The A-League faces the biggest crisis in its five-year history, with glamour club Gold Coast United on death row and Football Federation Australia (FFA) unable to guarantee its survival.
After just one season Gold Coast’s future is under a huge cloud, as the competition’s richest benefactor Clive Palmer considers whether to pull his financial backing from the club.
It comes just days after the FFA bailed out fellow expansion club North Queensland Fury when owner Don Matheson decided to walk away, as he was unable to afford to keep the club going.
And A-League chief executive Archie Fraser has also resigned from his job overseeing the troubled competition, which now has all three Queensland-based sides either under FFA control or facing uncertain futures.
FFA chief executive Ben Buckley refused to guarantee that Gold Coast – home to Socceroo star Jason Culina and gun New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz – will be part of the competition next season.
But he says iron ore magnate Palmer has not handed back the club’s licence, and the FFA is “hopeful he will continue his commitment” to the club he launched amid fanfare and largesse less than two years ago.
“We have to gauge the level of community support, the level of commercial interest, the level of corporate support in any given city, in any given market that we have an A-League club operating,” Buckley said.
“Over the course of the next few weeks and months we will assess that on the Gold Coast.
“We’re certainly hopeful they will be [in the A-League next season] and… we will work collectively with Gold Coast to try and bring about that outcome.”
The FFA has endured a testy relationship with Palmer, whose regular criticism of the governing body and controversial crowd cap did little to win favour with either football administrators or Gold Coast fans.
While United threatened to take the minor premiership until the penultimate round, it drew an average crowd of only 5,392 – the worst in the competition.
Even more troubling for the FFA is that Gold Coast’s predicament means both A-League expansion clubs have hit major hurdles after just one season in the competition.
The news Palmer was considering pulling his funding took Gold Coast players and staff by surprise on Friday.
Chief executive Clive Mensink, a friend and relative of Palmer, is adamant Gold Coast will continue on in 2010/11.
But he did indicate Palmer, who is currently involved in a $3 billion float of his business holdings and is believed to have spent nearly $5 million on Gold Coast to date, may be open to sharing or off-loading the club’s licence.
“It’s a bit of a surprise but at the end of the day there are parties interested in the club and if that is the case we’re happy to have a chat – commercially you would be mad not to,” Mensink said.
“(Palmer) says there may be people involved in his overseas dealings that may be tying in with the club as well but there is nothing there at the moment.”
Should Gold Coast collapse, Melbourne Heart’s pending addition for 2010/11 means the A-League will be able to run a 10-team competition next season.
Gold Coast would become the second A-League club in five years to disappear, with New Zealand Knights canned in 2007 after two disastrous seasons.
Meanwhile, Adelaide United looks set to emerge from FFA control in time for the new season, with a consortium led by local businessman Alan Young getting the green light on Friday to eventually take over the club.