It’s been some week for Australian football. Fresh from attracting a record crowd for a domestic match in this country, the Football Federation of Australia yesterday announced a new nine-year apparel deal with international sportswear giant Nike. Depending on who you believe, the deal is thought to be worth anything up to $40 million.

This latest development, said to be the biggest football sponsorship deal ever signed in this country, is obviously a major coup for the sport, and it would have been a rather nice way for new FFA chief executive Ben Buckley to reintroduce himself to the local media after officially starting in his job only days before the announcement.

Anyone doubting Buckley’s bona fides for the top job at FFA will no doubt feel reassured by the knowledge that a company as big and far-reaching as Nike has shown faith in the direction the sport will be heading under his stewardship.

It’s worth remembering that Buckley spent a considerable time with Nike during the 1990s, but just how much he had to do with the new sponsorship deal is open to debate. Nevertheless, his record in stitching up lucrative deals with the AFL cannot be questioned.

Although gaining less prominence in the local media, last week’s appointment of experienced Dutch coach Robert Baan to the Australian-based position of Technical Director also looms as a significant development for the sport in this country. Baan has racked up a considerable list of achievements in his 40-year coaching career, and is said to have influenced the careers of such legendary figures as Marco van Basten, Johan Neeskens and Ronald de Boer.

According to the FFA website, part of Baan’s job will be to drive the development of a uniform philosophy and style of playing for senior and junior Australian teams.

While seemingly separate in their consequences for Australian football, the thread that links the Nike deal and the Baan appointment is the impression that the powers that be in Australian football are thinking long-term. Far from resting on their laurels after a successful World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying series, the hierarchy at FFA are obviously thinking well ahead of the next game or even tournament.

Whether or not Australia can go on to exceed the achievements from Germany in South Africa in four years time, you get the feeling that 2006 will be looked upon not as the year that football necessarily arrived in this country, but more importantly, the time that some canny operators laid the foundations for the game’s long-term viability and success.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey