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Feb 12, 2010

Broken transfer rule must be fixed

At the conclusion of the penultimate round of the regular A-League season, Football Federation Australia (FFA) officials would have been salivating at the prospect of a Melbourne Victory versus Sydney FC Grand Final.

Yet, before that drool gets out of control, they need to turn their attention to the shambolic system that is their injury-replacement policy.

Last Friday, Melbourne Victory cunningly struck a deal with Central Coast Mariners to sign striker Nik Mrdja on loan - sorry, as an injury replacement player - for Billy Celeski, who is currently on their long-term injury list.

The arrangement will see Mrdja appear in Victory colours for the remainder of the A-League season (including the finals series) and during their Asian Champions League campaign. He'll then pack his bags and head back up to Gosford in August ahead of season six of the A-League.

The controversy surrounding the deal is due to its blatant similarities to a loan arrangement, which isn't permitted during this time of year due to the closure of the transfer window at the end of last month.

It is understood that Mrdja was contracted with the Mariners until March 31. However, the club cancelled the final weeks of his deal to pave the way for his move to Melbourne. This effectively made him a 'free' agent. The ink barely had time to dry on the Victory contract before Mrdja penned a new deal with the Mariners for the 2010-11 season.

Understandably, this deal has attracted plenty of attention and has come under scrutiny for the craftiness with which it was orchestrated. The finger has been pointed at the Victory for their wily dealings, the Mariners for seizing the opportunity to save a few bucks during the off-season and Mrdja for taking part in the move.

But they should all be spared the pitchforks. While Mrdja was obviously a willing participant in the deal, any domestic footballer on holiday as of next Monday would have jumped at the chance to be involved in A-League finals football and the Asian Champions League.

The real culprits in this farce are the FFA. They're the ones who govern the game domestically, create such loopholes so that they can be exploited and sanction such moves.

While the Mrdja-gate saga has been the most recent example of the inequality in the application of the injury replacement policy, it's not entirely different to other injury replacement deals that have been made during the A-League's five-year history.

Perhaps the most famous of all such deals is John Aloisi's move to Central Coast Mariners in 2007. At the time, the Mariners already had Tony Vidmar registered as their marquee player, meaning there was no way the club could accommodate Aloisi's wages within the salary cap.

However, the salary of an injury replacement player falls outside the salary cap, just like the marquee's wages. So signing Aloisi as an injury replacement for Matthew Osman effectively allowed the Mariners to feature two marquee players, not one.

The whole concept is a complete farce. As Newcastle United Jets boss Branko Culina pointed out during the week, the presumed concept of the National Youth League was to promote youth into the senior squad should a first team member succumb to a long-term injury.

Team sport is often a battle of attrition; it's a survival of the fittest. Effective and strategic list management is crucially important to a team's title aspirations, tests the team's character and is a testament to the conditioning staff. Using the injury replacement policy to recruit players from other clubs and avoid salary cap issues is not.

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