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A-League at crossroads as committee meets for first time

Trust. Today, we're going to find out if there's any left between the clubs themselves, and between the clubs and Football Federation Australia.

Without it, the A-League is in big trouble. If trust can be retrieved from the ashes of the conflagration that has threatened to burn down the competition, mark down the date.

The game's Road to Damascus moment. This could be the day the A- League saved itself. Or destroyed itself.

The first meeting of the clunkily named Joint A-League Strategic Committee is a lot more important than it sounds. Everyone who cares about the game is hoping it won't be the last.

For posterity, it's worth recording who will be in the meeting room today. Directors Joseph Healy, Brian Schwartz and Phil Wolanski will represent Football Federation Australia. Owners Tony Sage (Perth Glory), Peter Sidwell (Melbourne Heart) and Greg Griffin (Adelaide United) will represent the clubs. The elephants in the room are Frank Lowy, Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler, the three billionaires who have fallen out spectacularly over the past six months, setting off a chain of events that has almost brought the A-League to its knees.

Sage is one on whom the result of today's meeting will rest heavily. If you doubted his sincerity, or his passion, watch the tears that flowed as he embraced the Glory fans after the recent, heartbreaking, loss in the grand final just over a week ago. Sage has been a trenchant critic of the FFA in the past, but he's hung in there because he loves his club.


''I prefer to be optimist,'' he says.

But not a fool. For six years, the owners feel like they were taken for a ride by the FFA. And then Palmer decided he'd had enough after one broken promise too many, and the bomb went off.

Palmer is now public enemy No.1 at FFA headquarters, closely followed by Tinkler, who has spent the past three weeks trying to hand back his A-League licence.

Somewhere between outright independence, in the form of a separate company to run the league, and the suffocating embrace of the FFA, lies the JASCL.

It's the first step. Plenty remain sceptical. Tinkler, for instance, made his big move without even giving the JASCL a chance to meet. If the clubs want change, they need to have some trust among themselves.

The alternative makes it easy for the FFA to divide and rule. But here's the rub. The only way the FFA can maintain any meaningful authority over the league is to loosen its grip.

Sage remains ''very confident'' of a positive outcome today. But there's a warning attached: ''If there's no bite to the bark, it's all a waste of time. We'll know pretty well straight away what their [FFA] attitude is. Things have to move quickly. Extremely quickly.''

The expectation of the clubs is that the JASCL is not simply a forum for discussion, it's a forum for decision. The clubs have a wishlist of about 20 changes they want made. The most pressing will be presented today.

''If they're all adopted, the clubs will save themselves between $1.5 to $2 million, starting next season,'' Sage said. If they're not? ''I can't answer that, but what I do know is that if the committee makes a recommendation, it's supposed to be rubber-stamped by the [FFA] board. ''We're going in there expecting decisions to be made.''