Is the marquee rule still relevant to the A-League?
Has the marquee concept died a slow death in the A-League? Like Marcos Flores before him, ex-Melbourne Victory midfielder Carlos Hernandez is a Johnny Warren medal winner who could be lost to Australian football for want of an open cheque book.
That’s not to say Hernandez’s potential departure is necessarily a bad thing.
For all his undoubted talent, it’s impossible to ignore the perception Hernandez wasn’t always pulling his weight – if you’ll pardon the pun – although a couple of A-League clubs are rumoured to still be interested in the creative talent.
Victory coach Ange Postecoglou was candid enough to admit he didn’t know where Hernandez would fit into his system and was keen to free up room under the salary cap.
And unless foreign imports offer us more than local players can produce, there’s little point in breaking the bank for them, particularly if they’re not the type of player bringing fans through the gate.
But although Hernandez wasn’t Victory’s designated marquee man, his looming A-League exit brings into question the continuing existence of an option many clubs no longer seem eager to utilise.
A few weeks ago former Socceroo and Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich wrote a column claiming the new Western Sydney club should sign Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero.
But surely Del Piero is far more likely to end up in a country such as the United States, where the likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez, Torsten Frings and Robbie Keane already ply their trade in the booming Major League Soccer competition.
And while the MLS has had some hits and misses with its ‘designated player’ rule, the fact is the competition still has the means to lure some seriously recognisable stars to its shores.
If that wasn’t enough, the A-League now faces regional competition from Chinese Super League clubs enjoying the patronage of wealthy backers after years of stagnation in a corrupt and largely unloved league.
The emergence of the two wealthy Ghangzhou clubs, Evergrande and R&F, has the potential to re-shape the power balance of East Asian football in the favour of Chinese sides, with local rivals like Shanghai Shenhua scrambling to keep pace by signing players such as Nicolas Anelka and Australia’s own Joel Griffiths.
And with plenty of money still in the Gulf – Qatari club Al-Sadd just added Raul to a foreign stable already including Lee Jung-Soo, Nadir Belhadj, Mamadou Niang and Abdel Kader Keita – it’s a wonder there’s any foreign talent left for A-League clubs to scout.
Perhaps that’s why our star players have tended to be signed from countries like Costa Rica and Chile rather than the English Premier League or Bundesliga – the notable exception of Thomas Broich notwithstanding.
In fact, it’s players like Broich we should be chasing, with the German import admitting he’d simply had enough of the daily grind of playing in a relentlessly scrutinised league like the Bundesliga.
Otherwise, the A-League would surely be better served trying to bring high-profile Australians back to our shores.
What’s the point of the marquee rule if Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano are winding down their careers in the Middle East? Why have we lost players like Joel Griffiths to China?
Of course, putting names on paper is little more than empty rhetoric when there’s no money in the transfer kitty.
Perhaps A-League clubs might be better served throwing whatever resources they can into raising the level of the salary cap and scrapping the idea of bringing in high-profile marquee imports altogether.
With half the clubs in the league not ever bothering to fill their international marquee slot, it seems the bean-counters at a number of A-League outfits came to the very same conclusion long ago.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman