PFA Chief Executive John Didulica on contract instability and the impact it is having on the development of players in the A-League with 150 players coming off contract.

Carlo Ancelotti is a manager known not only for his consistent success, but renowned for his understated insight and intellect. He once observed: “You must take care to avoid creating anxiety; this is harmful and counterproductive, if you wish to obtain a high level of performance.”

Subject to how many contracts are sitting in the top draws of the desks of club CEOs, 150 players come off contract in May 2017 and, effective today, are free to speak with other A-League clubs about contracts for the 2017/18 season. And with this, the merry-go-round begins.

This figure represents 63% of the entire playing population. For some players, it may be the start of renewed opportunity, a chance for a fresh start or increased salary. The reality, however, is that for the overwhelming majority of players it’s yet another barrier to a stable and incrementally improved professional career.

At a rate of 63% the A-League would rate among the most transient in world football. Further, data from last season shows that there has, across the A-League, been a churn of 106 players, i.e. the Player Rosters across the A-League have averaged a 44% change in personnel. This would again rank it among the most volatile in Europe, higher than multi-tiered competitions such as Germany, England, France and the Netherlands, which are more predisposed to player mobility.

This level of volatility is counter-intuitive. Australia has a smaller labour market, we only have one professional competition, we have a rigid regulatory structure and relative stability across A-League coaches. Normally, even acknowledging the international market of clubs that players have access to, this would lend itself to less movement. For example, the AFL has a churn rate of about 16% per season – almost a third of the A-League.

Drilling down on the data, 21% of players coming off contract are under the age of 21. Having invested their lives in pursuit of a dream, young players are being given one shot at survival as a professional player. This is a dilemma faced in few markets around the world, where there is sufficient breadth and depth of opportunity to incubate players within a high performance environment.

Instead, we are developing a grossly inefficient system.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that greater continuity is a better use of resources. Players can build on individual improvement and an understanding of a club’s philosophy; already stretched and finite resources at club land could be spent fine-tuning existing talent rather than transitioning unproven new talent into the club or funding relocation expenses; fans can develop deeper relationships with players who have grown with their clubs.

The history of the A-League shows there is no definitive template for success with competitive teams being built both over a period of time and in one transfer window. On balance however, recent history will point toward Championship winning teams evolving over a 2 to 3-year cycle.

Again, solutions to these challenges which impact on players, clubs and national teams will only be found by broadening our professional football footprint and restructuring the existing competition rules to incentivise clubs to commit to players long term.

Enjoy this edition of The Marston.