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Australian football needs new global star and lucrative TV deal in 2016

It has been a watershed year for Australian football, with the men's national team winning the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, and the women's national side reaching the 2015 World Cup quarterfinals.

But the Socceroos have since failed to achieve those same heights from January, and the A-League has missed a golden opportunity to capitalise on the national team's triumph by failing to attract star players to market the competition.

With this dichotomy of success and near misses so apparent, here are five wishes to help make 2016 a year to remember.

1. Strong steps toward 2018 World Cup qualification

Thus far on the road to Russia, the Socceroos have been effective without really lighting up their qualification matches. Of course Australia do top Group B with one game remaining, but a loss away to Jordan and a scrappy 2-1 victory over Kyrgyzstan suggest room for improvement.

Indeed, the top spot will go down to the final game, as Australia host second-placed Jordan on March 29. A convincing victory is a must -- predominantly for the psychological boost it will give.

In September 2016, the third -- and, hopefully for the Socceroos, final -- round of qualification commences, and this stage promises to be the most difficult phase yet. This challenge will provide the ideal platform for Ange Postecoglou's men to make a statement to not only the rest of Asia but also the world.

The Socceroos have done a tremendous job of establishing themselves on the international stage in recent times by successfully qualifying for three consecutive World Cups. Winning the AFC Asian Cup this year was obviously another huge step on that path to global recognition, but 2016 is the time to make a bold statement with consistent and impressive displays.

Australia often consider Japan to be their greatest competition within the Asian confederation, but even in light of recent success, the Socceroos still fall behind the Samurai Blue when it comes to international reputation.

Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak hasn't been playing much at Premier League club Crystal Palace.

2. Socceroos to play at bigger clubs

It seems a long time since Premier League matches featured a host of Australians. The likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Brett Emerton and Lucas Neill carried the torch for so long that it seemed inevitable the next generation would naturally follow in their footsteps. Sadly that hasn't been the case.

The same could be said of all Europe's big leagues, where scarcely a Socceroo can be seen these days -- save for goalkeeper Mat Ryan at Valencia, and the Bundesliga trio of Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie and Mitch Langerak. Hopefully this can be remedied in 2016.

National team captain Mile Jedinak hasn't been appearing nearly enough for Crystal Palace and should be looking to move in January, while Aaron Mooy (A-League), Matt Spiranovic (China), James Troisi (Saudi Arabia) and Massimo Luongo (English championship) could -- and arguably should -- be playing at a higher level. Similarly, Tom Rogic has the potential to move somewhere bigger than the Scottish Premier League if he can remain fit at Celtic.

It's important not only for the national team at the moment that this situation is improved upon, but also for the future. Youngsters in Australia switching on to watch their favourite European leagues at ungodly hours are far more likely to be inspired if they see a compatriot playing. The impact this can have on development cannot be underestimated, with Liverpool's Craig Johnston in the 1980s inspiring so many of the so-called golden generation to follow in his footsteps.

Shinji Ono and Alessandro Del Piero in Australia
The A-League needs to bring in more marquee signings like Alessandro Del Piero and Shinji Ono.

3. A-League to bring in stars

In November 2015, Football Federation Australia announced a new four-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The news came after months of protracted negotiations with Professional Footballers Australia and delivered a few essential payment conditions -- particularly in relation to the women's national team. But, despite the wait, there was little in the way of innovation within the new CBA.

This was particularly true for the A-League. Although the minimum player salary was raised to AU$55,000, and the overall salary cap was lifted to AU$2.6 million per season, there seems little that will help clubs land big-names -- the likes of which MLS clubs are regularly signing now.

The A-League has established itself within the competitive Australian sporting landscape, but must start to distinguish itself in order to grow. It would, therefore, be encouraging to see more in the way of new ideas around the salary cap, marquee and guest player regulations from 2016.

Of particular interest in this stage of the business cycle would be a US-style approach whereby the biggest clubs can pay more than the salary cap value for their squad if they choose, but they must also pay the equivalent value to the governing body. This would help the clubs who are turning a profit to attract better players, while also ensuring the whole of the league -- and the sport, generally -- is supported financially by the increased spend.

This will almost certainly not be implemented over the coming 12 months, but it would at least be a positive move for those conversations to start taking place.

4. FFA to show strong leadership

Steven Lowy stepped in as FFA chairman to replace his father Frank this year, and 2016 will be a time when all football fans in Australia watch with interest to see exactly what kind of influence he has. This Lowy has promised to be "a consultative chairman", but as yet there has been little to judge him on.

There is no doubt that his biggest task in the year ahead is to start working on a much-improved television broadcast rights deal for the A-League -- which is due for renewal in 2017. The current package is estimated to be worth AU$40 million per season, while the AFL [Aussie Rules] recently signed a deal for AU$418 million per season, and the NRL [Rugby League] has a AU$185 million per season deal.

There are fewer commercial breaks in football than these rival codes, which potentially limits advertising income for the broadcaster. This means Lowy and his corporate team must start thinking in groundbreaking ways in order to maximise the package's value. The growing popularity of the game will certainly aid their cause.

Money isn't everything, of course, and there will be plenty of other challenges facing Lowy during his tenure. However, when you take over power from your retiring billionaire father, claiming a large monetary windfall in your first 18 months in charge can help fix a range of issues, including the need for more FFA-owned football infrastructure.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 12:  Romeo Castelen of the Wanderers celebrates with team mates and fans after scoring their second goal during the round 10 A-League match between the Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Victory at Pirtek Stadium on Decemb
The A-League must look to improve the relationship with the fans in 2016.

5. Heal the football family rift

This season's A-League active supporter boycott has left a sour taste in many mouths. Ignoring for a moment the boycott in minutiae, the whole situation revealed the extent of general friction between the fans and those who govern the game.

This bigger picture, quite simply, is that the football community in Australia remains fractured. Fans are used in marketing campaigns to promote the game, but do not feel they are respected when it matters by the powers that be. This is a huge shame as football really is the game of the people. If football is to reach its full potential Down Under -- and record player participation numbers indicate it can -- then it will need everyone pulling in the same direction.

It would be a great gift to have the football family back together and in harmony in 2016. What better time to do that then over the holiday season, as the A-League continues on and many of the Socceroos abroad take a well-earned break to be with their loved ones.

Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks

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