An All-Star tug of war for star A-League players

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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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    In what is turning out to be an intriguing twist to the A-League All-Stars match on July 20, a potentially bitter tug of war is looming of the availability of a number of players. Most significant of these is Alessandro Del Piero.

    As Tom Smithies writes in the Sydney Morning Herald Del Piero’s current club – Sydney FC – are in the business of scheduling a friendly in Japan against Sagan Tosu on July 24.

    A number of top A-League based Australian players being unavailable due to their participation in the EAFF East-Asian Football Federation Cup which will take place from 20-28 July in South Korea.

    This is on top of a number of prominent A-League players no longer being available for selection due to transfers of loan deals, the most prominent of which is young player of the year and Johnny Warren medallist Marco Rojas’s move to the German Bundesliga from Melbourne Victory.

    This raises an intriguing number of issues.

    Many pundits and commentators have lauded the concept (no doubt adapted from the NBA) of a league All-Stars team where they can fantasise about the league’s best players playing alongside each other.

    Unlike the All-Stars game in the NBA where the institution is fairly well respected, the All-Stars concept in an A-League context has yet to determine what its “place” is and command any respect.

    This can obviously be said of the FFA, while there are many factors and third parties such as promoters who play a role in determining the dates of exhibition games, the fact that the FFA have committed Australia and by extension a number of the best A-League players to the East Asian Cup which takes place at the same time is not a good look symbolically even if it is not the FFA’s intention.

    The above example can be considered an innocent mistake given the FFA committed to the tournament before the concept of hosting Manchester United was touted.

    But there is also of course the fact that it appears Sydney FC have quite blatantly organised a pre-season tour of Japan knowing quite full there is an All-Stars game on where there will not only be some desire but an expectation that Del Piero would play.

    Hence the prominent use of Del Piero in the promotion of the match.

    Needless to say if Del Piero doesn’t end up playing it’s a good thing for the FFA that the vast majority of the patrons are going to watch Manchester United as the headline act, otherwise there might be some uncomfortable questions of false advertising.

    What I found intriguing though is the fact that firstly Sydney FC have been as blatant as they have been, but there is even a sense they are willing to dig their heels in over the matter.

    One can understand the positions of both parties, for the FFA who effectively still run and have ownership over the A-League, there is a need to put a respectable face on the All-Stars team.

    Firstly, this is to act as an enticement to other would-be marquee players who may be watching, but secondly a heavy defeat of the so-called “All-Stars” team would significantly diminish the brand and credibility of the league in some watchers eyes.

    In terms of Sydney FC, they have paid a lot of money for Del Piero, and so the owners would want to see a return on that investment.

    Not to mention try and do a bit of profile-building given who their team is associated with (if not necessarily through their position on the table).

    But to do so in such a way as to deliberately upstage the FFA?

    One can argue that with the East Asian Cup the FFA haven’t exactly set a good example and it is no surprise the clubs would follow their lead, not respect the All-Stars concept and be reluctant to release players for the match.

    But unlike the FFA and the East Asian Cup, Sydney FC could have quite easily organised their pre-season tour around the All-Stars game.

    This particular tug-of-war that goes beyond the realms of the usual “club versus country/National body” row and to this author speaks volumes about the underlying relationship between the FFA and many of the clubs.

    Despite what a lot of people in Sydney are terming the “best year yet” of the A-League, a year on from the Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler conflicts, the All-Stars tug of war is a reminder that all is still not rosy between the FFA and the clubs.

    Fans of the A-League should be under no illusion then that the establishment of Joint-Commission may have taken the heat of the tensions, the underlying issues have not yet been resolved.

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