‘Governance geek’ appointed to guide FFA into new era
THE man who will lead Football Federation Australia into a new era is a self-confessed "governance geek" who almost played at a World Cup and has some of the most powerful figures in world football on speed dial.
Queensland-born James Johnson has been announced as the new CEO of FFA, replacing David Gallop and ending a long search to find the right figure to oversee root and branch reform at the game's governing body.
Though his profile inside Australia is limited, almost a decade after his departure to join the Asian Football Confederation, it is far more pronounced in world football circles thanks to two years at the AFC, almost six at FIFA and the past year working for the City Group.
Johnson's supporters talk about the skin he has in the game having grown up in rural Queensland and played the game at grassroots level - rising up to play for the Joeys and only miss out on playing at the Under-17s World Cup in 1999 through injury on the eve of the tournament.
"Something I remember very clearly was that James was one of those players who's super-professional, hard-working and intelligent," said Jess Vanstrattan, now the Mariners goalkeeping coach but a teammate of Johnson's in that Joeys side.
"He was a skilful player, but he was a good guy, too, and popular, good to have in the team. We were only 16 back then but he had an air about him that meant his career since has been no surprise.
"If he is appointed, I think it will be so important for us to have a football person at the helm of the game, he's lived it for 30 years or more."
Known as "JJ" at his club, the Brisbane Strikers, Johnson's career was halted through injury and he joined the players' union as player relations executive - working, ironically, under then PFA CEO Brendan Schwab, whom he beat to the FFA CEO role this week.
Two years at the AFC followed, before he took up a role at FIFA. People who have worked with him in that context say Johnson's style is "collegiate" and "consensus building", qualities that will be tested to the full in his new role bringing together Australian football's competing interests.
"He'll seek engagement and consultation on an issue rather than bring a pre-determined view," said one.
"He's a smart guy, people find him easy to get on with."
Another senior figure who has worked closely with him said Johnson "uses the facts and rational arguments to bring people onside".
One of his most pressing tasks will be the appointment of several key management staff at FFA, after a host of resignations in recent months.
"He has to get the right people on board," said one influential person.
"That will go a long way to defining how successful his tenure is.
"You've got to have a vision of where the organisation is going, and recruit the staff to help deliver that."
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