Newly appointed chief football officer Ernie Merrick will operate as “a technical director with teeth” according to Football Australia chief executive James Johnson, who has backed him to “disrupt” the local game.
Merrick, 69, was named in the federation’s newly created footballing czar role in early August.
A decorated A-League Men coach on top of previous roles in youth development, national teams, and more, Merrick has four decades of experience in Australia at almost all levels and is deeply familiar with the system and its potential failings.
“A chief football officer is a technical director with teeth,” Johnson said. “So, Ernie does oversee the traditional technical areas — coaching, pathways, schools — these are all in any technical director’s job scope.
“What we wanted in this role was for someone to also be across and help support me with some structural changes we’ve talked about. Second-tier competitions, transfer systems, policy around playing younger Australian players more often in competition, club licensing, domestic match calendars.
“So it’s a much broader remit and that’s why we call it a chief football officer.”
However, it was also Merrick’s longstanding and well-embedded status in the game, combined with his diplomatic tone when assuming the role, that led to queries about just how much of a “disruptor” — a key buzzword associated with the role — he would be in the Australian footballing ecosystem.
“When we announced him, our former general counsel sent me a text message and said that he was the most sanctioned A-Leagues coach of all time. So he’s definitely a disruptor in my view,” Johnson told ESPN.
“But look, what we mean by disruptive leadership is not someone that’s going to go in and bulldoze. That’s not what we mean by disruptive.
“Disruptive is changing the direction of something. We need to focus on football development and do things differently and do things better. And that requires disruptive leadership.
“So that’s what we’re talking about and I think in Ernie we’ve got that.
“He’s been in office now for around six weeks and he’s on our executive leadership team. He’s playing a key role in all football discussions. He is across all of these areas.
“He’s doing a lot of listening at the moment, which I think has all the hallmarks of a good executive. He’s listening to issues and he’s listening to challenges. Pretty soon he’ll be putting together a football strategy that will cover coaching and pathways.”