Canberra handed inside running in race for new team Print
Written by Michael Cockerill, SMH   
Thursday, 03 September 2009 07:06

Canberra has suddenly moved into pole position to become the A-League's 12th team after western Sydney's leading bid yesterday withdrew from the race.

Colourful businessman Joe Meissner notified Football Federation Australia that he would no longer be continuing his submission for 'personal reasons' - leaving the FFA scrambling to find an alternative for a second team in Sydney.

FFA chief executive Ben Buckley declined to confirm Canberra's bid - which has government support - was now the frontrunner, although he admitted there were 'time pressures' to find a viable team from western Sydney for 2010.

With a second Melbourne side already confirmed, there is a growing chance of an 11-team league next season.

Meissner's bid was believed to have won the support of the FFA board 10 days ago, pending the submission of a final list of financial guarantees. But before those guarantees were provided, Meissner, who was unavailable for comment last night, withdrew his bid.

Bid chairman Ian Rowden, a former board member of Sydney FC, said: "We're all disappointed it's come to this. A lot of hard work had gone into the planning and we believe we were poised to create a strong and viable team, which would have been competitive on the field and would have helped grow the game off the field. That opportunity still exists and I'm sure there will be a second Sydney team at some stage in the future."

The western Sydney bid's chief executive, Berti Mariani, who says the group had the necessary backing, said: "Some things in life you can't predict and obviously we're all coming to terms with what's occurred."

Buckley, however, said that far from being a setback, the withdrawal of the Meissner bid proved the FFA was right to insist on stringent criteria being met before any licence was issued.<.p>

"Naturally we're disappointed a consortium has pulled out, but it was never our only option," Buckley said.

"As we went through due diligence, this consortium wasn't able to meet the financial criteria. To me that reinforces how important it is we plan for expansion in a prudent way. The FFA needs to make sure successful bidders have the finance in place to operate a club. We make no apologies for being tough on that. What we won't do is issue a licence unless a bid meets the criteria. We can't afford to take unnecessary risks."

Asked whether the Meissner bid had been the frontrunner, Buckley replied: "I'm not prepared to say that.

"What I can say is they were well advanced and we commend them for the time and energy they put into the bid."

The withdrawal of the bid opens the door for a rival western Sydney bid promoted, but not financed, by Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill to get a reprieve, although at this point it lacks the necessary financial support.

Buckley said having a new team in western Sydney for next year had not been ruled out.

"We haven't given up, in fact, I've been in active discussions with other consortia this afternoon," he said.

"There is some time pressure as far as season six goes - I concede that. But we've seen in the past what Gold Coast, North Queensland and Wellington have been able to achieve in a sort space of time, so anything is possible."

Asked whether the FFA was keeping a close eye on the AFL's planning for a western Sydney side, Buckley added: "This is not a race, our timetable is not dictated by other sports. We have to do what's right for the A-League and for football."

Canberra remains the only bid that has met all the requirements and, with the national capital to host its first A-League match tomorrow night - when Central Coast Mariners play a 'home' game against the Perth Glory - the timing is tempting for the FFA to make an announcement.

Pressed on whether Canberra now had pole position, Buckley responded: "By definition when the numbers are reduced - those still left have a better chance. Canberra is a strong bid, but other bids are well advanced also."

The Socceroos have reached an all-time high of No.14 in the world in the latest FIFA rankings released on Wednesday.

Australia is up two spots, despite only playing an international friendly against Ireland, which the Socceroos won 3-0, in almost three months.

Australia heads teams such as Denmark (16th) and Portugal (17th). Brazil is still the No.1 rated team ahead of Spain and the Netherlands.