Mark Bridge has warned expectant Sydney FC supporters to be wary of expecting instant gratification from the arrival of Italian World Cup legend Alessandro Del Piero.
The former Sky Blues striker, who in June switched to newborn crosstown rival Sydney Wanderers, is as pleased to see the former Juventus talisman bring his charisma and class to the A-League as any supporter.
But he cautions: “If you look at the teams that have been successful in the A-League over the last couple of years in the likes of Brisbane Roar and Central Coast, you can see that having a big-money marquee player is not the be all and end all.
“It’s great for crowds to get somebody of the calibre of a Del Piero or a Harry Kewell in your squad, but that’s not a guarantee of success on the field.
“I feel the measurement of success in the signing of Del Piero will be from a crowd point of view, with memberships, corporate boxes and the like.
“That’s great for Sydney and I am sure every game he plays in the crowds will be up. That’s what the league needs.
“As for on the field, that’s different but I am sure it won’t exactly be hard for Sydney to fit a player of his standing and experience into its line-up.
“He’s still a massive talent and will be able to go out there and put on a show. We all know he’s not coming for a holiday.
“Even last year he played 20-odd games in Serie A and scored five goals, so he’s obviously still in top nick at the age of 37.”
Bridge doesn’t believe the hoopla surrounding the arrival of Del Piero on a two-season $4 million deal will lure would-be followers away from the Sky Blues’ fledgling rival, insisting: “We’ve had crowds of 3000 and 4000 against State league opposition, so I am hoping that while Sydney will have great crowds it won't take away from ours.
“As long as we are playing good football and winning games, I am sure the crowds will be there for us.
”Right now, it’s business as usual. We have 17 players in our squad and we are still getting to know each other, working on combinations and we’re getting there.
“The players are gelling and fitting in with each other and I think we can surprise a few people this season.”
The Wanderers, which lost to Melbourne Heart on penalties on its most recent hit-out after the game had finished scoreless, play Sydney State league side Melita Eagles on Sunday night at Parramatta Stadium.
“All the clubs in the A-League are desperate for success, whether you have a marquee or not,” he added.
“The signing of Del Piero isn’t just good news for Sydney FC … it’s massive for the entire league.
“It’s bringing a lot more awareness to our game, which is great thing.
”It’s not often that football in Australia takes attention away from AFL and NRL coming into their finals series.”
The delivery of Del Piero by his former club invokes no pangs of regret in Bridge, who said: “I didn’t leave for any other reason than I thought my game was lacking and I needed a fresh start, a kick up the backside if you like.
“I couldn’t be happier, I am feeling sharp and doing well fitness-wise and the team is looking good also, so hopefully there is a big season ahead of us.
”There’s plenty of improvement needed but we’ll be ready for the start of the season against Central Coast (at Parramatta Stadium on 6 October).
“We’ve recruited well in terms of our foreign imports and young Aaron Mooy is a good capture for us also.”
Bridge, who has won A-League championships with Newcastle Jets and Sydney, is his own harshest critic, insisting his form wasn’t up to scratch in the past two seasons as the goals that accompanied his silky build-up play became a rarity.
“The last couple of years have been very disappointing for me from personal point of view,” he admitted.
“Taking away from the injuries, the football performances just haven’t been there. Simple as that.
“Whether it’s a concentration thing or a professionalism thing … they just weren’t there.
“I think I have fixed what was lacking. I have scored three goals in five friendlies and I need to take that sort of form into the season.”
Goalkeeper Mat Ryan, defender Pedj Bojic and midfielder Oliver Bozanic look to have played their last games for Central Coast Mariners as the A-League champion faces a raft of departures.