By TERRY MADDAFORD
New Zealand Soccer has embarked on its expected journey back to the future with yesterday's decision to institute an eight-team national league.
The pressure is now on the eight successful franchises (or entities as NZ Soccer prefers) to make the most of the opportunity to rediscover the code's glory days of the 1970s.
In naming eight teams from 11 applicants, the national body has gone for a wide regional spread, with only Auckland having two sides.
Missing out were a third team from Auckland, a second from Wellington, and Tauranga.
The decision to leave out East Auckland FC - whose driving force was Bill McKinlay Park-based Mt Wellington - severs the last link with the original league of 1970.
NZ Soccer chief executive Bill MacGowan was confident his board was right to settle on eight teams.
"All the successful bids were outstanding and came up with what we were looking for," MacGowan said. "It was felt that eight teams was the right number when we took into account the playing strength.
"With 40 players offshore and another 10 or 12 likely to be at the Football Kingz, it was felt that 160 was as far as we could go.
"There is no doubt the standard [of domestic football] has fallen away. We want a return to the halcyon days and have given clubs the pathways to achieve that.
"As the national body we can place five young players in each franchise.
"All coaches must be licensed under our international coaching programme structure."
MacGowan said the only real concern was any move towards "chequebook football".
"There will be no salary cap or anyone policing player payments, but I'm sure most entities will look to bring in their allowable three imports, and most of their money will go to them."
It appears most clubs will, depending on location, have a budget of between $170,000 and $300,000. They will pay $45,000 to enter the league which will go into a travel equalisation pool. There will be no prizemoney.
"This is a $2.5 million-a-season undertaking. The prize is the chance to play in the Oceania club championships in April in Tahiti with the opportunity to go on to Fifa's world club championship in Japan in December next year," MacGowan said.
"Just winning through to that would guarantee a club more money than the All Whites earned at last year's Confederations Cup."
Of the new league's make-up, MacGowan said the board felt there was place for only one team in Wellington and no more than two in Auckland.
"East Auckland and Tauranga-based Team Bay of Plenty did not meet the criteria. In Wellington, it was a more difficult decision.
"In the end the board was swayed by the council's ... plans for upgrading Newtown Park as part of Team Wellington's bid, which had the support of 18 clubs."
MacGowan said that from a personal and footballing point of view he was disappointed there was no North Shore bid.
"We thought North Shore would have been the first cab off the rank."
The new league kicks off on October 15 and will be played over three rounds.
The top team after those 21 matches will go directly to the final, with the right to host that game.
They will play the winner of a second versus third play-off for a place at the Oceania club championship. None of the new teams will be eligible to play in the Chatham Cup.
Ole Madrids (Wgtn)
Team Bay of Plenty
East Auckland FC
By TERRY MADDAFORD