
"We'd like to keep the expansion issue on the agenda.– and intertwined with that is establishing a second division working group to explore establishing a second division as soon as we can.
"There will be a working party and we will have a mature discussion about how we go about organising a second division."
The revelation came as the FFA confirmed Western Melbourne Group and Macarthur South-West Sydney had been the successful bidders to join the A-League.
Western Melbourne – who will play at Kardinia Park in Geelong for the first three seasons while their own purpose-built stadium is constructed in Wyndham – will join next season and South-West Sydney – playing out of Campbelltown Stadium – will join the season after.
New FFA chairman Chris Nikou was bullish about future expansion plans – and would not put a cap on the final figure, other than say it would be more than 14.
But Wellington Phoenix's future is now in serious doubt, with the real possibility it is about to lose its licence when it comes up for renewal next year.
Chief Executive David Gallop admitted the topic came up in the board meeting that decided the current expansion plans but Nikou said it would be disrespectful to go into more detail.
But letting Phoenix's licence go unrenewed opens the door for Canberra to pick up Phoenix's spot the following season to join at the same time as South-West Sydney to make the A-League a 12 team competition.
"Phoenix are part of the A-League and they know what they have to do to be in the A-League," warned Nikou.
And Gallop added: "There is a lot of complexity to what a new operating model for the A-League will look like and one of the factors will be how that places Phoenix in the competition."
The next priority for the FFA appears to be establishing the second division while also working with the A-League clubs to set up the independent A-League body which will work with the FFA on the next stage of expansion, but could not give a timeline on the next stage.
And the FFA promised to discuss re-applying with the unsuccessful bidders,
Nikou insisted: "We need to get through the significant task of 2019, which is the new A-League model, and that will then set the landscape for expansion after that.
"We've obviously done a lot of work on that and we are not reinventing the wheel or starting from ground zero.
"We'll debrief the unsuccessful bidders and keep dialogue going with them but I think we will see some fresh bidders coming into the market - Brisbane, Adelaide, those sort of cities should not be discounted."
The second bid to create a new club in Melbourne, Team 11, today vowed to continue their fight to join the A-League.
"Team 11 is bitterly disappointed not to have been awarded a licence, but is adamant that one day the south-east of Victoria will house a professional football club," the club said in a statement this afternoon.
Team 11 interim chairman Ghadir Razuki said he and his fellow investors were determined to formulate new plans for entry into an expanded A-League or a national second division.
He added: "We have said all along that this bid is about football and is about community.
“Today’s outcome, while disappointing, does not shake our belief that a football team in the south-east of Victoria will be an immense success.
“Let’s hope that one day we will be on-field rivals as football continues its upward trajectory.”
The South Sydney Expansion bid however appears to have given up hope of joining the A-League and reacted angrily to the rejection of their bid
"If FFA wanted immediate success for A-League expansion, it’s surprising that they’ve voted against Southern Expansion," the bid said in a statement.
"It’s disappointing that this region has lost out on getting their own A/W-League Club and that our financial backers’ potential investment in the A-League is now lost to the game."
NPL and former NSL side South Melbourne FC admitted they were sad to have been overlooked, but were keen to still be in the running next time round..
"We are naturally disappointed the decision made by the FFA Board did not include South Melbourne," said chairman Bill Papastergiadis.
"We are however cognisant of the board's difficult position making a decision considering the strengths of the various bids.
"The preference of the Western Melbourne Group means our main supporter base and catchment area in the south and south-east of Melbourne remains unaffected by the expansion announcement today.
"We are confident South Melbourne FC is and will remain a viable option for an A-League licence in the future.
"Whilst today was not our day, our time will come. We are here. We are ready."