Mantra for Del Piero should be prudence and patience
Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero. AP Photo/Massimo Pinca
The “A” in A-League has often stood for austerity in recent times, as clubs bleed financially, hoping the pending TV deal will at least give them some oxygen.
But the signing of Italian great Alessandro Del Piero by Sydney FC represents perhaps the greatest opportunity to fast-track the growth of the domestic competition.
But those charged with driving the Del Piero ‘project’ over the next two seasons mustn’t just focus on milking it financially.
This shouldn’t be seen as a two year project, but as part of a 10 to 20 year cycle, leaving a lasting and sustainable effect that will help the code go from strength to strength over the coming years and decades.
While it’s undoubtedly the greatest coup in the competition’s short history, its impact should be judged in a decade or so, and on how effectively those in charge use the opportunity.
It might be tempting and look good on someone’s CV, but focussing on the short-term bottom-line would be a recipe for disaster.
Anyone thinking of flogging Del Piero and making the punters part with every last cent should be pulled aside and given a good punt up the backside.
What the game needs above all else is shrewd forward thinking, recognition that Del Piero’s signing is just the beginning of a strategy that will give football its chance to progress.
In many ways, that process started 12 months ago with the capture of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton.
As I suggested at the time, their arrival would send the A-League on the way up the mountain, but it was something that needed to be built on, year on year.
Del Piero is that opportunity, and more. But he mustn’t be seen as the be-all-and-end-all.
What needs to be preached here are the virtues of building through prudence and patience. And planning.
By all means, Del Piero needs to be front and centre, used to promote the code and club, and give the A-League the credibility it craves throughout Australia and the world.
But primarily there needs to be a realisation, an acceptance, that the sell remains in proportion to the product.
The competition has made giant technical strides in the past few years, especially since the arrival of the likes of Carlos Hernandez and Jason Culina, followed by Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha, but it is still very much a developing and development league.
‘Consumers’, as they are often referred to these days, can smell an over-sell from miles away, and the administrators at both Sydney FC and the FFA must be sure to keep the fans and accessibility foremost in their minds.
After all, the game competes with so many other forms of ‘entertainment’, especially in a city like Sydney, with its weather and crowded social calendar over the summer months.
Australian football fans have long memories, and many will remember the significant hikes in Sydney FC’s ticket prices between the end of the season one and the start of season two, when Frank Lowy decided his club needed to stop the bleeding.
Combined with the signing of Terry Butcher and the dour football he brought with him, the punters began to stay away as the bling and buzz were replaced by bland.
Others might point to what I would call the over-commercialisation of the Socceroos post their exploits in Germany 2006. Soon enough they were relegated from their lofty position as the hottest ticket in town.
Perhaps the administrators at the time were guilty of biting off a bit more than they could chew.
Hindsight remains a wonderful thing.
Here a couple of fresh administrators in Tony Pignata and Scott Barlow get an opportunity to show they have analysed and learnt from the mistakes of others in the past.
They must think about this as a long-term project. Yes, Del Piero is only here for two or three seasons but, in five or 10 years’ time, the hope is that the A-League might be in a position where this type of signing becomes part of the landscape.
As one regular reader put it so well to me in an email yesterday,
“If Del Piero comes away from this experience with a ton of positives, the word around the camp fire will be that this is a good place to come and play football, with the ultimate aim that these legends will be younger and younger as they head out here.”
What appears apparent from the early Del Piero offerings is that the likes of Pignata, Barlow, David Traktovenko and Lou Sticca have captured a man who is clearly up for the challenge, a class act on and off the pitch.
Provided everyone is on the same page, working in collaboration to a long-term plan, as Del Piero described it, then this project has every chance of elevating the A-League and the code further and faster up the mountain.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA