There's an interesting relationship to be found between Perth Glory FC and China. To begin with, both are sleeping giants in the football world that have slowly begun to wake in recent times; Perth with a decent run going into the post-season and China with their league’s ridiculous wage offers for overseas stars. Then of course you have Tony Sage's mining interests in the region; remember Delong Holdings, one-time sponsors of Perth Glory? But above all else, there is the fact that Glory has performed a number of trades with Chinese teams in the past season or two; and they have almost always emerged on the raw end of the deal.
Fool me once...
In 2010, Chris Coyne had his eyes firmly set on trying to make the Socceroos’ World Cup squad. As a result, when the 2009-10 A-League season finished, Perth Glory allowed their star centre back to join Liaoning Hongyun to maintain match fitness and impress Australian manager Pim Verbeek. It was a fair enough deal, and when Coyne missed selection for South Africa, most assumed that he would be working his way back to Perth at the completion of his short-term loan. Instead, Coyne decided to sign an extension for the Chinese side which Glory said would take him up to the start of the new A-League season. It is here that things get a little complicated.
It turns out that due to an ‘administrative oversight’ (what kind, and who made it the club has never clarified) Coyne’s contract extension made it impossible for him to play for Perth Glory until January 2011. Speaking to The West Australian in October 2010, Coyne revealed his frustration at not being able to play for two and a half months despite being a paid Glory employee. Incredibly, once Coyne was available to play come the first week of January, the club revealed that he still could not take the field in the A-League due to the wait on his International Transfer Certificate. When it finally came through some week or so later, he promptly did an Achilles in training and thus could not appear for the club the entire remainder of that sorry season.
Fool me twice...
If the Chris Coyne debacle wasn’t embarrassing enough, the sense of déjà vu was all too strong for Perth fans when, in February 2011, new signing Dean Heffernan was loaned to China without playing a single game for his newly adopted A-League club. Come August, the club issued a press release stating that it and Heffernan had agreed to part ways because, to quote the FourFourTwo article of the day, the defender “...went on loan to China and has now decided not to come back.” Pretty straightforward case of a player going back on his word, it seemed to Glory fans at the time. Amusingly, that same article made reference to the fact that “Heffernan's decision comes after Glory were last year hogtied by Chris Coyne's loan spell in China which ended up with him missing the whole of last season through red tape and then injury”. How prophetic that proved to be!
Come January 2012, The West broke the story that Heffernan hadn’t actually decided to stay permanently at all:
Today, though, Ferguson said a clause in Heffernan’s contract had been the stumbling block to him returning to Perth.
“We thought there was a clause in his contract where he would be allowed to come back to us but it was obviously in Chinese and it never worked out that way,” Ferguson said.
The coach said Glory had contacted Professional Footballers Australia, the players union, to investigate the matter but nothing could be done to get Heffernan out of his China deal.
“We got the PFA on to it and unfortunately it was legal in Chinese terms, so that was the reason we couldn’t have him,” Ferguson said.
“It’s something we’ve learnt from that. It won’t happen again. It was a big blow for us. We wanted Dean at the beginning of the season but we eventually got him — better late than never.”
The embarrassing bungle not only contradicted what was previously said about the Heffernan situation, but had furious fans demanding to know exactly how the club had made the same mistake with the same Chinese club for a second year running. Once again, nobody seemed to take any sort of responsibility publicly for this oversight, and there has been no word on whether workers at the club’s Leederville offices have been made to learn to read Chinese – or speak with someone who does. It’s ironic that in December 2010 Chris Coyne stated that his own bungle was “due to red tape and maybe a lack of diligence by myself and other parties” and warned others about making the same mistake again.
Finally, we move our attention to the most recent of Chinese action for Perth Glory – the seemingly last-minute transfers of Mile Sterjovski and Adam Hughes to Chinese teams that went through before the A-League season has even finished. With respect to Sterjovski, losing him overseas was not that great a surprise. He was probably overpaid at Glory for what he produced, would likely have demanded more than his worth for another year or two at the club, and is in a position to grab one last big paycheque for a high-paying side overseas before he thinks about retirement. For him, it’s a smart move financially, and for the club, it makes sense to be paying less money.
With Hughes, it’s a bit different. Here was a player who had another year left on his contract, and yet he was released to go to China for free. Sterjovski had reached the end of his deal – Hughes had not. The fact that the club then did not get a fee for the transfer puzzles and infuriates many Glory fans. It would seem that there are only two options here – either the club decided that for whatever reason they were paying Hughes too much, in which case it is the fault of their original contract offer, or they did not negotiate well enough with the Chinese side who wanted him.
Furthermore, it seems there are no immediate replacements forthcoming for these players, leaving the club two midfielders short for any late-season push or finals run. This, to most, seems like a case of very bad decision making. Overall, the resounding impression one gets from reading fan reaction on the club’s facebook page and in various other forums, is that people are very unhappy these two players have been let go at this precise time of the season. Why couldn’t the club for instance make the deals with the Chinese sides, but on the proviso they played out the rest of the A-League season with Perth Glory first? Central Coast Mariners are another team who recently lost players to Asia – but in the case of both Matt Simon and Rostyn Griffths, they negotiated a fee for their players’ immediate release. When it comes to Chinese teams, it appears Glory can’t negotiate a fortune cookie.
For all of the positives coming out of the Perth Glory offices this season – the recognition that we don’t always need a big-name marquee, the careful approach to offering contracts, the greater emphasis on managing the salary cap – it would appear that the club still has a few tricks to learn. The squad’s recent dip in performance coincides with heightened speculation about the futures of uncontracted players , some players still no clearer about whether they are being offered a contract for next season or not. Adam Taggart also joins the list of Glory youngsters who have elected to go east to further their footballing development, despite the club offering him a contract. In itself, this no doubt raises questions about Glory's image as a development club in the minds of young footballers. Then there is the fact that Glory are scouting Gold Coast youngsters – a very good move – but not if you are bringing in a young striker like Chris Harold who could be just as easily be matched by someone within Perth’s own youth ranks, like Ndumba Makeche. It would be a shame to pass up, once again, talent from within our own club and then go on to see them blossom somewhere else.
So there is still work for the club to do when it comes to their transfer and contract dealings, and lessons to be learned from other A-League clubs who have done all this before with a much greater history of success. Frankly, someone should write a book on it for Perth’s benefit – just make sure it’s not written in Chinese.