Coach hired, FIFA due, but pressure also on FFA over expansion

Football Federation Australia entered the new year focused on hiring Bert van Marwijk as the new Socceroos coach and dealing with FIFA when its officials eventually arrive in this country next month to try to resolve the messy political bunfight which persists between the board, its clubs and the professional game over control of the sport.

But the vexed question of A-League expansion is always bubbling under the surface, and while the FFA have tried to put it on the backburner, it is unlikely to go away.

In fact, the whole question of more clubs and the creation of a second division is likely to be front and centre when the FIFA emissaries arrive for showdown talks with FFA chairman Steven Lowy and club representatives, with a significant group of stakeholders determined to push the "bigger is better" argument.

Several consortia have thrown their hats in the ring hoping to be considered when expansion finally gets the green light, while numerous advocates for traditional clubs continue to press their case for a place at the sport's top table, or if not there, then as founding figures in a second division that will eventually have promotion and relegation to the top tier.

Expansion has been shelved since last year, although there is speculation that two new clubs will be included in the competition by the time the 2019-20 season kicks off. There could be more, if a decision to give Wellington Phoenix their marching orders is taken at some point in the short or medium-term future.

FFA boss David Gallop has previously said the game's governing body prefers to "fish where the fish are", with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane the areas most likely to get new clubs.

While there is an expectation that the current board and management of the FFA would prefer to establish new franchises, existing clubs and traditional teams are still keen to show they can add to the existing brand.

The disappointing attendances and poor TV ratings this season have added to existing clubs' conviction that with a ready-made support base and community ties they could not be worse than some A-League franchises, although all acknowledge they would have to lift their game to deliver on what they claim is large latent support.

In Victoria there is a consortium based in the Dandenong region, arguing that its multi-racial demographic and burgeoning population makes it the best bet to cash in on soccer interest in the south eastern suburbs.

In the west a Geelong-based consortium known as the Victoria Patriots broke cover this time last year, arguing its case to be the focus for any Victorian expansion.

Not much has been heard from these organisations in recent months, but that can never be said for a third Melbourne bidder, former NSL powerhouse South Melbourne, which has been campaigning for several years now for a place in the elite competition.

South began the new year pushing their barrow for a place at the top table by pointing to a recent initiative to send coaches to China as further evidence that they ready to be given a chance to play at the highest level.

Bill Papastergiadis, head of the A-League bid for South Melbourne, says the club has set up the Australia China Football Foundation to deepen ties with Asia and its coaches "will deliver a five-day football development conference in Shanghai to over 70 youth coaches from all regions of China".

"The program, developed by club technical director Strati Xynas, will provide the coaches with training, coaching and technical systems and tools together with practical sessions to enhance the way they engage with and develop young footballers," Papastergiadis said.

Meanwhile, the club is looking for a new coach just months before the kick-off of the new NPL Victoria campaign after parting company with Chris Taylor.

English-born Taylor led South Melbourne to the semi-finals of the FFA Cup last year, and he also won the league with the club. He was at South for four and a half years - an eternity in the volatile world of the NPL.

This story Coach hired, FIFA due, but pressure also on FFA over expansion first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.