FIFA recently created the Professional Football Department as part of a new approach to better engage with football stakeholders such as clubs, leagues and players. Heading up the department is Australian James Johnson, who himself has a broad range of experience within the game, including as a professional player.

The 34-year-old represented Australia at youth level, played in the United States in college, as well as for professional clubs in his homeland and Vietnam before injury ended his career prematurely. Since becoming a qualified attorney, he has worked in various roles across football including representing players while with Professional Footballers Australia and then FIFPro. caught up with Johnson to find out more about the new Professional Football Department and what impact it will have. What is the purpose of the newly created Professional Football Department?
James Johnson:
The overarching goal of the department is to bring professional football stakeholders - namely clubs, leagues and players - closer to FIFA by including them more in the organisation’s decision-making structures. This goal is in line with the reforms approved by the FIFA Congress on 26 February to ensure more inclusiveness among stakeholders. The department will also implement decisions of FIFA bodies regarding professional football matters and act as an intermediary between the organisation and professional football stakeholders.

Why was it introduced at this time?
A substantial part of FIFA’s new vision is stakeholder inclusion and engagement. The professional football stakeholders’ contribution and role in football is highly significant. Therefore, it was decided by the FIFA Executive Committee that a Professional Football Department was overdue, particularly given the evolution of professional football in recent years and in light of the reforms.

Could you explain the Professional Football Department’s responsibilities?
One of our main responsibilities will be to strengthen relationships with professional football stakeholders and support the new Football Stakeholders’ Committee, which the FIFA Congress agreed to establish as part of the reform package. Our department will oversee FIFA’s club licensing and the club benefits programmes as well as professional football matters that require FIFA’s authorization - an example would be applications for closed leagues or regional leagues. We will also be involved in the management of professional football services, reports and research projects.

Where have you worked previously and how will those experiences help you in your new role?
I am a qualified attorney who specialised in corporate and labour law. Since joining football administration, I’ve worked at the national level in the professional game for Professional Footballers Australia where I managed player relations. At the confederation level, I worked for FIFPro Asia as its legal secretary and the Asian Football Confederation as the Director of International Relations and Development. Since joining FIFA two years ago, I worked as a Senior Manager of Member Associations where I focused on national association relations and club licensing. My experience working at each of these three levels of the football pyramid, as well as being nurtured in the professional game, allows me to appreciate the importance of each stakeholder, their unique interests and the challenges they face.

What do you think your biggest challenges will be?

The biggest challenge I anticipate is balancing the competing interests of the clubs, players and leagues. Even when each of these stakeholder's interests are aligned, the interests will in some cases compete with those of national associations and confederations. The challenge will then be to ensure that we get the right balance of interests, both within the professional game and also between the professional game and the governing bodies at national and confederation level.