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Feb 19, 2012

Gold Coast: Football club to farce

Gold Coast United this week showed why they are not long for the A-League. Woeful crowds, lack of sponsorship and a dwindling squad aside, it is the insistence of billionaire owner Clive Palmer to make a mockery of the game in Australia which will surely see the club moved to a new location, under new ownership.

Palmer's latest blunder was to name 17-year-old A-League debutant Mitch Cooper as captain for the team's match against Melbourne Heart - which they ultimately lost 1-0 on Friday night - and then suspend coach Miron Bleiberg for publicly questioning the decision. Just another day at Australia's least professional football club, perhaps, but the manner of this error in judgement reveals the precarious link between the club and their survival.

Bleiberg initially declared Cooper's captaincy to be "ceremonial", stating he "would just toss the coin and that (veteran defender) Kristian Rees would then decide which way to run and give the instructions in the game". Palmer evidently took exception and implemented a ban on the coach.

One assumes the project was devised to simply provide colour and publicity ahead of the match, and perhaps create something of a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season which has seen Bleiberg's men left with the wooden spoon. But Palmer, you sense, seemed to think it was showing the country that he was willing to back youth - and his own power - at any cost. An understandable motivation, but nonetheless an incredibly naive one which conveys a lack of understanding and appreciation for the game.

Indeed, it's the irony of the situation which hits home for most A-League fans. Bleiberg was disrespectful of the role, and of Cooper, with his comments, according to Palmer. But the question must be raised: how much respect is offered to the few remaining experienced players within the squad, to the coach who has had his judgement overlooked, to the fans, or to the competition in general when someone with zero experience is handed the armband? Captaincy is supposed to be a crucial element of any successful team. Clubs and countries alike utilise valuable resources to ensure due diligence is undertaken when naming and supporting a skipper, and rightly so. For example, look at how much time has been given to the John Terry situation in England.

But football fans, and the wider general public, have not always viewed Palmer and his club on the Glitter Strip of Queensland as such a basketcase. Upon launching the club in 2009, the mining magnate proclaimed Gold Coast would cruise through their maiden A-League season without defeat. And, after securing the services of Socceroo Jason Culina from Eredivisie side PSV, plus Jess van Stratten from Juventus, it appeared the newcomers had some cause for confidence. However, as time wore on, such announcements and bravado were obviously nothing more than a facade to mask a lack of savoir-faire; not to mention a severe lack of connection with the Gold Coast community.

This latest farce rips the veil off Gold Coast United. A self-proclaimed glamour club they may be, but they are also an embarrassment to the rest of the hard-working clubs battling to remain afloat in the competitive Australian sporting market. Most A-League football clubs are not fortunate enough to have a billionaire prop them up financially. Instead, they require careful, strategic planning, which can frustrate impatient fans of fledgling organisations. Palmer, who is estimated to be worth approximately AU$3 billion according to BRW, has accurately demonstrated that real success simply cannot be bought.

Most of all though, one feels incredibly sorry for young Cooper, who has been thrust into a storm and had his name linked with an unsavoury moment in A-League history - all before lacing up his boots in his professional career. As if to unwittingly punctuate the point - and show how overused the word "great" is in sport - Gold Coast chief executive Clive Mensink declared Cooper "had a great career to date". The boy has not had a career yet, but here's hoping this publicity stunt gone wrong does not taint his development.

So, who profits from this mess? Quite simply, very few people. In fact, potential consortiums in western Sydney and Canberra looking for a spare A-League club licence are probably the only ones rubbing their hands together. For everyone else, this marks the lowest ebb in Gold Coast's rather forgettable time in the competition; a time which is fast coming to an end.

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