Declan Edge in particular, and the Waikato FC board in general, have copped a lot of grief from many football fans over the last few months. It hasn’t been nice. Most of it hasn’t even been reasoned. And, I think, most of it is miles wide of the mark.Let me explain.The ASB Premiership should, to my mind, have two primary purposes. It should be a development league and it should be a way to bring money into the game via the FIFA Club World Cup. Of course, there will be some other things you can point to, but those are the big two.
So, with that in mind, one of the main goals is to ensure a New Zealand team wins the O-League every year and plays in the FIFA Club World Cup to bring home the dosh. The best resourced clubs have, by and large, been doing that.
Will or, more to the point, should Waikato ever be in a position to make it to the global stage? Highly unlikely, as results over the life of this league have proven.
Is that a bad thing? For the handful of people involved with the team, well, probably. But from a bigger picture point of view no, probably not at all.
We have to ensure our best resourced couple of teams have the best possible chance of winning the O-League. At least we have the depth in this country to ensure they are genuine club-type teams as opposed to the pseudo national ‘club’ teams we’ve seen from some of the island nations over the years. But if we spread the talent more evenly across all eight ASB Premiership teams then our chances are much diminished.
The other main goal of the ASB Premiership, then, should be as a development league for our best young players. If you take away the allegations that Declan is using Waikato as an extension of his personal academy (I’m not in a position to know whether this is true or not, so I’ll stay well away from that…) then the theory and, mostly, the practice behind what he’s doing is incredibly sound.
The theory is that he’s bringing some of the best young players in the Waikato together, training them twice a day and providing a league for them to play in where they’re put under pressure and their current skill set is fully tested and their weaknesses exposed. From a development point of view that’s about as good as it gets.
If, as is hoped, some of these players go on to play at a higher level then it will be job well done, sir.
Some of you may well ask: “What is the point of playing if you’re not in it to win it?” Well, I think these kids are going out there every weekend to try to win. Of course they are. But to win regularly they’ll have to learn to play a consistently well, and at a level higher than what they can currently maintain. And that’s part of the development process.
I hope this post doesn’t come across as me trashing the ASB Premiership. That is certainly not my intention. As a player it would have been a dream to have been good enough to play at that level. This league is vital for football in this country.
It is not, however, the aspirational league for our best players. Nor should it be. It is an amateur league, and, like any league it will contain players who find their level within its confines. That’s not a bad thing. For our best talent, however, it is one more step on the path to playing for the All Whites and making a living from football.
And, visionary or not, it’s clear Declan has a complete understanding of this. And, potential conflicts of interest aside, is acting accordingly. More power.