Exciting teenage talent Zak Gilsenan has committed his international career to Australia

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THIS WEEK ON THE WORLD FOOTBALL PROGRAMME

Don't miss The World Football Programme on Radio Fremantle 107.9FM this Saturday at 10am with Penelope TannerHoath and Don Evans. This week's show includes Sherif Andrawes (Football West Chairman), Julius Re, (Football West Life Member), Elizabeth Re (City of Stirling) and Tom Sermanni (New Zealand Ferns coach). Join the conversation Saturday from 10am by texting in your comments to 0408 921 832.

1.4.2020

FOOTBALL’S RETURN DELAYED UNTIL 31 MAY

Football Federation Australia have extended the postponement of all grassroots football in Australia until 31 May, 2020, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and its continuing implications. The new guidelines affect all sanctioned football in Western Australia, including competitions, training, trials, programs, coaching clinics and other football activities.

Football West chief executive James Curtis said the extension was not a surprise. “It is naturally very disappointing that there will be no football until 31 May but the health and safety of people is the priority and, like the FFA, we will be guided by the health experts. It is about doing the right thing,” Curtis said.

“We remain in regular talks with Federal, State and Local governments to try to ease the burden on our clubs and associations, and in turn their suppliers and other business partners. I have been proud of how the WA football community has reacted to this situation and we urge everyone to continue to respect each other and the wider community.”

Curtis said that while the situation was painful, the long-term future of the game in Western Australia remained positive. “There has been so much good work done over the past few years and that will stand us in good stead when we come through the other side,” he said.

“This is a time for consolidation and planning, but it is also a time for innovation and new opportunity. There is too much talent in the football community for us not to succeed. And I want to reiterate - there will be a season in 2020. We don’t know yet how it will look, but there will be football this year.”

1.4.2020

A-LEAGUE PLAYERS MAY BECOME FREE-AGENTS

Professional Footballers Australia has raised the possibility of A-League players becoming free agents in the wake of five clubs - Perth Glory, Central Coast Mariners, Western Sydney Wanderers, Newcastle Jets and Adelaide United - standing down players in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is understood Brisbane Roar and Western United are also on the verge of standing-down their players.

The PFA, which has been advocating for league-wide talks, has issued immediate demands for players to be reinstated. However, the union has also flagged the possibility of seeking to allow players stood-down to become free-agents based on a breach of contract. “Whether it is one club or all 11 clubs, our position on this will not change,” PFA chief executive John Didulica said.

“We will continue to fight for the players who have been dumped and preserve their legal rights, including challenging the stand down notices and, where instructed, seek free agency on the basis of this breach of contract. We have significant concerns about the impact the decisions of club owners are having on the wellbeing of our members, many of whom now face long term unemployment.”

The stand-downs sweeping the A-League stand in stark contrast to the AFL and NRL, which have both negotiated league-wide agreements with their playing groups. The AFL and AFL Player’s Association have agreed for players to receive a 50% pay cut in April and May, while the NRL and NRL Players Association are understood to be close to reaching an agreement on an interim 75% pay cut.

30.3.2020

GILSENAN OPTS FOR AUSTRALIA

Australia looks to have won the race to tie down Zak Gilsenan - the Perth-born teenager once dubbed the “Irish Messi”. The Blackburn Rovers midfielder, who arrived at the Championship club via Barcelona and Liverpool, is eligible for Ireland through his parents, and also England.

At just 16, Gilsenan’s already made five appearances for Blackburns’ under-23s this season and is just a step away from Tony Mowbray’s first team. And he’s been on fire in the FA Youth Cup, scoring against Preston and Arsenal as Blackburn surged into the semi-finals where they’ll face Manchester City.

The Irish FA put out feelers, but Gilsenan made his bow for Trevor Morgan’s Joeys against South Korea ahead of last year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup. And he’s happy with his choice. So too is Morgan who was there in person several weeks back as Gilsenan starred against the Gunners.

“I was born in Australia and they’re the country I have a really good feeling for,” Gilsenan explained. “I was there until the age of nine, growing up and playing junior football at Sorrento (in Perth). It would be massive for me to one day play for the Socceroos - and I’m really going to push for that.”

Gilsenan, who can play anywhere across the front third, first turned heads after scoring seven goals in a trial match for Barcelona, who subsequently signed him up to their famed La Masia Academy. The “Irish Messi” tag quickly followed. It’s a label he finds a “bit strange”, although he admits to being “technically quite good”.

“Being there was an unbelievable experience - learning different styles of football. We played on astroturf a lot which was good for your touch,” he added. Two of the highlights were audiences with Neymar and Jordi Alba, who offered words of encouragement. Though the man himself, Messi, was a reach too far.

Two years later - aged 11 - the family relocated to England, with Liverpool fending off the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal to land the youngster. His four years at the Anfield Academy were beset by injury, with Gilsenan only fit for a little over 18 months.

Blackburn offered a fresh pathway, with Gilsenan signing a two-season scholarship contract last year. The Lancashire club has a long association with Australian football having been home to golden generation Socceroos Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and Vince Grella.

“It was a family decision to go there,” Gilsenan explained. “There was also interest from Aston Villa, Norwich and Leicester. I just thought it would be the best place to go on and hopefully play first-team football. I loved Blackburn the first time I walked through the door.”

“I think I’m doing quite well at the moment, to be honest. I’ve progressed a lot over the last few months. I’ve trained with the first team at Blackburn three times now - and I couldn’t be happier to have joined them. It’s decent to have got a few chances with the under-23s. I’m living my childhood dream.”

30.3.2020

SAGE WARNS OF DISASTER IF BROADCAST PAYMENTS NOT HONOURED

Perth Glory owner Tony Sage has warned of untold disaster to the already postponed A-League if Fox Sports do not honour their broadcast deal payments. Clubs are desperately hoping their final quarterly payment, due next month and believed to be about $900,000, flows down from Fox Sports’ $57.6 million broadcast deal.

Sage, who became the first club owner to stand down all players and staff amid the coronavirus crisis, said if payments do not arrive there will be more heartbreak. But he guaranteed his players and staff will receive all leave allowances. “So many things are up in the air,” Sage said.

“We are waiting for the FFA to tell clubs we will get the distribution that’s owed to us. We don’t know if we are going to be paid our broadcast revenue. But I can tell you, players and staff will get every cent that is owed to them on their annual leave entitlements. If the payment issue is resolved I’m more than happy to sit down with the players and nut out something.”

“But no-one knows what is happening and I want to be able to go to them with surety. If this was a similar situation not connected to COVID I’d be trading insolvent and I’d be in jail. In a normal situation the club would be put into liquidation. That’s how serious the position is.”

Sage said the other A-League clubs will make their announcements on stand-downs in coming days. Professional Footabllers’ Australia, the player’s union, threatened Sage with legal action if he did not reinstate the players and said they would take similar action against any other club owner. FFA chief executive James Johnson said they could step in if the row escalates.

29.3.2020

EDWARDS COPING WITH COVID-19 SHUTDOWN

Burton’s Albion’s Ryan Edwards says that a six-month spell without a club earlier in his career is helping him cope with not being able to play football right now. The 26-year old midfielder made sure he kept himself fit and active during that time, which came when he was released by his first English club, Reading, in 2015.

Edwards was eventually offered a trial with Scottish club Partick Thistle and was able to hit the ground running and earn a contract. From there, he moved to Hearts, joining Burton on a free transfer last summer. “The time without a club is helping me now, in this situation, when we can’t train,” said Edwards.

“What I’ve done is look at the previous experience, when I was without a club after Reading and then when I wasn’t in the first team at Hearts. I didn’t have a club, so I was without a club training routine. I tried to stick to my own routine as much as possible.”

“I’d wake up at the normal time for a normal training day, have my breakfast and go and train in the park or in the gym, between 10 and 12, when a football team would train. It was in pre-season time, so I would do that twice a day. I’d go back home, have lunch and then go back outside again about 2-3pm and have another session.”

“I repeated that for a number of days, then weeks and, when the Partick trial came up I flew into training with them in September, healthy and injury-free. I think that is one of the reasons I got a contract, because I’d kept myself ready.”

Obviously, the situation is markedly different now, with the football season suspended and Edwards knows not all players will approach it in the same way as him. “We all miss football and it’s challenging,” he said. “You have a daily training routine that has been taken away from you.”

“I have my own schedule that I stick to. It makes me feel good. I wake up, I meditate. There are some apps that I use. Headspace is one of them and there’s a football-specific one by Mark Bowden called Top Form. I’ll make my coffee in the morning and I’ll update my journal. I keep a journal and I’ll work out what I’m doing for the day ahead.

“If I’m not training, I’ll replace it with something productive. I’m studying psychology and I might do two hours of study with no technology in the room, just my books. I’m also big on fitness and nutrition. I do yoga and pilates and I love cooking, so that has filled in my time.”

“Yes, discipline comes naturally to me and I’ve always been interested in psychology and the mind and how our brains work. There’s been a lot of trial and error for me, this last nine to 10 years, being away from home. I’ve tried different things.”

Edwards will be among the contenders for Burton’s player of the season award, whether the campaign is completed or not. If and when it restarts, he will clearly be as ready as anyone. “Suddenly, we have all been given all this time and I am trying to keep my mind and body active and stick to good habits,” h said.

“So that when the time is right for us to go back to work, I’ll still be in a good routine and ready,” he said. “It’s important to control what we can control. Some will find it easier than others, some will say ‘that’s not for me.’ It’s important to find what works for you.”

29.3.2020

DE VANNA TACKLES LOCKDOWN

For the past three weeks, Lisa De Vanna has been stuck in an Italian apartment, trying to maintain her fitness and her sanity. As the COVID-19 death toll rises in Italy and the nation remains in total lockdown, one of Australia’s greatest footballers is worried about the continued spread of the virus, her family back home, and how and when she is going to get out.

De Vanna has been playing for Serie A Feminine side Fiorentina since September. At 35 years of age, she is a seasoned professional of four World Cups, two Olympic Games and countless club outings in five countries. Nothing, though, could have prepared her for the uncertainty and social isolation of COVID-19. “Mentally, it’s really hard to not have a routine in your life when it’s been in your life for so long,” De Vanna said.

Before the Italian government’s decision to order the country into lockdown, De Vanna’s life was a pleasant pattern of Italian language classes in the morning, followed by lunch with her teammates and training in the afternoon. During her downtime, she would stroll into town, sip strong coffee and marvel at a historic city renowned for its art galleries and Renaissance architecture.

And there were games every weekend, either at home in Florence or in cities such as Milan, or Rome, or her ancestral home town of Bari. It did not take her long to win the affection of Fiorentina’s Italian-American owner, Rocco Commisso, who loves her direct style of play and forthright manner. “I haven’t felt so happy in a team environment for a very long time,” she says.

The coronavirus has negatively affected all professional sport, but the global nature of football makes it particularly exposed to the economic and logistical fallout of the pandemic. Domestic and international competitions - male and female - have been postponed or cancelled. Worldwide, the number of football players, managers, coaches and officials who have tested positive to the virus continues to grow.

The players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia, is currently providing guidance and support to 700 members in 35 countries. De Vanna confirmed she has been contacted by the PFA and Football Federation Australia, yet she remains totally confused by her predicament. She chose to stay in Florence in the hope she could eventually play out the rest of the season.

“We’ve still got seven games left,” explained De Vanna, who is contracted to Fiorentina until May. “Do we play those seven games? And if we do, when do we play them? If we don’t play, who finishes one, two and three on the ladder? We’re equal second with Milan - will Milan accept that? It’s just very unknown at the moment.”

Her desire to get back to Australia has been complicated further by the fact that her sister, with whom she used to live in Melbourne, is pregnant; and her mum, who lives in Perth, is 66 years old and in a high-risk category. “It’s a hard one, because I don’t want to put them in danger if I’m sick or have the virus,” says De Vanna.

With Europe now the global epicentre of the virus, De Vanna is desperate to return to football. “When am I going to kick a ball next?” she asks. “It’s my way of expressing myself. When I play football it takes a lot of stress off, it allows me to focus on something I love doing. When I don’t have that, I overthink things, and then I get frustrated and start becoming a little bit negative. I don’t know if I can handle this for another two weeks. It’s hard not kicking a ball, it’s hard not having freedom. It’s really, really tough.”

28.3.2020

PLAYERS UNION THREATENS SAGE WITH LEGAL ACTION

Unrepentant Perth Glory owner Tony Sage says standing down players and staff was the only action left open to him to save the A-League club amid the COVID-19 crisis. The stand-down brought an immediate threat from the player’s union, Professional Footballers Australia, to take legal action if he does not reinstate them with a warning of fines of more than $600,000 under the Fair Work Act.

“I’m not worried at all. Are they living on another planet?,” said Sage, who previously stated all A-League club owners agreed to taking the action following the postponement of the seasons’ end. “They can do what they want if they want to waste time and money doing it. We have the legal advice. The FFA has stopped the league. What do they expect?

“Are they going to add all the other clubs to suing me or are they just suing me? Are they trying to scare other clubs into not doing it? Of course we’re going to make a decision to save the club. I want everyone to stay and be there next year but if there’s no Perth Glory. I would not have done this unless all clubs were 100 per cent unanimous.”

The stand-down will stay in place until 22 April when Football Federation Australia will review the competition postponement. PFA says it will take the same action if other clubs stand down players. “A fortnight ago, it was fine to relocate players to the east coast away from their families and expose them to a global pandemic,” said PFA chief executive John Didulica. “Now, when the opportunity arises, it is considered acceptable to stop paying them.”

PFA had not received stand down notices from any other club as of Saturday night, but Didulica said: “We are positioned to take the same course of action if any other A-League club owner elects to take this course of action in contravention of both the law and the sport’s broader needs at this time.”

27.3.2020

KERR LIMITED TO ONE HOUR OF EXERCISE A DAY

Matildas captain Sam Kerr has revealed she can only leave the house for an hour a day as part of the COVID-19 restrictions in London. The Chelsea striker has been trying to keep fit during the lockdown but admits that’s been difficult with both a lack of time and the unknown of the future being the biggest factors.

“That is the frustrating part, you don’t know how to train as an athlete when you don’t have a time line,” Kerr said. “We’re only allowed out for one hour a day for fitness at the moment. I don’t really know how their policing that, but I am trying to stay to the rules.”

“The other day I went for a run and I went through this park where I live (and) on the news I seen this reporter condemning everyone who was in Richmond Park. It’s finding a balance of what you can do. We weren’t congregating in the park, but you want to go somewhere with a nice view and not run around an oval for an hour.”

Kerr described the situation in London as scary. “I don’t feel like the public here are taking it as seriously as they maybe should be,” she added. “I feel like at the moment people should be doing what they should. I think it would be harder in Perth, because here it is cold so you cannot do much anyway.”

27.3.2020

A-LEAGUE PLAYERS AND STAFF FACE ANXIOUS WAIT

A-League players face an anxious 24-hour wait on their future because of the competition closure amid the coronavirus crisis. Club owners were hoping for answers about contracts during a telephone link-up yesterday but left without a result. Another round of talks is set for today.

Glory owner Tony Sage said nothing had been decided but outcomes were difficult because contracts have to be ratified with Football Federation Australia which is affiliated with world-governing body FIFA. “The FFA is waiting on answers,” Sage said.

“Because we are an international organisation things are harder. The answers didn’t come through so we will have another hook-up. The clubs will act unanimously based on advice. The owners will meet and will make a uniformed decision in the next 24-48 hours.”

The shutdown is taking a toll with clubs sending staff on leave or asking them to take pay cuts. Almost all FFA employees are on leave, with Western Sydney Wanderers reported to have put 85% of their staff including coaches on leave with senior managers agreeing to take pay cuts.

Sydney FC have told staff to take annual leave ahead of the A-League review of the competition suspension on 22 April. Glory chief executive Tony Pignata is in the middle of a club review with an announcement on cost-cutting measures set for the end of the month.

Sage, who said he has lost $30 million on Glory since 2007, is resigned to taking another big financial blow. He was ready for a $2.5 million loss this year but is expecting a further $800,000 hit because they gave up four home games in a bid to get the season finished.

“It is heartbreaking and disappointing,” Sage said. “We don’t make a profit on home games but we make a cash flow every game of $200,000. We asked for the end-of-season home games so we didn’t have to travel too much before finals and it’s come back to bite us on the arse.”




If you have any additional information on Western Australian soccer that we have left out, or if you would like to get in contact, email Jacob at jacob@footballwa.net

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