Hands up if you thought we’d be talking about the A-League three months before the season started. Nah, I didn’t either.
Yet here we are, and all thanks to a crazy story about the Central Coast Mariners negotiating with Usain Bolt to bring the sprint superstar to Gosford for a trial ahead of season 2018-19. Bolt’s representative, Tony Rallis, has said a ‘deal in principle’ has been reached.
Let’s be blunt: from a footballing perspective, it makes as much sense as Juventus sticking new signing Cristiano Ronaldo between the sticks to replace the outgoing Gigi Buffon. The quality of football on display in the A-League is now far superior to the perception of it – and that’s been the case for quite some time.
That in itself is an issue. There aren’t enough people watching the competition, whether at the ground or on TV. For all the exquisite skills the likes of Milos Ninkovic, Leroy George, Diego Costa and Adrian Mierzejewski have contributed, they haven’t brought the much sought-after bums on seats with them.
Average A-League crowds haven’t risen since the 2013-14 season, a year after the much-publicised arrivals of Alessandro Del Piero, Shinji Ono and Emile Heskey. TV ratings slumped last year.
Expansion – if done correctly – will help alleviate some of those woes. The competition is in drastic need of freshening up, and a couple of new teams will do just that, even if introducing more sides – say, four – would be preferable.
That only goes so far to solving the problems, though.
Much as football fans tend to turn their noses up at them, what the A-League needs is casual fans giving the sport their patronage. They’re not purists or aficionados. They probably couldn’t tell you when that photo of Tony Vidmar in Montevideo was taken, nor would they be able to identify Charlie Yankos, Alex Tobin or Damian Mori.
But their dollars are worth just as much as anyone else’s. Ditto for their eyeballs in regards to TV ratings. Say what you will about his footballing prowess (which, despite training with the likes of Borussia Dortmund, must be pretty much non-existent) Bolt will deliver casual fans to the A-League in droves.
Who’s to say they won’t stick around after seeing the great football on offer? Sure, not every one of them will be signing up for season tickets this year and beyond, but some will be converted into regular A-League fans.
It’s well known that Fox Sports are providing a $3 million marquee fund. Unless that’s spent on big-name players, it’s lost. I’ll happily admit a good chunk of it would be better spent on Keisuke Honda, who is reportedly back in the marquee frame for Melbourne Victory, but why not use the rest on signing one of the most recognisable athletes in the world?
If it works out, football in Australia gets a much-needed shot in the arm. If Bolt gets through the trial and then crashes and burns in the competition proper, then we get to witness a truly glorious car crash.
Sounds like a win-win to me.