With Brendan Hamill joining Eli Babalj and quite possibly Curtis Good on the way out of Melbourne Heart, it’s starting to look like a fire sale is taking place inside the club’s La Trobe University training base. But, it is not.
Instead the Heart’s board and football department are showing the way forward to a viable future for the A-League.
First of all, acknowledgement should be given to the Heart who, upon receiving their license, filled a gap in the A-League with a model that has managed reasonable growth on the back of developing exciting young footballers.
Most importantly of all, in the harsh financial climate that is Australian football, the Heart is now closing the gap in their stated goal to break even.
While I’m certain few members of the club’s Yarraside supporters group are delighted by the news of promising players leaving for pastures far away, they should be pleased by what it means for the club’s long term future – it now has every chance of still existing in five years time.
The Heart’s departing players were strong contributors to a maiden finals appearance, but none dominated the A-League’s ranks. They leave to journey down a well-worn path from Australia to abroad and others will replace them before also heading off themselves.
In selling these players, and remember a deal was close to happening this time last for Michael Marrone, the Heart have shown investing in Australia’s youth is a viable way to prop up the A-League’s finances.
Concerns of the effect such a policy will have on the standard of Australia’s premier domestic football competition should be dampened also.
The Heart exits add to a fresh wave of departures and Central Coast Mariners stalwart Alex Wilkinson looks set to be the latest as he trials at K-League side Jeonbuk Motors. This is being seen as a sad sign of the A-League’s state, but I completely disagree.
Wilkinson is a great bloke who has served his club well, but as a footballer he can be replaced – even if his experience and identity as the heart of this club can’t.
The departure of a strong, tall and physical centre back with limited skills on the ball is no disaster, Australia produces dozens of them.
Instead it’s great news A-League clubs can even make money by selling such players.
On the day after the Japanese Under-19 side highlighted the continuing gap between our nations on the pitch with a 5-0 defeat of the Young Socceroos, A-League fans should allow themselves a melancholy smile about the domestic game’s future.