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Facelift needed for Melbourne Heart to start again

The Central Coast Mariners take on a resurgent Melbourne City. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Expert
23rd January, 2014
110
2961 Reads

Football hipsters of Australia, rejoice. Thanks to the riches of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, there is now at long last a tangible link between the A-League and the MLS.

There was borderline hysteria yesterday as Manchester City and Melbourne Storm completed their left-field buyout of the struggling Melbourne Heart – but make no mistake, it was all pretty well justified.

Not since the moment Alessandro Del Piero held up a Sydney FC shirt for the first time has Australian football experienced such a tidal wave of positive vibes at the one moment.

Should the starry-eyed expectation match with the eventual reality of City’s investment in Melbourne, the A-League’s problem child will finally pull its own weight, and a whole lot more.

The timing of the buyout is convenient for the Peter Sidwell-led ownership ticket, which should be credited for turning an A-League franchise – historically a financial black hole – into an entity sound enough for consideration from the cautious Shiekh Mansour.

However, what it didn’t do right, despite the best of intentions, could fill a book. Or a lengthy pamphlet, at the very least.

Little does it matter now. No doubt the reported multi-million dollar profit will keep them all warm at night. And the club and its fan-base moves forward.

Something had to give with the Heart. But short of seeing the licence sold to South Melbourne, which was never going to happen on the FFA’s watch, it was hard to see how the city’s second club could avoid an eternity as Victory’s disadvantaged little brother.

The City Football Group’s intervention changes everything. And the timing is handy for them too, given the 2015 launch of MLS franchise New York City FC.

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That’s where it gets very interesting. No sooner had the news broke on Thursday that word spread of an application to trademark the name ‘Melbourne City FC’.

Is it right for three years of history to be scrapped at the whim of a new chairman? Usually newcomers fiddling with the identity of an established club are generally seen as reprehensible.

Look at Hull City and Cardiff.

Here, though, it’s obviously different. In Heart’s case, the opportunity to go back to square one with the name, logo, strip and colours is too good to pass up.

Funnily enough, the same fans who stepped in to defend the Heart when it was attacked for a lack of identity are now ready to throw that identity away and start afresh. It’s telling, but really, you can’t blame them.

As soon as the Heart started losing and straying from its supposed core values, the brand became toxic. So why not turf it?

Look elsewhere in the United States and there is enough evidence that you can win relevance and fans – the two things Heart desperately need more of – via an external facelift.

Sporting Kansas City was once known as the Kansas City Wizards, a cartoonish nickname for what was a cartoonish era in the MLS. Not anymore – with a new badge, colours, name and stadium, they look and act like a proper football club.

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LA Galaxy did it. In fact, David Beckham did it all for them, helping to personally redesign their image. The San Jose Earthquakes are about to get a much-needed overhaul too.

Late last year I wrote that there was no incentive for any football fan on the fence in Melbourne to choose Heart over Victory. There wasn’t. Yesterday provided one.

Now is the chance to go all the way. Only difficulty is, shunning red and white for blue will forever link Melbourne to Manchester. It would legitimise the perception that one is a feeder club for another.

That’s a difficult hurdle if, say, you’re one of the unlucky Heart fans who happens to support Manchester United. Or if you think a club should be autonomous and not dependent on another.

But Mansour and his cronies are discerning investors. They know their burgeoning network of clubs must each form a connection to where they are based and not trade solely off the reputation of who owns them.

New York City FC will wear light blue, indicating a desire for this network of clubs to be visually linked. But that’s a difficult balancing act. How much Manchester is too much for Melbourne?

The way NYCFC has been set up is a good pointer to what can be expected. Their full-time club logo is yet to be unveiled but their launch logo screams New York, with its use of Helvetica in an arrangement reminiscent of the NYC subway system.

It reflects an understanding that you can’t just plonk a Manchester City offshoot somewhere and assume it will work.

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In time, with any luck, the City Football Group will soak in what it means to be a football team in Melbourne and project an image that succeeds where the Heart failed.

Their desire to do just that came through loud and clear on Thursday morning. And there will be plenty of keen observers to see where else that drive takes them.

Strap yourself in, Heart fans. You might just like this ride. So may the rest of us.