Melissa Barbieri: Football must step up or risk losing biggest stars

  • Football could be damaging its chances of finding the next Lisa De Vanna (Getty Images)
With women’s leagues for netball, cricket and the newly announced AFL Women’s League, football needs to do more to keep its players

Ann Odong


Daily Football Show
19 Jun 2016 – 12:10 PM  UPDATED 19 Jun 2016 – 12:15 PM

“Sports are either going to have to front up and start increasing their wages for their players or they will lose their players to opposite codes.”

Speaking exclusively to the Daily Football Show, that was the warning from former Matildas captain Melissa Barbieri in the wake of the news the AFL Women’s League.

While football is currently the number one participation sport for girls, Barbieri believes football shouldn’t be resting on it laurels as the competition comes thick and fast at the senior level.

In the past 12 months, netball and cricket have all announced changes to their senior women’s competitions that have provided greater remuneration to the top players.

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AFL threat looms

Following the success of 10 match exhibition series across the country and strong television numbers, the newly announced AFL Women’s League is set for only home-and-away six rounds and a two week finals series in 2017.

“This day has been a long time coming. The number of women and girls playing football has doubled over the last five years,” said AFL commission chairman Mike Fitzpatrick.

Melbourne Demons captain Daisy Pearce agreed: “It’s the biggest code and the biggest sporting body in the country and certainly here it’s a big part of the culture of Melbourne and to now have the opportunity to play this sport means a lot to girls.”

The AFL have also discussed the anticipated remuneration with the top players set to earn as much $25,000 for those eight weeks of football.

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Melbourne born Barbieri believes that the new league will certainly pose some challenges for the well established sports on and off the field.

“The sports outside of AFL are going to have to step up,” she said.

“I’m pretty sure that our football (soccer) is one of those sports that is going to have to put up or shut up.”

“Unless you’re highly passionate about football – and you’d have to be extremely, extremely passionate about the game to rebuke the fact that AFL is going to have a really hefty pay packet.”

FFA must respond…and quickly

Although the AFL threat is present, Barbieri believes football has a lot of natural advantages to AFL.  Top players set for the Matildas have the ability to play in international tournaments like the Women’s World Cup, the Asian Cup and the Olympics.

However, it is at the level below the Matildas, the W-League, where there could be some cause for concern.

In recent times players have been discussing the need for increased pay and conditions and it is those pay and conditions that could lure potential players.

“For me football is the most appealing because you can play anywhere in the world,” said Barbieri.

“But if you can play anywhere in the world for a measly penny, rather than playing in your home country, in front of your home fans … and earning a crapload of money, then the invitation playing anywhere in the world starts to becomes a little bit less glamorous.”

With the Matildas stocks high and the W-League gaining more attention, the 36 year old wants to see the governing body do more with the women’s football product.

“I’m looking at the big picture,” she said. “There is not enough thought going into it, it’s all about the men.”

“They [the FFA]  just need to get smarter and leverage what they have and start to monetize what they have got, and you will see money will become available for the women’s side.”

“We never had that sort of pressure but now that we have these senior females (in AFL) have something to do, you know have to start thinking “how do we keep these girls, how do we keep them in the game?”

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Crossing over

Since the announcement of the AFL, some corners of football have been defensive in the face of the hyperbole of the AFL.  Not so Barbieri.

She welcomes the entry of AFL into the women’s sport space.

“Any increase in participation for female athletes is a good thing,” she stated.

“The only reason why anybody would speak negatively against this edition for the AFL is because they know they can’t keep up. And they know that they’ll have to do something about it to make sure that our girls stay our girls.”

Still, Barbieri concedes that football, like netball and cricket, will have to get used to sharing its players with the AFL Women’s League.  It will be made easier by the W-League and the AFL, summer and winter leagues respectively, having little cross over.

Already the AFL women’s exhibition matches have seen several W-League players taking part including Melbourne City goalkeeper Brianna Davey, Canberra United defender Jenna McCormick and Brisbane Roar defender Brooke Spence.

“A lot of the girls are very happy about that, so that they can still do both,” she said.

“For me, that means that those girls are going to be able to do both, but soon enough, it (women’s AFL) will start to grow, they’ll get more players in, and the league will start to grow quite quickly.”

The growth of the AFL is where the danger lies for football says Barbieri, particularly if football doesn’t take steps to make it as attractive and lucrative for female players.

“That’s when you might see the fact that those girls crossover, and might not be able to come back (to the W-League).”

“Once they (the players) have to start choosing, that’s when it’s going to start hurting the sport (soccer).”