A-League’s marquee rule must be changed for full impact
Italian soccer player Alessandro Del Piero makes his way through a small group of fans following a press conference - Del Piero arrived in Australia yesterday to play for Sydney FC in the A-League.
In recent weeks the signings of Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey, and the potential unveiling of Michael Ballack as a Wanderers player, have reinvigorated the A-League’s marquee rule.
Clubs like Sydney FC and the Jets are now using the rule as it was intended; to help lure big names to Australian football, not just for on-field benefits but also for their off-field impact.
With the exceptions of Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell, in recent years star marquee signings have been lacking. It is only now that some clubs are discovering, and taking advantage of, the various benefits of star marquees.
Many clubs haven’t filled their marquee quota at all, while others are using their marquee slots to pay higher level A-League players such as Archie Thompson and Shane Smeltz outside of the salary cap.
As it stands, of the 20 marquee slots available in the A-League, only 10 are filled. In large part this can be attributed to a lack of funds for many A-League clubs and the limiting of half the slots to Australian players.
Currently, there are a vast range of top quality international players who are free agents and should be targets for clubs with marquee slots to fill.
As well as Ballack and Shinji Ono (although it seems that one of these players will be at the Wanderers within the next week) there are the likes of Juan Roman Riquelme, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Freddie Ljungberg and Owen Hargreaves. Even the notorious Fabio Grosso is available and has expressed interest in playing in Australia.
There are many high-level players who would be willing to play in the A-League, but it seems A-League clubs are reluctant to spend big money, even when half of the league’s marquee slots are available.
So how do we make it a more attractive option for these clubs? What we need is to vary the marquee rule.
Firstly, we should replace the Australian-only marquee slot with a normal slot, open to players from any nation. The intention of this second slot, established by the FFA after the World Cup in 2010, was to encourage older Socceroos to come home to Australia.
Other than the signings of Emerton and Kewell (who has now left anyway) this rule has failed. Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill, two Socceroos who no longer play in Europe, opted for the Middle East and the United States respectively over the A-League, in spite of this new marquee slot.
This season there will be just three Australian marquees in the league, of a possible 10. So clearly an Australian slot hasn’t worked in the way it was intended to; Socceroos aren’t coming to Australia and other Australian players aren’t good enough to justify a marquee wage.
So to make the rule useful to all clubs, and not just three, this slot needs to be replaced by a regular marquee slot available to all nationalities.
The second way to encourage more star marquees in Australia is to introduce a special FFA funding model. The FFA should commit to paying a certain amount each year of a marquee player’s annual wage.
The specific number is unimportant, but to make the rule viable it would have to be in the range of $200,000 to $250,000 per season. With a new TV deal on the horizon (reported to be in the vicinity of $35 million per year), it isn’t hard to see where the funding for this would come from.
Such a rule would make it much more affordable for clubs to spend on marquee players, and, because the FFA would only pay up to clubs with marquees, it would provide an incentive in having such star players.
In the end clubs like the Jets (who are reportedly paying Emile Heskey $700,000 per year) would only pay a couple of hundred thousand each year for their marquee. And clubs that currently don’t fill their full marquee allocation (in fact only three clubs fill both marquee slots) would be much more likely to pursue further stars.
The marquee concept provides a potential range of huge benefits for the league as a whole and for individual clubs.
By opening both marquee slots up to foreigners and Australians, and providing FFA funding to clubs that utilise the rule, we would increase both the number and the quality of star players in the A-League.
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