With the A-League inching towards concluding the 2019/20 season, Western United CEO Chris Pehlivanis is confident that the expansion club with have access of its remaining foreign contingent when play resumes.
United sat in sixth-place on the A-League table at the time of the competition’s suspension but was forced to stand down its playing staff during the period of enforced hibernation amidst concerns over Fox Sports final quarterly payment for the 19/20 A-League rights.
However, with the payment belatedly delivered to the coffers of the FFA last week and the league inching towards a return, things are looking up for the expansion club.
Speaking to FTBL, the United boss cautioned that there still remained too much uncertainty to detail concrete plans about football’s return, indicating that there was likely another week or two away from full details being known, but welcomed the coming return of football.
“Irrespective of the [Fox Sports] payment I guess the whole league is now a little bit more secure,” Pehlivanis said.
“We’re encouraged that we can play out the rest of the season and, being a new team at Western United, we’re pleased to get an opportunity to complete the first season and finish the journey we started at the start of the first year.
“From a financial point of view. [the payment] gives us a chance to [complete the season] and go into next year and secure an even better A-league. Obviously, we’re keen to be a part of that, so we’re optimistic.”
Though not officially confirmed by the FFA, August has been widely reported as the date for the return of the competition, with a return for training mooted for July.
Those dates, however, fall after the date that A-League player contracts had been scheduled to expire on May 31. One of the players directly affected by this grey zone had been midfielder Dario Jertec, who returned to Croatia after being released by United in early April.
FIFA has issued guidelines for extending player contracts until the end of the season in the face of the COVID-19 saga, but an agreement between A-League clubs and the PFA still remains in the works.
Pehlivanis, though, is hopeful that all of United’s other foreign players will be available when the league eventually does return.
“That would be our intention,” he said. “But it would all depend on the return and everything else because the reality is some of them are uncontracted in three weeks so it will just depend on the whole landscape.
“But our intention is to have all of them available and ready to go. I think Dario was a little unique because his contract was ending, he also had a young family he wanted to return home to and probably didn’t have an intention to return next year.”
The only member of United’s remaining foreign contingent not in Australia is recently signed defender Tomoki Imai, who returned to his homeland following the competition’s suspension to be with his young family.
“He went home because he’s got a six-month-old and a one and a half-year-old, he was trying to bring them here but with COVID-19 it’s all up in the air so we let him go but it’s our intention to bring him back.”
As an expansion side, United had been operating throughout the 2019/20 season without an academy side – their reserve side primarily made up of young players staging friendlies against NPL sides in pre-season mode throughout the A-League campaign.
“We’re in the planning phase of [building an academy],” explained the United CEO. “I would say it’s [the COVID-19 break] given our staff more time to focus on getting the fundamentals right; working with Football Victoria (FV) to ensure sure that we set that up to do all the things right from a license perspective with FV, but also to set it up really well and really differentiate ourselves in the market and make sure we offer something for the kids in the west.
“We’re also looking at it from a boy’s and girl’s perspective, so not just an academy space for the boys – we’re looking at all of our options.”