When it was announced the City Football Group had purchased a majority stake of the A-League's struggling Melbourne Heart for a reported $11.25 million in January, 2014, there was much chest-beating at Football Federation Australia.

The Abu Dhabi Sheikhs, owners of the English Premier League's Manchester City, were investing in Australia's domestic league.

Surely this was a sign of the A-League's growing global prestige.

Australian officials and journalists were flown to Manchester to dine in the chairman's lounge at The Etihad, take tours of the incredible training facilities, watch games from heated seats and see for themselves that money can buy happiness.

It was the ultimate win-win for the FFA.

A club drawing average crowds of around 6,000 would be self-sufficient at a time when only Melbourne Victory was turning a profit and others were haemorrhaging cash.

Or so it seemed.

Three-and-a-half years later, FFA officials and long-term powerbroker Frank Lowy are no longer basking in the City Group's reflected glory.

They are asking how the wolf got through the door.

The FFA's failure to retain its grip on the game at last Thursday's annual general meeting was the consequence of a significant power shift.

One in which the City Group exerted a strong influence and the Lowy family's stranglehold was badly weakened.

As Frank Lowy's loyalists and political allies desperately tried to remind us during the lead-up to Thursday's vote, the 87-year-old shopping mall magnate's contribution to Australian football has been vast.

Most significantly, Lowy oversaw the transition from ''old soccer'' to the A-League and led Australia into Asia where three successive World Cup qualifications (2010, 2014, 2018), the 2015 Asia Cup victory and the Wanderers' 2014 Asian Champions League Trophy have provided significant milestones.

But as much as Lowy had achieved, his legacy was badly damaged by the botched 2022 World Cup bid.

This inevitably tawdry endeavour distracted the FFA from the heavy lifting needed to entrench the A-League and badly hurt the game's once strong links with Canberra, where politicians promised gleeful photo opportunities were instead left with a $47 million black hole, endless scandal from the allegedly corrupt bidding process and a single vote.

Thus when Lowy's controversial successor, his son Steven, claimed those who had voted against his reforms last week risked returning the game to ''the bad old days'', he invited unflattering comparisons between the FFA's recent performance and that of the game's traditional owners.

As Lowy was reminded, ''old soccer'' had produced the Golden Generation of players who starred at the 2006 World Cup.

Since then the FFA had closed academies and harboured an obsession with foreign coaches whose reputations had far outweighed their long-term contribution to the game — factors that contributed to the resignation of national coach Ange Postecoglou.

All while the A-League's promising early growth stalled.

Subsequently, in recent years, the A-League clubs have felt shackled to a moribund FFA with their potential retarded and untapped.

Never more so than when the central body was unable to deliver a greatly improved TV deal.

Whether the A-League's supposed underperformance is fact or delusion, it provided the momentum for last Thursday's rebellion.

But to force change, the A-League clubs faced a once unfeasible task: defeating the Lowys.

Despite the game's recent problems, Lowy continued to enjoy strong support from insiders regularly summoned to his Sydney court to hear his thoughts about the game and its politics.

The A-League owners, however, had a powerful partner in the City Group whose global contacts were now far more powerful than Lowy's.

Simon Pearce, who oversees the Abu Dhabi's Australian business operations, has maintained a relatively low profile since orchestrating the Melbourne Heart purchase.

But the Englishman with a hot line to the Abu Dhabi Sheikhs might now be the most influential man in Australian football.

Adelaide United chairman Greg Griffin fronted the A-League putsch.

But sources in the game claim Pearce has exerted the strongest influence and emboldened the A-League clubs to take on Lowy's board table gerrymander with the support of the NSW and Victorian federations.

In the past, the dissenting vote might not have been enough to change the game's structure.

It is not too far-fetched to believe the Lowys once would have hightailed it to the World Cup draw in Russia and sought the support of FIFA to quash the rebellion.

How the vote went down

  • A-League clubs, plus NSW and Victoria state federations voted against FFA's preferred Congress model
  • Seventy-five per cent majority was required to expand the membership that votes on the FFA board, but only 70 per cent acquired
  • Seven of the nine state federations voted in favour of FFA's proposal

Now, however, the City Group's influence means the clubs, rather than the FFA, have the ear of the game's governing body.

Consequently, should the struggle reach its end game and FIFA's 'normalisation committee' take over the running of Australian football, it is likely to greatly increase the power of the A-League clubs, not hand the game back to the Lowys.

Which leaves a lingering question for Australian fans long frustrated by the game's stagnation: Will an independent and emboldened A-League help link the game's healthy grass roots with its still-struggling elite levels?

Or will the self-interest of the clubs mean the needy are starved as Steven Lowy warned?

Whatever the outcome, the power shift in Australian football seems irreversible.

The future remains uncertain but the game's era of ennui is over.

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