Lack of star names concern for A-League
Harry Kewell can't believe it either (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
But a marquee-less A-League devoid of big names and some of our brightest young stars won’t keep the crowds growing.
Don’t get me wrong, 2011/2012 was great and I am looking forward to the next edition.
Season 7 started with a bang with the return home of Socceroos heroes Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton. One joined Melbourne Victory, the other Sydney FC, and despite a lot off-field drama with Gold Coast United (which received the axe from the competition) and the Newcastle Jets, attendance figures and TV audiences for the A-League grew.
A little bit of bling was back, the move to launch the season after the NRL and ARL finals were over was a beauty, and the competition had real momentum again.
The standard of football on the field was also fantastic, and with a strong Mariners, a revitalised Perth Glory and a record-breaking Roar, things were looking good. But three months out from the start of the season, and the glow from the Wanderers aside, there has been little else to get excited about.
The Jets have let all their experienced names go, Kewell has returned to the UK for family reasons (which is completely understandable), Carlos Hernandez has departed and while Marcos Flores still loves the A-League, he doesn’t look like returning any time soon.
Sydney FC has said it won’t be making a Dwight Yorke-like buy, as much as coach Ian Crook wants to, and the FFA have told Tony Popovic the Wanderers’ won’t be either.
The Mariners have their squad pretty much settled, the same as the Roar and most other clubs.
The mood around the league is a bit dour, especially on marquees, as the feeling exists that they aren’t worth the money and effort. Financially it seems everyone is struggling, with some home-grown austerity measures introduced, as stability and keeping costs down is key.
To top it off, the A-League remains a keen feeder competition to bigger leagues overseas. Already we have seen Musti Amini and Eli Babali leave for Europe, and surely Terry Antonis will follow them soon.
Less foreign players means more opportunity for our best and brightest young talent but they are heading overseas chasing their dreams in droves, which you can’t blame them for.
Sure there have been some terrible marquees in the history of the A-League – see Brian Deane and Mario Jardel – but there have some great buys as well. Dwight Yorke, Juninho, Paul Ifill were fantastic, Robbie Fowler pulled in the crowds while the likes of Emerton and Mile Sterjovksi have had an impact, to name just a few.
There are many foreign signings – Hernandez, Flores, Berisha, van Dijk, Rodriguez etc – who might not have been huge names before they came to Australia but they lit up the A-League and boosted the competition as a whole.
Football agent Lou Sticca was behind Yorke’s season with Sydney FC and says the success of the Manchester United striker’s stint proves that marquees can work.
“The A-League needs sizzle and marquees, they have got to be the right ones, can deliver,” he says.
Sticca believes it is still early days for season 8 and he remains hopeful we will see some names join the competition in time. Fellow player agent Leo Karis agrees it is a tough balancing act.
“Fiscal responsibility vs [the] marquee wow factor,” he says. Karis believes the Wanderers should invest in a marquee star.
The best marquees not only have a big profile and bring extra media attention, they bring more bums on seats and play exception football. There are few that have done all four of those things, Yorke being the prime example at one who did.
Others might not have dominated the league – like Liverpool legend Fowler – but gave the competition a brighter spotlight and boosted crowds. Flores, Berisha and Hernandez didn’t have huge profiles but lifted the league with their brilliant play and ended up creating more media attention and energized attendances.
If the A-League wants to continue to grow, in both crowds and attention, then it needs the right marquees. The hardcore fanbase will continue to attend regardless but without some big-name foreign injection the casual fan, Eurosnob, NSL supporter and non-Australian football lover will keep giving the A-League the cold shoulder.
To become bigger and better, like its counterparts in China and the US, it needs marquees. It’s a risky approach, and selecting the wrong marquee can have negative side-effects, but it’s worth the risk to the get the perfect one on board.