Deal surprise as New Zealand rejoins A-League

Ten minutes after Football Federation Australia announced that the Townsville-based Tropical Football Australia consortium had withdrawn from the "two horse race" to win the vacant eighth license in the upcoming Hyundai A-League season, it confirmed that New Zealand Soccer had been granted three-year rights to the franchise.

New Zealand Soccer and its nominated sub-licensee in Wellington had finally convinced the Australians that they had raised "the necessary financial capital and business plans to establish a viable football club in the New Zealand capital."

FFA CEO Ben Buckley said the New Zealand presence in the Hyundai A-League benefited not only the competition but also the development of football in New Zealand and the Oceania Football Confederation. "As part of our move into the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, we remain committed to assisting the Oceania Football Confederation wherever possible,” he said.

Uniquely, the NZ franchise in the A-League is the only club in the world to participate in a professional competition in another continental confederation. This means, however, that the NZ club cannot qualify for the AFC Champions League and, currently, is also barred from participating in the OFC's O-League, the winner of which gets automatic entry into FIFA's Club World Championship.

As for the North Queenslanders, FFA Head of Operations Matt Carroll said that “based on the strength of their proposal,Tropical Football will be very well placed to bid for a license to participate in the Hyundai A-League when the competition expands in the future." The head of Tropical Football, James Gage, responded with sincere thanks to the FFA for its "confidence and support" and promised "when the time for expansion of the Hyundai A-League occurs, Tropical Football eagerly looks forward to submitting a formal bid to be included in the competition.”

UPDATE (20 March)

After extending continual extensions to New Zealand Soccer's deadline, Football Federation Australia declined Tropical Football Australia's request for a brief delay in the final stages of the so-called "two horse race" with NZS. "We requested an extension to fulfil our underwriting obligations and we weren't given that opportunity," Tropical Football boss James Gage told the Courier Mail.

According to Rony Robson in The Dominion Post, Wellington businessman Terry Serepisos "stumped up ... more than a million dollars to rescue New Zealand's sinking professional football ship." Already the sponsor of the Wellington Cup at Trentham and the Wellington Saints basketball team, the managing director of Century City Developments is now the 100 percent owner of the yet-to-be-named Wellington-based team that will now play its home games at Westpac Stadium.

NZ national coach Ricki Herbert has been appointed Wellington's first coach on a three-year deal. "He had 15 players lined up, and could get up to 12 more tomorrow," AAP reported.