If you’re aspiring to become football’s top administrator in Australia then you should totally steer clear of the sport.

That’s the message from the Football Federation Australia’s billionaire supremo Frank Lowy, who this week appointed the AFL’s number two administrator Ben Buckley as his new chief executive.

Buckley, 39, replaces John O’Neill, who before his stint running the game during a period which culminated in an inspirational performance by the Socceroos at this year’s World Cup finals, was a figure closely associated with rugby union.

Lowy doesn’t mince words about why he’s looking for people outside the game to run the sport. In his view, anyone associated with football before the Lowy revolution in the last several years seems to be a dud.

“It’s not a good certificate for football that we don’t have these people around, but if you look at what football was, it’s no surprise,” Lowy told journalists on the announcement of Buckley’s appointment.

He said there were not too many football administrators the FFA could have earmarked for the job.

“There were one or two but they could not fit the bill. If you look at the game for the last 30 or 40 years, football didn’t exactly grow administrators. There were a lot of officials but there were no administrators. To have success for the game, you need good administrators, and had it not been Ben, we would have gone overseas,” Lowy said.

Lowy has denied there’s any bad blood surrounding O’Neill’s premature departure after O’Neill was told to stay away from the office on Wednesday for the announcement.

Buckley – the AFL’s chief operations officer – will move to Sydney to take up his four-year deal next month, with O’Neill, who had been due to finish his FFA contract on 7 March, cleaning out his drawers within the next fortnight.

Lowy was also tough boss for former Sydney FC chairman Walter Bugno.

Bugno survived one attempt earlier this year by the Westfield boss to remove him from the post at Sydney FC – which is controlled by the Lowy family – but was saved by a campaign by dedicated fans. Bugno eventually resigned in late September.

But Buckley believes he’ll have the autonomy he needs to do his job. “I think so,” he said. “In all the discussions I’ve had, that’s been the indication. I wouldn’t have taken this position if I didn’t think that was going to be the case.”

Former Socceroo coach Frank Farina is among those surprised at Buckley’s appointment, writing in his column in The Daily Telegraph that he expected Australian Olympics administrator Craig McLatchey would have been a certainty for the position, given his exposure to international sport and Olympic football.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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