Melbourne Victory coach Tony Popovic says he 'fully understands' the outrage around a controversial $20 million deal that will see Sydney host the A-League grand finals for the next three years. The Aussie football icon has added his voice to calls to reverse the contentious deal that the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) struck with the NSW government.
Announced on Monday, the APL board's lucrative deal faced immediate criticism from fans and players and broke the A-League's tradition that saw the highest-ranked men's or women's team in the respective competitions host the decider. Opposition to the deal been so fierce that APL board director Anthony Di Pietro was left with little choice but to resign from the role on Tuesday, with the Melbourne Victory chair insisting his priorities lay with Victorian football.
APL chief executive Danny Townsend says the A-League Men's (ALM) and A-League Women's (ALW) clubs were complicit in the arrangement and that the deal was struck to establish a new tradition for the competitions - not to mention the level of financial stability that comes with the multi-million dollar agreement. However, the move has been slammed by clubs, fans and football identities around the country, with broadcaster Lucy Zelic labelling it "despicable and "disgraceful" earlier in the week.
Many fans of A-League teams across Australia are planning boycotts and protests at this weekend's games, to show their opposition to the hugely unpopular three-year deal. Rival Victory and Melbourne City supporter groups have already made their plans known about staging a walk-out at AAMI Park at the 20-minute mark of Saturday night's derby.
Popovic says gets the anger from fans and supports their plans to protest this weekend. He also backed the decision of Victory's chairman to walk away from his APL board role and hopes the the body which administers the A-League Men and Women competitions will listen to the criticism and rethink their agreement.
"Clearly our chairman is pushing hard and working hard to try and get the APL to reverse the decision," Popovic said on Friday. "Our fans have voiced their concerns and ultimately they want to show through their actions tomorrow how they feel about it.
"Our players have spoken about (the planned protest) - they fully understand it, respect it, and most importantly agree with it."
A former Socceroo, Popovic knows Aussie football and the A-League better than most - won two premierships as a coach, as well as an Asian Champions League title with the Western Sydney Wanderers. He says what makes the competition special and differentiates it from other football codes in the country, is the fact the team that finishes highest on the table, earns the right to host the grand final.
"I've had four grand final experiences, home and away, and what our code brings here is something unique," he added. "The team that earns the right to play at home can create an amazing atmosphere, and it's special for those fans.
"It's also special for the opposing team and clubs and fans that travel to a hostile environment. It's something special that we have in our game."
A-League grand final deal leaves football community seething
As Zelic pointed out earlier in the week, a grand final between two interstate teams being hosted in Sydney would make no sense, and would likely struggle to attract a crowd worthy of the occasion. She also highlighted cost of living pressures and the unrealistic financial burden a Sydney grand final would represent for travelling fans and families from two interstate teams.
“Let’s say for example that Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City are in the final; you are going to force fans to find accommodation and flights. Who’s going to fork out $800 to go up north and back with your family? The cost of living is through the roof. Do you think a bunch of Sydneysiders will watch two Melbourne teams duke it out? They aren’t going to give a crap.”
Popovic bemoaned the fact the latest saga engulfing Australian football has taken focus off the national team's entrancing run to the World Cup knockout stages, which united supporters around the country.
"It's a talking point that we've had to deal with this week but it shows that our game is very important in this country and is important to our fans," he said. "It's disappointing that there's some negative talk around the game after the World Cup, but we've got to deal with that."
Speaking ahead of Saturday's clash with Sydney FC, Central Coast Mariners coach Nick Montgomery also admitted there was a "strange lack of communication" from the APL about the grand-final decision but conceded such moves were beyond his control.
"It's way above my pay grade," Montgomery said. "I'm sure the powers that be will all have discussions and hopefully by the end of it, they can come to an agreement that's going to be beneficial for football in this country moving forward."
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