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Clubs see timing of FFA expansion call as cynical

Football Federation Australia might have thought it would get a PR boost from the announcement that it planned to increase the A-League to 12 teams, with two expansion franchises for the 2019-20 season, but it has been met by an underwhelming response from two key club bodies.

The Australian Association of Football Clubs, the body leading the push for a second tier for the professional game, was shocked by the FFA's failure to mention the prospect of a second division in the announcement that A-League expansion was firmly on its agenda.

FFA chairman Steven Lowy has been under pressure. Photo: AAP

The Australian Professional Football Clubs Association – the body that represents the current A-League clubs – also made it clear it thought the FFA and its chairman, Steven Lowy, were playing politics as the game's governing body and stakeholders prepare for crucial talks with officials from FIFA over the sport's governance this week.

''I think it's a load of nonsense – it's an attempt to try and show FIFA that they are working with the clubs, but it's just a smokescreen,'' said Adelaide United chairman Greg Griffin, who is also chairman of the APFCA.

''There is absolutely no prospect, under a board led by Steven Lowy, of the creation of an independent A- League that is vaguely acceptable. It's a ploy that will run five seconds.''

While all in the football community welcomed the FFA's commitment to the concept of A-League expansion, few were fooled by the timing.

The response from the soccer community – since the FFA issued the statement on Friday afternoon – has been one of cynicism which could be summed up as ''we have heard all this before, they are just saying it now to make themselves look good for FIFA's arrival.''

That might sound harsh, but such is the disaffection with the board, the anger over the lack of marketing of the A-League and the failure to embrace expansion sooner, that the response to what was ostensibly positive news has been lukewarm.

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The AAFC, which represents clubs in the National Premier Leagues and state competitions, is pushing hard to create a football pyramid with promotion and relegation which, it feels, could revolutionise the way the game operates at the highest levels in this country.

Rabieh Krayem, its chairman, said he was disappointed the FFA had made no mention of a second-level competition.

He was also surprised there was little or no detail in the document, other than a vague commitment to expansion for the 2019-20 season.

"I think it was surprising in the first place that any announcement was made leading up to the FIFA talks, and also that there is no mention of promotion or relegation or a second division," he said.

''The timing does not make sense, and the feedback and response from a lot of people to it has been very cynical. There was no substance to it.''

The FFA said it would bring in two new clubs in 2019-20 with the Southern Expansion franchise, which boasts former Socceroo Craig Foster as one of its figureheads, widely tipped to be one of them. Candidates from Melbourne, Brisbane and other parts of the country are vying for the other license.

Several stakeholders will meet with FIFA officials this week to lobby for their cases.

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SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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