ACCORDING to Football Federation Australia chief Frank Lowy, the game ''is in a good place now, with a bright future''.
In a ringing endorsement at a Melbourne Heart business lunch yesterday, the billionaire businessman declared: ''It is in the best shape since the reform process began,'' as he reeled off a list of statistics designed to illustrate soccer's rude health.
''There are 1.7 million Australians actively playing our game. In the A-League this season, attendances are up 36 per cent; TV audiences are up 52 per cent and club membership is up 20 per cent.
''In the past 12 months there has been significant new investment in Newcastle Jets, Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix - all of which at various times have been supported by FFA to survive through rough patches during these important foundation years of the A-League.''
The fact that few clubs are making money and that there is still no clear timetable for entry into the sport's heartland - western Sydney - wasn't allowed to intrude too much on a state-of-the-nation address designed to see off the doomsayers and stiffen the resolve of the true believers.
But what Lowy didn't really nail yesterday was why the feeling around the game, despite the upbeat numbers he produced, is more doom and gloom than sweetness and light.
On the field, the sport might never have been healthier, with a higher standard of play than in the past, excellent entertainment and a slick TV package.
But in recent weeks the mood has been glum, with the game dragging itself through a periodic washing of its dirty linen in public, with owners complaining about lack of consultation and involvement.
Combustible Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer - one of the few people in the country with a bankroll to match Lowy's - has only increased the mood of discontent by cocking a snook at Lowy's authority and angering the game's rulers with a series of inflammatory statements and gestures.
Lowy yesterday dug his heels in about the possibility of an independent commission to run the A-League as a separate entity, insisting that the expertise and financial backing from the FFA's executives and its coffers was essential to the continued existence of the competition.
And he also took a giant swipe at the blustering Palmer, who Lowy accused of giving him the brush-off when Lowy tried to contact him about his grievances.
''When someone says outrageous and controversial things, headlines will follow. And with each passing day it seems the statements emanating from the Gold Coast are more illogical, more confusing and ever more damaging to our game,'' Lowy said.
''But I am surprised when these ramblings are taken seriously and given credence and picked up by others.
''Before the controversy with Gold Coast blew up I reached out to Clive Palmer … at the end of January.
''I emailed. I phoned him and left messages. I sent an SMS. I offered to fly to Queensland on a Sunday to meet face to face. What did I get? I got the brush-off.
''In fact, some days later I eventually got back a message that let me know that he was less than interested in finding a solution to the problems at his club. Eventually, we had a two-minute mobile phone call which led nowhere.''
Lowy would not be drawn on the future of the Gold Coast, whether it will be in the league next year or what will be Palmer's fate.
Not surprisingly, he admitted that a further contraction of the competition to nine teams would not be a good look.
He stressed that he had no desire to end up in a legal battle with the litigious mining magnate, but added: ''It wouldn't be my choice, not first, second or tenth. But if I have to, I have to do a job.''
He was adamant that there was no need for an independent A-League body to run the competition.
''Getting crowds through the gates is what will solve problems, not arguing about who controls what. That is why the idea of a separate body to run the A-League is madness.
''The A-League could not survive if separated from FFA. FFA has spent nearly $250 million on behalf of the league - $30 million per annum for the past seven years, plus set-up costs and special assistance to clubs.''
He pledged to leave no stone unturned until Sydney's western suburbs, had a professional team in the A-League.
''Unfortunately, a couple of efforts have fallen away either because people were not reliable or made promises they couldn't keep. Our prime objective is to be in the western suburbs of Sydney in the earliest possible future. I don't like to make promises because I want to keep my promises, but I will not rest until we have a team in western Sydney.''