For the future, extended benches are a must
This weekend, football fans from around the country will pile into stadiums, with the sort of vigor and hope that only the first day of a season can supply. The off season is done, the pre season complete and supporters hope renewed. New recruits will surprise and disappoint, new jerseys will shine or wilt and twenty two men will take to the field with the with the collective expectations of the thousands of fans breathing on the back of their necks
On the sidelines, managers will gesture, point and sigh, some dressed in suits to impress and some dressed in sponsor supplied training gear. Substitutes will watch, warm up and wait for the call, their moment in the sun upon them. It is here where the A-League is different from many leagues around the world, not because of the dull, grey plastic garden chairs these men are forced to endure, but for the number of these garden chairs that adorn the sidelines.
It’s an issue that is widely debated, one that Adelaide United Coach Rini Coolen has been outspoken about, calling for the benches to be extended from four to seven. Football Federation Australia remains unconvinced, with the added cost to clubs seemingly being the biggest hurdle.
The A-League is at a pivotal moment in its short history, with expectations surrounding the upcoming seventh edition at an all time high, with returning Socceroo’s Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton grabbing most of the headlines. And whilst Harry and Brett are expected to get the crowds filling the many empty seats that littered season six, it’s the next generation, players like Mustafa Amini, Terry Antonis and Marco Rojas that will insure a viable and vibrant competition for the future, players that fans can watch grow and connect with for the rest of their careers.
But A-League coaches are currently hamstrung and many unwilling to take a risk by naming untried and inexperienced young players on a limited bench. Football is a cut throat business, one where managers and coaches live and die by results; it may be clichéd but there is no escaping its truth. Selecting a young promising player at the expense of an older, usually ‘utility’ style player is just too big of a risk for most coaches. They can only make three substitutes per game and in a salary capped, close competition such as the A-League, there is often very little room for error as one point can mean the difference between finals football and an earlier then wanted holiday.
For the coaches and indeed the competition, a chance to blood young players and enhance tactical flexibility is paramount. Limiting their options to just three outfield players to choose from can often stifle a match and frustrate fans as the clock approached 90 minutes. It’s obvious the A-League faces many challenges as it continues to grow. Some major and some superficial, it’s natural for any new league and indeed many well established competitions to review its practices.
The reality is most A-League clubs cannot afford the extra expense each season, but the real question is can the competition afford not to seriously consider a change. A young league needs talented young players, and talented young players need game time at the highest level. Increasing the options increases the chances for young players. And for many talented but yet unproven players, the one chance is all they need.