Del Piero, Heskey and Ono just the beginning

shane Roar Guru

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    England's Emile Heskey. AP Photo/Tom Hevezi

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    Championship-winning coach Graham Arnold believes there are too many foreign players in the A-League, warning their prevalence is hurting the Socceroos.

    Admittedly it has a slight impact, but it’s only one of many bigger components that need ongoing management.

    From the costs of playing at the grassroots level through to our previous and current national coaches who have had very little impact in the running Australian football from the ground up, the question of too many foreigners gets lost somewhere in between.

    Arnold isn’t the first and sure as well won’t be the last to fuel this particular debate; a debate that rages on in many leagues around the globe; and a debate that brings even the most patriotic footballer to their knees.

    Patriotism is one thing though, nativity is another.

    We, the game, have to be humble and realistic enough to recognise and embrace those overseas influences that will benefit football in Australia, integrating such qualities with our existing strengths in order to enhance our own identity.

    Sure, early on you could argue that A-League clubs were importing low-level, poor imports – those players who are no better (or in some cases a lot worse) than the local players they replaced. A quantity rather than quality approach.

    Those low-level purchases will always be queried and no doubt they could harm football in Australia if not properly managed.

    Now, on the back off arguably the best season since its inception, the A-League is slowly getting to a place of quality rather than quantity. A good mix of local youth and class foreigners. The game is not there yet though. There’s still a way to go before the argument of too many foreigners has any credibility.

    For months, instead of indulging in a social life like the majority of people my age, I undertook what quickly developed as my Saturday ritual, A-League followed by more A-League. I suspect that I’m not the only one.

    Obviously the acquisitions of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono have been massive draw cards for supporters. However, these guys are developers of talent as much as they are players.

    You only have to watch a few of the games to see how their prowess and heightened skill levels rubbed off on teammates and opponents alike, improving the overall class of the competition as a result.

    It’s quite simple really. The more quality the A-League attracts, the more our young players can learn. Playing alongside or against the best can only make you better.

    The ongoing challenge for any competition around the world influenced by the brilliance of imports is to ensure they also develop and retain individual strengths that will distinguish them from the rest.

    In saying that, like in many walks of life, balance is the key.

    At this point in time, there is only one conclusion. There are not enough top-class foreigners in our league. The likes of Ono and Del Piero and co will always be a welcome addition.

    Bring on the 2013/14 A-League season!

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