The A-League has never been more watchable
The A-League has carried an undesirable reputation in the past for at times being cringe-worthy and difficult to watch.
The league has suffered from a poor tempo, teams’ inability to retain possession and a lack of quality in key areas.
For example, Australian players have often lacked the presence of mind to play the right ball, deterring some football connoisseurs. Many fans, hungry for some true footballing pedigree, have felt inclined to watch football from the European leagues.
But the Melbourne derby, which also served as the opening game of the season, gave us an indication that the competition has finally turned a corner after eight seasons.
The gradual improvement of the league has resulted in a larger pool of home-grown talent. This talent is now discovered and nurtured more rapidly and effectively.
From within the junior and senior ranks there are more cogent systems in place to recognise and develop the prodigious. As a result, the A-League has become a much more attractive prospect for overseas players.
Every year the quality of player the A-League attracts improves, and this year was no different. The acquisition of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey, Shinji Ono and Richard Garcia has again given us a talented list of footballers who have enjoyed illustrious careers.
These players should prove to be lucrative signings both on and off the field in their debut seasons.
On Friday night, Garcia, a man who was an integral part of Hull City during the club’s tenure in the top-flight of English football from 2008-10, proved his worth in what was a sharp and definitively watchable A-League opener.
Although Garcia’s arrival was overshadowed by the likes of Heskey and Del Piero, the midfielder played a key part in a high quality clash between the Melbourne clubs.
The game featured qualities which are commonly attached to a higher grade of football – qualities that the A-League has been missing since its introduction.
Traditionally, A-League matches which are built up in the same vein as the Melbourne derby have tended to be cautious and anti-climactic on the day.
Coming into the fixture, there was some inevitable scrutiny of these two clubs and the manner in which they have refreshed their squads for season 12/13.
Both clubs boasted new coaches and a series of personnel changes from last season. As a result, some expected this match to either flourish or flop spectacularly.
But, rather refreshingly, and to the relief of the footballing public, the league’s opener managed to live up to its lofty expectations, and perhaps even exceed them in certain areas.
The game was far from a rash, physical affair, unlike past encounters. Friday night’s game was a pulsating, end-to-end tussle of high quality attacking football, the sort of contest that A-League fans have been craving for years.
The match featured characteristics that were either unseen or inconsistently present in seasons past. Players were able to retain the ball for longer periods and pick the right pass, and the tempo was fast and fluid.
But perhaps most crucially, the players displayed greater technical ability than we are used to – more evidence of a term that has become a football cliche in the modern era, namely ‘class’.
Two excellent runs in behind the defence from Marco Rojas and Dylan Macallister, accompanied by sublime deliveries from Mate Duganzic and Archie Thompson, resulted in goals for their respective clubs.
Both were an utter joy to watch, and both signified landmark moments in the league’s history from an aesthetic footballing perspective.
Unlike matches before it, this Melbourne derby has set the tone for not just the weekend ahead but perhaps the rest of the season. It could be the catalyst for a higher grade of football, which has largely eluded fans thus far.
The drastic improvement in the game’s quality has provoked a craving for more; an expectation that this is just the beginning.
If these two clubs can produce a game of such quality from the onset, it’s hard not to ponder what could follow once every club’s squad is match-fit. The league’s potential is undoubtedly exciting.
It may be slightly hasty to hype up the A-League’s ninth season after a solitary game, but the 42,032 fans who flocked to AAMI Park probably drew similar conclusions.
Friday’s encounter gave us an indication that the A-League has transformed from a rudimentary stepping stone, vulnerable to ridicule, to a league which has a real presence and is genuinely on the rise.
The league is more watchable than ever before. The fans must now believe that it was always a worthy project.
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