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Exclusive: Melbourne Victory hero Leijer offers verdict on state of A-League

The A-League may not be a league in crisis, but it's certainly scrambling for a way forward. Now existing for more than 16 years, many members of the Australian footballing world could be forgiven for expecting more progress.

The common consensus is that the league has stalled in recent years, and many onlookers are left scratching their heads in an effort to understand why this has occurred. Various answers are bandied about from all different corners, but in order to better understand the situation, one must consult people who have first hand experience with the game.

Tribal Football had the pleasure of speaking with Adrian Leijer, Socceroo, Melbourne Victory legend, ex-captain, championship winner and former rising star, to shed some light upon the situation.

"I think it has been a challenging couple of years and everyone that watches the game can see that. There are still some very good players in there, there are some very good teams in there, there is some very good football. But I don't think it is at a level where 4 or 5 years ago we thought it would be now. So from that perspective it's a little disappointing."

The veteran, who appeared in the A-League 153 times and knows the league like very few others, spoke about the issues he felt were harming the game and the ways in which the league could tackle what appears to be an unsolvable problem.

"I think the people that I've come across in the game, I've come across some very good people who are very knowledgeable, very caring, a lot of them aren't given the opportunity… (These) good people who are passionate about the game but are also well educated, we need to get those people heavily involved and get it back to where it was. And then surpass where it was and there's a hell of a lot of work to do still."

As in any organisation, personnel is fundamental and critical to the culture and ethos of the league moving forward. Elaborating on his idea of who these 'good people' were who needed to be involved, Leijer continued: "We have had our first batch of players who have had a lot of experience in the game.

"Guys like Carl Valeri, guys like Leigh Broxham, you know Bruce Djite. These are guys we need to mould into future spokespeople of the game and give them those roles to try and get the game to where it should be."

Leijer also spoke highly of some of the current League's key personnel, calling for their increased role.

"Guys like John Didulica, I'm pleased to see him in the role he's in because he is such an important figure in Australian football. From a personal point of view Anthony Di Pietro, the Chairman of Melbourne Victory, he is someone who I think can have an even bigger impact on the game if his voice is allowed to be heard."

The commercial side is also hugely important to the A-League, like any major league in the world as the majority of interest lies in the power of broadcasting. Leijer said: "I think free-to-air TV has a huge role to play, obviously stadiums and the product that we are providing on TV is hugely important."

Another crucial aspect the A-League must address, according to Leijer, is a financial one regarding the salary cap.

"I think we have been left behind in our game due to the restriction of the salary cap. We often lose our, not even if they are the greatest players, but our better, more consistent A-League players. We often lose those guys to mainly Asia and things like that.

"So I think we need to be able to spend money so we can get close to salaries that guys are getting overseas. It entices them to stay here and keep growing the league here and give us an opportunity to put teams on the park in competitions like the Asian Champions League where we can compete. With the Salary Cap restrictions, it just affects our ability to compete."

As important as all these measures are in the top levels of league management, the problem runs much deeper and must be addressed at all levels according to Leijer:

"You've got to start from the grassroots and invest as much as we can in the grassroots. First things first is to also try and minimize the cost for our young players to play because I think that's a huge problem as well."

Leijer's far-reaching suggestions provide food for thought. There are clearly a multitude of ways in which the A-League could seek to improve its current predicament. However the most elementary and fundamental way forward is captured simply by Leijer:

"There are so many questions that need to be answered and so many people have their specific theories and things like that. But at the end of the day I think collectively everyone who has an interest in the game has to get behind the game and do what they can."

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Eli Rubenstein Sturgess

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