Marquee mania cannot be a one-time fling

Vince Rugari Columnist

By Vince Rugari, Vince Rugari is a Roar Expert

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    A special fund for special players, can FFA make it happen? And should they? (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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    What a difference six months can make. If you need to pinch yourself, you are forgiven. The A-League has never ever had it this good.

    Back in April, when Nathan Tinkler followed Clive Palmer’s lead and moved to withdraw his support for the Newcastle Jets, we were wondering if there was going to be an A-League at all. 

    Clubs were dropping like flies. There was open, embarrassing warfare between Frank Lowy and the very owners who were keeping his competition afloat.

    And there was nary a proper marquee to speak of.

    That all seems a lifetime ago now, thanks to the charming Alessandro Del Piero and the Sydney FC brains trust who brought him here. And of course, to a lesser extent, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono.

    Crowds are through the roof. Ratings are high. The amount and quality of media coverage is unprecedented. The feeling around the A-League is so warm and gooey it’s even sucked Phil Rothfield in. 

    The football itself is on the up, and to top it off, there are now three fantastic, gripping derbies.

    The truth is, however, that this competition couldn’t afford not to grow. 

    Every last drop has been squeezed out of the current TV deal. With attendances and general interest reaching a plateau in recent years, the problem with the A-League business model was crystal clear.

    And there was zero light at the end of the tunnel.

    Not that we could see, anyway.

    Turns out there was one. Three, in fact – Del Piero, Heskey and Ono. And boy, have they changed everything.

    That’s why it’s fantastic to hear that Football Federation Australia has stopped basking in the club-made glory and is ready to assist teams with marquee ambitions in the future, with a kitty of cash between $500,000 and $1,000,000 set aside for this purpose, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

    If this move is any indication, perhaps – finally – FFA is starting to get it. 

    You really do only get out what you put in. This very real transformation of the perception and popularity of football in Australia simply has to continue.

    Contraction and consolidation may have sounded like a good idea earlier this year to the business heads that knock about in the upper echelons of the federation. 

    But in practice, it would only have submitted further ground to the other sports – cricket, rugby league, Australian rules – that are all a bit more plush with funds and a lot more aggressive with how they spend.

    It is encouraging to see the FFA take Major League Soccer’s lead. Let’s face it, we should be comparing and learning from them at every available opportunity. 

    The similarities between the A-League and its booming American cousin are too obvious to ignore – right down to New Zealand, which must be our Canada.

    Immediately after David Beckham signed for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, the Designated Player Rule was hastily established to allow for other headline acts to follow. It is central to the growth of the MLS.

    The MLS contributes a sum of money – somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000 – if a club is prepared to sign a big-name player.

    That is partly why so many have traced Beckham’s footsteps. Henry, Cahill, Marquez, Keane, the list goes on. It is actively encouraged by the competition.

    This warm embrace of star power is clearly the chief reason why MLS is now, arguably, one of the biggest competitions in world football outside of Europe. 

    When Del Piero first signed for Sydney it was very easy to call his signature the A-League’s Beckham moment. But in this context, we can see exactly why it is true. 

    Heskey and Ono followed Il Pinturicchio. And you can bet that there will be more where that came from, given how the legendary Italian has not only taken Australia by storm, but started paying his own wages in shirt sales and exposure alone.

    Now that the league has woken up to the endless benefits of genuine marquee players, it’s perhaps no longer as silly to dream of Andrea Pirlo directing play for Brisbane Roar, or Frank Lampard driving the Perth Glory midfield, or a 33-year-old Wayne Rooney in an Adelaide shirt.

    And as Del Piero continues to hand Sydney FC an incredible return on their brave investment in him, there is a major lesson to be learned for everyone involved in football – the FFA, the other A-League clubs, the state federations, or anyone with an influence on how the game is run.

    There is no point throwing good money after bad. But if you’re going to throw good money in the right direction, amazing things can happen.

    This has a meaning outside of marquee players. It is a crying shame that there are two communities of football fans, in North Queensland and on the Gold Coast, who have missed out on enjoying the fruits of the Del Piero coup.

    In terms of participation, there are few better states than Queensland. Who knows what could have become of the Fury or United had they been allowed to continue on into this new era of optimism, under new ownership, instead of being used as pawns for the World Cup bid or as a sacrifice for the incoming broadcast rights deal.

    What’s done is done. But Australian football should never feel like it needs to go back into its shell again.

    Now that the Del Piero era has got the ball rolling, the A-League has to kick on.

    Vince Rugari
    Vince Rugari

    Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press

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    The Crowd Says (64)

    • October 23rd 2012 @ 3:39am
      Johnno said | October 23rd 2012 @ 3:39am | ! Report

      I love the cultural difference between the A-league’s attitudes to foreign imports and australian rugby. The A-league embraces many more imports per team than aussy super rugby teams. And the 5 imports per team policy is helping the A-league as shown by Del Peiro. It is helping aussy soccer all these imports and helping the national team, the balance is right. Soccer people love all these foreign imports in our A-league soccer. Where as many rugby people sadly in OZ, are funny about more imports.
      A few who believe in more protectionism like Grahame Arnold, which to be honest i find quite amusing when his club central coast have benifited from a lot of good imports over the years. But all in all soccer fans here are not into protectionism as a business model, nor is the NRL, and nBL basketball. And both the soccer’s, and the aussy rugby league haven’t been impacted by many imports in our local comps. I wish aussy rugby could share the A-leagues vision on foriegin imports. Fans just want to see the best players in the world, foreigin or local and will not pay to watch locals just based on being local, and the A-league fans i talk too don;t even care if any locals were in the league just want to see the best and they like the EPL business model of unlimited imports. It wouldn’t bother me either if the A-league went that route as aussy soccer would get to see the absolute best players that club could afford. But 5 is fine but id have no issues if the imports rule was brought up to 10 per squad or 8. It would still help the soccer’s as all the money from higher tv ratings $$$ could fund a 2nd division and state leagues. A-league should always be about quality, put local quotas in fro development comps eg state leagues or a 2nd division but like the EPL or spanish or itlalian football the premier league or 1st division should just be about player quality, not ever having a mickey mouse development feel to it. Like the EPL which is unlimited foreigners now and it has helped not hurt english football as , they have been able to fund development divisions eg 2nd ,3rd, and 4th division. Imagine if each club was allowed 3 foreign marquees outside the salary cap. 3 Del Pieros per team.

      • October 23rd 2012 @ 9:04am
        cruyff turn said | October 23rd 2012 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        Totally disagree with your comments regarding foreign imports, Johnno. Five is more than enough.

        I’d hate to see the A-League become like the EPL, whereby many of the clubs have a dearth of English players in their starting line-ups. This in turn affects the quality of the English national team. Besides, the thing I like most about our league is seeing young up-and-comers take their first steps in professional football – watching Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Terry Antonis and the like. Boys like these need to be playing in the best competition possible, and I feel their progress will be stunted if they’re cast aside to make way for foreigners. In no way should local development be compromised.

        If anything, Graham Arnold should be commended for his stance on imports. What he advocates is that good local players should be given priority over imports of the same ability, or as we have often seen, imports of lesser ability. Yes, he has used some overseas players, but these guys, like Patrick Zwaanszwijk, have been great value. Basically, the imports need to bring something which the local players don’t have.

        • October 23rd 2012 @ 9:57am
          fadida said | October 23rd 2012 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          5 is plenty. What you don’t want are the promising locals missing out on games behind imports who are no better eg Hersi, Kresinger
          I agree that it’s watching the emergence of obvious talents eg Mooy, Rogic, Ryan, Goodwin that really excites

          Great that FFA will help fund marquees. Hopefully they will have a criteria in place to stop pseudo-marquees being brought in above the cap

          • October 23rd 2012 @ 10:52am
            whiskeymac said | October 23rd 2012 @ 10:52am | ! Report

            second that – there have been many wasted dollars on foreign players with questionable input – the early fad for brazilians springs to mind – but there have been good players like cassio, broich, hernandez which have increased the HALs quality. Quality players can teach and add much needed experience to the comp and development of players.
            What i wld hate to see is the youth policy of some clubs (and the FFA re NYL) sacrificed in the renewed interest of marquee-ism.

          • October 23rd 2012 @ 1:06pm
            Chuck said | October 23rd 2012 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

            Goodwin and Virgili are shining much brighter thanks to the presence of Heskey actually being able to convert good wing play…it is an absolute 100% win for the game (and only look back to all night Dwight for the previous high point of the A League)

          • October 23rd 2012 @ 2:53pm
            Kasey said | October 23rd 2012 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

            the number 5 is important.
            As soon as the new TV deal is in play and the clubs have a tiny bit more money, they need to look at extending the subs bench to 5.

            That’s one more (Aussie?) youngster who gets to suit up on game day and is a chance to come on for a late cameo.
            On that note, whatever illness it is that is keeping Teeboy Kamara away from football I hope it is transitory and we’ll soon see him back in an Adelaide United kit.

      • October 23rd 2012 @ 12:46pm
        Neil said | October 23rd 2012 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        The Asian Champions League defines you can only have a 4 foreign import rule, so 5 is more than enough for the local competition because you need well trained Australians to play with them.

    • October 23rd 2012 @ 9:15am
      striker said | October 23rd 2012 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      I think you need to bring in the superstars to the league as they bring the X Factor our boys can’t bring to the league, i can see more big names coming here especilly as Australia is a country most people in the world would love to come too more than the US. i reckon next season it would be great to see more big names come to the league which would bring not only bring up the standard but even more crowds to the games.

    • October 23rd 2012 @ 9:37am
      Towser said | October 23rd 2012 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      Its a no brainer,bring in the right marquees you see the result. Said this from the beginning,but being fair the timing is better today as the general standard of play surrounding the marquee is higher.
      Therefore more chance of uncommitted fans returning to support the club.
      Australian football history is one of fans(whatever the background)following big Overseas leagues,therefore their Star players.
      We can never reproduce those Star Overseas players in the A-league,but we can import them into Australia & should continue to do so.

    • October 23rd 2012 @ 9:50am
      striker said | October 23rd 2012 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      Towser most football fans here support overseas clubs so bringing these big names will get people connected to a club here and hopefully for the long term.

    • October 23rd 2012 @ 10:46am
      nordster said | October 23rd 2012 @ 10:46am | ! Report

      The idea of a marquee type player (ie big name) is fab…but is limited under our salary cap/floor system. It is on a practical level just a cap exempt player.

      Over time …unless we are to be a forced equality, franchise league forever…they will need to release the shackles and allow clubs to set their own wage spend limits based on individual clubs level of terrace and boardroom support.

      So eventually the need for a hard “marquee system” should be replaced by a more flexible and sustainable open system where each club can make marquee in spirit signings…ie big names…sydney fc are already leaning this way at board level. See a recent piece with Barlow in the fin review.

      Expect all clubs that evolve beyond the bottom and mid tier clubs to want the same. The key is to allow them to grow to their naturally sustainable level…and yes, let some smaller clubs contract and redirect some wage spend to youth development. All part of the rich fabric of football leagues everywhere…small clubs to super clubs…nothin to be afraid of australia, even if it cuts against the afl/nrl cabal orthodoxy 🙂

      • October 23rd 2012 @ 10:53am
        whiskeymac said | October 23rd 2012 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        gordon gecko-ing again nordster? =)

      • Roar Guru

        October 23rd 2012 @ 4:26pm
        langou said | October 23rd 2012 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

        Nodrster

        I enjoy reading your comments and think you articulate your arguments well but I can’t help but think you are too caught up with the idea that all the A-League needs to do is replicate what happens in Europe . No final series, no salary cap ect.. Knowing your local market and adapting your product to suit that market is important to any organisation.

        • October 23rd 2012 @ 6:41pm
          nordster said | October 23rd 2012 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

          Personally i think we are too focused on replicating the rugby codes and aussie rules myself…goes both ways. Sometimes we can lose the great things about international club leagues when becoming local for the sake of local. Forgetting of course that many ‘locals’ here love the open aspect of leagues around the world.

          And whiskey i am more Rothbard, Mises or Schiff than Gecko….tho i do enjoy Oliver Stone 🙂

          • October 24th 2012 @ 10:10am
            Kasey said | October 24th 2012 @ 10:10am | ! Report

            I have to follow Iangou’s lead here. There is no one size fits all way to build a football league. South America has Aputera and Clausera. Here in Australia we have seen clubs spend themselves into oblivion trying to buy their way to success. The HAL was set up with strict structure in place to guarantee clubs couldn’t do it again. Here in Australia, thanks to the equalisation efforts of the other sports we are conditioned to expect that our teams should within a reasonable amount of time and with improved practices be able to challenge for silverware. Football could not survive at the professional level with a market free for all.
            If MBV and SFC were to become the Real Madrid and Barca of Australia, interest in our domestic league would dry up. Why would I as an Adelaide United fan buy a season ticket to watch my team chase honourable draws/pinch a win at home playing park-the-bus counter-attacking football? The better football adapts to our local market the more successful it will be.

            • October 24th 2012 @ 4:06pm
              nordster said | October 24th 2012 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

              Conditioned is a good word for it…the anti-dog-eat-dog a-league 😉
              Equalization of Opportunity Bill and all!
              I like my sport more of a pure competition…do not understand the fascination with forced equalisation in sport, at least not now having experienced what is elsewhere in football globally. For all its faults…colour me unconditioned…

    • October 23rd 2012 @ 11:02am
      whiskeymac said | October 23rd 2012 @ 11:02am | ! Report

      hundreds of players out there, only a few with memorable names. ADP (and before hand Yorke, Juninho and Fowler IMO) were coups… but getting the right players for the right wage and having them perform is a big ask, especially when at their respective ages injuries are more common (Juninho, Carbone). It doesn’t help that the MLS and China and Middle East can offer more money. It is why ADP is such an impressive signing but I wld still think it prudent for some clubs to still target the Broich, Flores players to augment their teams.

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