The Curious Case of Benjamin Buckley

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It’s perhaps the toughest job in football: Chief Executive Officer.  The corporate face of the game in this country is often seen as no more than Mr Lowy’s yes-man.  But Ben Buckley seems to be quite alright with the set of circumstances he has inherited from the supercilious, John O’Neill.

Since taking over the role at Football Federation Australia (FFA), Buckley has surpassed three key milestones for which he will be remembered:

1) Establishing the National Football Development Plan aptly subtitled, Making Australia a World Leader in the World Game.  This includes the effective implementation of Small-Sided Football (SSF) and the recently published, FFA National Curriculum which cumulatively feature as Australia’s blueprint for success.

2) Expanding the Hyundai A-League from its foundation of eight to ten licenced clubs and as of next season a potential of twelve, a year later than projected.  A risky yet bold move as it appears the other football codes are struggling in the major cities.

3) Australia’s bid to host either the 2018 or 2022 FIFA World Cup.  If he (under the firm guidance of his Chairman) pulls this off, it will surely be this nation’s greatest sporting catch.

He appears cool, calm and collected in front of the camera.  I liken him to George Clooney – the silver fox may have more than stripped hair follicles in common – Buckley’s smooth choice of words in his interviews makes him a perfect fit for the lead in Ocean’s 14 should Steven Soderbergh choose to continue the franchise.

For some though, Buckley is not the right man for the job.  After all, what does he know about football?  Well, the round ball version anyway.  His days playing AFL for North Melbourne and his role as vice-captain have obviously provided him with a good grasp on what it takes to be competitive; understanding this fundamental ingredient is a great start for any leader.

Although, the art of political rhetoric in world football is delicate and that’s to put it mildly.  I can just imagine what Sepp Blatter or Mohammed Bin Hammam think of his experience in the beautiful game.

To be fair, who else would you give the job to?  Johnny Warren’s playing football up in the sky with Sir Bobby Robson.  His protégé, Craig Foster can’t do it, who would be left to tell the truth on TV?  Robbie Slater, kidding.

I’ve heard Gus Gould’s name mentioned for the NRL’s top job whenever something goes wrong in its administration, all hail the outspoken one.  David Gallop has copped an absolute beating over the past twelve months.  Reportedly, Lowy offered him the job at FFA before Buckley.  My point is: ex-players turned broadcasters have a different skill-set to administrators.  Good sense prevails.

Buckley’s résumé is impressive.  After his days playing footy were over, he landed a job with Nike as the company’s, Director of Marketing in Japan and then Australia.  He left after a year to become General Manager and Vice President of Operations at EA Sports Australasia.  I’ve always wondered how good he is at FIFA; is he an Xbox or PlayStation man?  He’d be pleased to see Tim Cahill on the cover of the soon to be released version.

Before embarking on his current voyage with football, he was the AFL’s General Manager responsible for broadcasting, strategy and major projects; later becoming Chief Operating Officer.  Oh, he’s also degree qualified with a Bachelor of Applied Science.  Not bad.

What really matters though are the outcomes of his work.  Did the national development mandate work?  Is the A-League a commercially viable competition?  Did we land the World Cup?  Is the sport growing and challenging the overcrowded football market?

If Buckley wanted KPI’s, then he’s got them.  Let’s hope football’s governing body is strong enough under his leadership to become the benchmark in sport governance in Australia.  Becoming a world leader in the world game is perhaps a pipedream but we’ll enjoy the expedition.


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