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Feb 19, 2012

FFA needs to treat Palmer issue with care

Outspoken Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer presents Football Federation Australia with a problem that needs fixing, but not the one everyone thinks.

Deriding soccer as a "hopeless game", declaring rugby league better, and not guaranteeing Gold Coast's future beyond this season isn't how you win friends and influence people in the world game.

Like it or not, Palmer is entitled to his opinion.

He spends $6 million a season to run an A-League club.

He is allowed a say, no matter how unpalatable it is for those involved.

The mining magnate's inflammatory comments appear motivated by disdain for the FFA's running of the game.

He wants to run his club, his way, however off-the-wall that might appear.

Others may want marquee signings and huge crowds.

Palmer wants handpicked 17-year-old captains, a team full of young players and three sides of his stadium shut.

He also wants an A-League owner's representative on the FFA board. On that score, he is not a lone voice among club officials.

How the FFA responds to Palmer's comments and the size of any stick it whacks him with is not the major issue, though it is a delicate one.

Far more important is how the FFA now conducts business with someone clearly hostile to them, and plans for a competition with or without Palmer's Gold Coast.

That's because a reduction to a nine-team league as a new television rights deal looms would be disastrous.

Do they axe Gold Coast and bring western Sydney - and a head-to-head stoush with the AFL - into play?

Given 18 months to make a go of it with FFA approval, a would-be western Sydney A-League franchise couldn't get off the ground previously.

So going into battle with just a few months of leg-work, head-to-head with Australia's best administered sport who'll throw as much money at the region as they need to make it work, appears a recipe for disaster.

Western Sydney can work, but it needs time, space and the right people running the show.

Otherwise, you end up with Gold Coast or North Queensland Fury again.

The best case scenario could be staying on the Coast, either with or without Palmer.

If he remained it wouldn't be ideal, but could be the lesser evil.

Getting him to hand the licence back voluntarily appears folly.

Forcibly take back the licence which has two years to run, and FFA would end up spending years in court.

Palmer doesn't really appear to have broken any rules aside from blowing up in print when a cooler, clearer head would have worked better.

The Gold Coast is Australia's sixth biggest city.

An A-League franchise done well, should work.

So Palmer's claim he wants the club to move to a smaller 5,000-capacity stadium may actually have merit, and perhaps the FFA should listen.

It would certainly remove a sticking point which has angered Palmer since day one - high stadium rents for Skilled Park and the Liberal National Party backer's regular clashes with the state's Labor-controlled Stadiums Queensland.

With dialogue established, and Palmer and the FFA both listening as well as talking, maybe they can work towards a better future for Gold Coast United in which everyone wins.

The FFA does have a bargaining chip, without even realising it.

Should Palmer's involvement with the A-League end now, he will always be remembered as the mining man who dug a hole and poured more than $18 million down it, for no tangible return.

Miners often talk about leaving a legacy.

Palmer led Gold Coast into the A-League in 2009 full of bluster, saying they would win the competition in their first season.

Whatever one thinks of Palmer, he's worth about $3 billion and has failed at very little.

It's unlikely he'll want an A-League investment he calls insignificant to trip him up.

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