Lessons from Sydney FC’s Del Piero acquisition
Del Piero has signed with Sydney FC (Image: AFP)
Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney FC. After a week of speculation followed by confirmation of a two-year $2 million a season deal, that statement is still hard to fathom.
From seemingly nowhere, Sydney FC has grabbed one of the biggest names and most respected players in world football, from the clutches of European, North American and Middle Eastern clubs.
There’s no denying that this could potentially be a game-changer for the A-League, with the recognition and excitement this will generate to take the growing league to another level.
He’s undoubtedly the biggest name to have ever graced Australia’s domestic league – a World Cup, UEFA Champions League and Serie A winner.
Moreover, he’s respected like few other footballers for his loyalty to Juventus and the longevity of his playing career.
Del Piero is Dwight Yorke multiplied by two. He will attract large crowds everywhere he goes and help further cement the A-League in the minds of football fans who are usually Euro-centric in their viewing habits.
For Sydney FC, a club that has failed to live up to the on and off-field standards it set in the league’s debut season, it comes at a time when the arrival of the Western Sydney Wanderers looked set to significantly eat into its supporter base.
What a way to counteract!
As for the A-League, Del Piero’s signing demonstrates the following:
Marquee system has a place
Only a few weeks ago the A-League’s marquee system, whereby each club can sign an international, Australian and junior marquee player outside the constraints of the salary cap, came under scrutiny with the prospect of no true star names this season, particularly following Harry Kewell’s departure from Melbourne Victory.
It highlighted how the system was used as a way of circumnavigating the salary cap to squeeze in a squad-full of players, rather than the true intent which was to attract a big-name players worthy of a pay-packet the equivalent of the whole salary cap.
Players such as Shane Smeltz, Thomas Broich and Fred, all international marquees for their respective clubs, are top-notch players, but are hardly the type to help the league breakthrough into mainstream Australia.
Adelaide United football director Michael Petrillo told The World Game in May that the marquee rule was irrelevant “mainly because no A-League club can afford to bring a top marquee player”.
“They can only afford players who are at the end of their career and after a few games he probably would not attract too many fans, either,” he added.
“And if a star player does not make a significant difference to your crowds, why bring him in the first place?
“You might as well go with a promising Australian player. The overwhelming factor in terms of bringing people to the games is results.”
But clubs with the courage to go after the likes of Del Piero should have an avenue to spend big, taking the risk for the huge rewards on offer if they can land such a player.
Without the marquee system there is no chance of attracting star players. So as long as it’s in place, clubs with the ability to utilise it can do so.
A bit of daring goes a long way
Who would have thought del Piero, having just retired from Italian top-flight football as a championship winner, would pick Sydney and the A-League as his next port of call?
Credit goes to Sydney FC owner David Traktovenko, chairman Scott Barlow, CEO Tony Pignata, and agent Lou Sticca for the successful pursuit of Del Piero.
It proves anything is possible with the right plan of attack. Hopefully it is a lesson to other A-League clubs; that the league and its clubs can pull off such a coup with the right plan of attack.
Sell the lifestyle and legacy, as well as the league
Del Piero had offers from European clubs such as Sion, Liverpool, Southampton, Celtic and Sporting Braga along with reported interest from the Middle East and the USA.
But for players in del Piero’s position, Europe offers more of the same and is perhaps too taxing for ageing legs.
Would Del Piero, for example, really have been interested in playing in Glasgow or Southampton in leagues not so far removed from Serie A? He was clearly seeking a greater lifestyle change.
The Middle East and Asia represent new frontiers but great cultural and language barriers exist. Any big name player that moves to the MLS in North America would to an extent live in the shadow of David Beckham and be unable to compete with his celebrity.
Unsurprisingly del Piero made reference to Pele’s pioneering stint in the North American Soccer League with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s when explaining his move to Sydney and the A-League.
“I’m old, but not enough to remember what it was like for Pele at the Cosmos,” del Piero said.
“I know what happened to him in the USA, but we are from different eras. There are similarities; there is the desire to create something unique.
“I’m coming to Sydney to score and to win and I’m hoping that Australian football, with my help, can grow. I’ve got the desire and determination to help the sport grow, that’s a big drive for me.”
So it’s to Australia, where del Piero will find a young league that can be left with a permanent imprint from his presence and a country that offers an attractive lifestyle with a strong Italian community to make him feel at home.
A-League clubs trying to entice international players to Australia need to sell the lifestyle offered by the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, in addition to the legacy aspect and a league not as strenuous as in Europe but no less competitive.
Del Piero’s signing will see crowds rise and media attention increase, at a time when Melbourne and Sydney now have derbies, the technical standard of the league is noticeably rising, and it’s building its own history and connection with its fan-base.
As Sydney FC found out when Yorke left, the presence of a big name marquee is no guarantee of long-term benefit. But Del Piero’s arrival is a chance to reach a new demographic and embed the club in the hearts and minds of a whole new generation and market.
In the short-term, this is the huge boon the A-League has been waiting for.
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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