One small step for Australia, one giant leap for football

William McInnes Roar Pro

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    Alessandro Del Piero feels the pain of a Newcastle Jets challenge in Sydney FC's 2-2 draw in round 19. (Image: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

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    This A-League season has been an incredible success. The introduction of new FFA CEO David Gallop, new team Western Sydney Wanderers and signing of Alessandro Del Piero, has made it one of the most successful and promising in the history of the league.

    With such a great season about to come to an end, people are already starting to view next season with intrigue, hoping that the success will continue.

    With FFA not likely to announce a successful bid for a new team until 2015, it is likely supporters will not see any more teams for at least the next two seasons. This is a sign of strength from the FFA, who have a habit of introducing new teams only to see them flop, losing players and hurting the league’s reputation.

    However, the two most recent introductions, Melbourne Heart and the Western Sydney Wanderers, have been extremely successful despite sharing the support of their cities with Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC respectively.

    Both have had attendances of up to 20,000 this year and the support from Western Sydney fans is unparalleled to any other expansion team. These particular expansions look to be promising enterprises for the development of football in the country.

    Fans

    The 2013-14 season will break new ground. It will feature free-to-air coverage of one live game a week, thanks to a deal with SBS.

    This will change the identity of the A-League completely, getting fans who would normally not be able to passionately support football, behind their teams, creating new fans, or getting more fans to invest in the A-League through ticket sales and merchandise.

    There are already signs that the A-League is growing in fans. This season has seen the most people through the gates since the A-League’s beginnings, pushing over the 1,500,000 mark.

    Whilst this number is rising season after season, the fans are the ones who need to keep coming if the A-League is to be a success.

    Signings

    “Alessandro, Del Piero, is Sydney’s number 10.” At any Sydney FC game you are bound to hear this chant. Safe to say, Del Piero is easily the biggest signing to ever.

    Three years ago he was regarded as one of the best forwards in the world. Plying his trade for Sydney has not only meant huge coverage for Sydney FC but they have also reaped the benefits of his craft.

    Shinji Ono, Western Sydney’s answer to Del Piero, has been another important signing and both have signed on for another season with their respective clubs. Emile Heskey as well has been a fantastic addition for the Newcastle Jets but it will be up to other A-League clubs to make such marquee signings, that not only benefit their teams but also the A-League commercially.

    Football

    A new evolution of football is certainly happening in Australia and the next few years could be crucial.

    2005 saw the inauguration of the A-League. 2006 we qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1974. 2010 we qualified again for the World Cup and since then the profile of Australian football, both domestically and internationally, has grown.

    Australia is playing better football and is able to attract a little more prestige than it would have before. More Australian players are playing for European clubs and the national side is becoming more and more competitive.

    The only thing that could kill the league now is complacency. The A-League is developing quickly and whilst it is highly unlikely it can compete with the European leagues in the next few years, it could certainly move its profile higher within Asia.

    Indeed, the best thing that has ever happened to Australian football is moving it to the Asian Football Confederation. They set themselves a higher target and consequently have thrived, narrowly missing out on the national side winning the AFC Asian Cup in 2011 (which incidentally Australia hosts in 2015).

    Future

    As Australian football develops, the league and national side have to make some goals. For the league, the AFC Champions League is an important test of its football.

    Adelaide United was one of the eight best teams in Asia in 2012, being knocked out in the quarter-finals. They need to set this goal for the future, as a benchmark of Australian league football.

    And once Del Piero decides to hang up the boots, Sydney FC and other A-League clubs alike must stand the test to try and secure another lucrative signature.

    The A-League is sure to be an even more exciting league in the future. Watch this space.

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