Cahill shows where A-League sits in pecking order
Socceroos player Tim Cahill competes for the ball with Japan's Makoto Hasebe. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
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Tim Cahill was never going to step down from the English Premier League to the A-League. Not just yet, anyway.
His move from Everton to the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer in the United States of America is possibly an intermediary step to the A-League, or more likely a total snub of a return home.
In theory now was the time for Cahill, 32 years of age, to head home considering his recent struggle to find the back of the net for Everton, in a bid to play in a less-competitive and strenuous league to prolong his club and international career. But in practice while the A-League could greatly benefited from his presence, he clearly wasn’t prepared to take that step yet.
Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton may have taken the direct path into the A-League from Europe, but theirs are unique cases and against the trend of Australian players moving to more lucrative clubs in Asia and the Middle East in particular, rather than the A-League.
The concern is they may be too old and too broken down when they do get to the A-League, and therefore of little true worth.
Why the avoidance of the A-League? This is a time when the A-League marquee system is failing to deliver its stated mission of freeing up clubs to dig deep and attract the star names that will put bums on seats. The financial reality, however, is that most clubs cannot afford to do so and aren’t prepared to take the risk of banking such a high stake on one player.
The likes of Cahill, Lucas Neill, Marco Bresciano and co, still regulars for the Socceroos, are seemingly preferring that more comfortable and higher-paying step into more remote leagues, where the standard may not differ too greatly from the A-League but the pressure of performing for club to justify an international spot is far less for far more pay.
What some Socceroos seem to fear is the immense pressure of returning home and carrying clubs, the type of pressure that dogged the likes of Kewell and John Aloisi amongst others.
Remember Mark Schwarzer infamous quotes to the Football+ magazine?
“I have seen too many players go back home and it has not worked out,” he said.
“The biggest example is John Aloisi, and how he was treated so badly by people.
“You are up there to be shot down very, very quickly.
“I don’t want to give anyone the opportunity to do that to me.”
That could very well explain current Socceroos players’ avoidance of the A-League, in addition to the financial limitations.
Imagine, for example, the prospect of Cahill linking up with the new A-League franchise, the Western Sydney Wanderers – a product of the region’s strong football culture coming home to lead the new club on and off the field.
The burden on him would be immense, and in many ways the fate of the franchise would rest on his shoulders. Then there’s the problem of the governing body owning the new club; forced to dig deep into its pockets to fund one player while, on the other hand, robbing the wider league, other clubs and the grassroots of the game of funding it would otherwise have had and desperately needs.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the A-League. Cahill’s new home, the MLS, represents what the A-League could be one day. The MLS has faced the same growing pains as the A-League not to mention the challenges of being down the pecking order in terms of sporting codes in most major markets it occupies.
But the MLS is riding high. And the backing of individuals such as Austrian billionaire and Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who is better known for his exploits in motorsports and extreme sports but nevertheless has two football clubs in the USA and Austria in which he has invested heavily, helps add the financial clout to sign star names such as Cahill.
The A-League, its clubs and governing body, is no position to compete with its American counterpart. Any talk that Cahill should have come home ignores the economic reality of the A-League’s place in the world game’s pecking order.
Perhaps one day the future Cahills will bypass an intermediary stint in the Middle East, Asia or the USA for a direct return home. But that day isn’t here just yet.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.
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