Geelong has always been a football city. On Saturday, fans from the city in Victoria’s south can see one of the most skilful players of his generation go around.
Alessandro Diamanti is the sort of player genuine football fans should pay good money to go watch in person.
He’ll win the Johnny Warren Medal as the A-League’s best player at a canter if he maintains his Round 1 form, and he’ll inspire Western United to more wins than defeats with his dynamic attacking play.
He’s precisely the sort of foreign import the A-League needs and he’s already laid down a marker to the likes of Diego Castro, Ola Toivonen and Adam Le Fondre.
Think I’m exaggerating? That’s your problem.
But it’s also the A-League’s problem, because one of the biggest issues the competition faces is the perception it’s lacking in quality.
It’s a myth perpetuated by an army of zombies in the comment section of every social media post ever conceived about the A-League these days.
“The A-League is so boring,” someone who hasn’t watched a minute’s worth of action since Gold Coast United last kicked a ball in anger will write.
“You couldn’t pay me to watch it,” will be the next ten or twenty replies.
And heaven forbid if you try to disabuse some of these fans of such notions, or attempt to persuade anyone online to employ even a shred of critical analysis.
I should know. I make the kids on Reddit so angry by trying to explain some of the ideas in my own writing, I’d be better off changing my username to Mr Snrub.
But it’s not going to be writers like me who convince stay-away fans to return to A-League venues, but rather players like the mercurial Diamanti.
It’s not like we shouldn’t already be familiar with the enigmatic playmaker.
He destroyed Melbourne Victory playing for Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League five years ago, prompting Victory to try and sign the Italian.
And it’s to Lou Sticca’s and Western United’s credit that they’ve managed to land such an exhilarating attacking talent this time around.
The goal now has to be to get fans through the gates to watch him play.
But before we all start ripping Western United to shreds for their ticket sales or connection to the local community, it’s worth remembering a thing or two about the A-League’s other most recent expansion club.
Western Sydney Wanderers kicked off their A-League existence in front of just over 10,000 fans at Parramatta Stadium in October 2012, then hosted Sydney FC in a sold-out derby a fortnight later.
They then failed to crack another five-figure crowd until the New Year, and drew just 6,755 fans to Parramatta Stadium in a December win over Brisbane Roar.
So it’s not like the A-League’s most mythologised club started with huge crowds.
And Western United won’t either, or at least not until fans in Geelong and Ballarat realise the likes of Diamanti and Panagiotis Kone are top-class European talent.
Maybe it would help if they were English, judging by some of the reaction to the news that Wellington Phoenix have just signed one-time Celtic striker Gary Hooper.
Hooper will “destroy” the A-League according to several online commentators, although they were less forthcoming about the fact he only scored 31 goals in 89 games across all competitions for Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.
Despite that Hooper’s signing is a real coup for the Kiwi battlers, as is Western Sydney Wanderers’ addition of the exciting Nicolai Müller.
But Alessandro Diamanti is the best of the lot, in my not-so-humble opinion.
You don’t play 17 games for the Italian national team for nothing, even if Diamanti’s exuberant personality hasn’t always won him universal acclaim.
But don’t take my word for it. Just watch Western United take on Perth Glory on Saturday afternoon and you too will soon find out.