Ah, the eve of the sudden death Finals Series. There is no time in an A-League season that I look forward to more.
This season, the finals take on added sentimental value with Western Sydney Wanderers saying goodbye to its prized marquee star, Shinji Ono, and Sydney FC potentially doing the same with Alessandro Del Piero.
The 2013-2014-campaign saw the continuation of three of the biggest draw cards to the domestic competition since its creation– Ono, Del Piero and Emile Heskey.
The arrival of these three created a sensational buzz and a fanfare that rival codes don’t have the pleasure of experiencing. Fans of the international leagues were given more of a reason to attend matches, to switch on the television and to support the game that continues to grow in this country.
Del Piero has been one of the biggest names in sport to hit Australian shores. You only have to think back to the time when the Italian legend’s potential move here was just a far-fetched rumor and people were more likely to see Santa Claus barreling down their chimney.
The big bearded red guy never arrived, but ADP did, along with Ono and Heskey to usher in a new era on the domestic scene. It highlighted the ability of a product, still largely in its infancy, to attract big names and ignite pride within the vastly multicultural football following in the nation.
Sydney FC benefited from a trip to the idyllic Italian town of Jesolo in its pre-season – a feat that was made possible with ADP. And you only have to look ahead to the All Stars fixture against Juventus in August to realise what an individual with global pulling power can do for our football brand.
Behind the scenes, well away from the glossy sentimentality that will resonate through the finals, concerns have been raised that the 2014-2015 season could potentially begin with none of the big-name marquee players.
Craig Foster and Les Murray recently said on Shootout that marquee players are a necessity in a developing league, battling for the hearts and minds of a saturated sport market.
With Ono bound for J.2 club Consadole Sapporo and no word yet on the futures of ADP and Heskey, there are legitimate fears the A-League may be a marquee-free zone next season.
While the implications are grim, keeping our hopes alive and some of our fears at bay, is the Manchester City takeover of Melbourne Heart.
The news that one of the wealthiest clubs, from arguably the biggest league in the world, would invest in the troubled Melbourne side, brings with it great cause for optimism, well beyond the green chairs of AAMI Park.
With links to both the English Premier League and the Major League Soccer in the United States, the ownership will leave a mark more memorable than a 1959 bottle of Penfolds Grange.
Given that we have reached a sense of stability, both financially and structurally for the first time in a long time, a period of stagnation is not an option.
The game must and will capitalise on its new-found financial levity and popularity, not to mention the flow-on effect of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Central to that is attracting players who can carry on the good work started by Del Piero, Ono, Heskey and a smattering of marquee names before them.
The end of this season may very well see us bid adieu to these legends, but what we are equipped with now is the knowledge that we can attract the names to get bums on seats in stadiums and if we could do it then, we can most certainly do it again.
Bring on the finals.