There’s been more entertainment in the 20 A-League games since the restart than the preceding six months, but it all counts for nothing unless football somehow finds a way to unite.
How about a hand for Alessandro Diamanti?
If he’d scored his two goals on Friday night in Europe – say for a gritty club from Madrid’s industrial suburbs like Getafe – we’d be smashing the rewind button on YouTube and waxing lyrical about him in the comments section of a Sid Lowe column for The Guardian.
But because this is the A-League, and the majority of those who call themselves ‘football fans’ in Australia refuse to watch the sport when it’s played in their own backyard, Diamanti’s masterclass in Western United’s 5-3 win over Western Sydney passed by largely unremarked.
Sure, it was nice to see the usual crew applaud his dink-led demolition on Twitter, and Lucas Gillard’s live blog for The Roar must have been fun to write.
But there’s no thread dedicated to the Italian maestro on the front page of A-League reddit, and the moribund FourFourTwo forums are seemingly dead in the water.
Perhaps that’s for the best. Since the default setting in Oz football now seems to be to complain solely about the game’s administration rather than discuss any action on the pitch, maybe Diamanti’s skills are best left appreciated by the hardy few still actually tuning in.
But it’s hard not to wonder what David Gallop made of Diamanti’s contribution in Kogarah on Friday night.
Call it a hunch, but I reckon right about the time the Italian was lobbing Tristan Prendergast for the first time, the former Football Federation Australia chief executive was probably sat in front of a big-screen TV sipping a nice glass of red and applauding as Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds dived to ground a grubber kick in Homebush.
That’s been one of the A-League’s biggest problems for years. The running of the game has been outsourced to people who don’t really care about football.
That’s probably why we’re seeing Diamanti three years after he was first wanted by an A-League club – and the fact we’re seeing him at all in the midst of this pandemic is testament to his character.
Diamanti could have joined the likes of Ola Toivonen or Western United teammate Panagiotis Kone in grabbing the first flight back to Europe, but instead the excitable Italian has stuck around to add to his one-man highlight reel.
And if Western United squeak into the finals – and contrary to the narrative that wants to portray every single element of the nascent club as an abject failure – they should be lauded for adding some much-needed colour to a competition that had turned stale.
Those of us who tune in regularly don’t need reminding of how repetitive the league had become, because we’ve watched the same fixtures week in and week out for years.
That’s one reason this jam-packed run to the finals has proved so exciting: not only have near-nightly games played in cool winter temperatures kept us on the hook, but the mixture of flashy veterans like Diamanti mixing it with a host of unproven youngsters means it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.
But that still won’t be enough for the army of critics who wrote off the A-League long ago, and much more needs to be done to get professional football back on track in this country.
We need a viable pathway for a second division and a plan to bring fans who’ve been alienated back into the fold.
And the game needs to stop eating its own.
It’s bad enough when football gets attacked by the mainstream, but it’s even more ridiculous to see things like a couple of Football Queensland board members sue Bonita Mersiades for writing an editorial.
There’s too much to like about the A-League to focus only on the negatives. Just ask Diamanti.