With Alessandro Del Piero having been the birth of it, Emile Heskey being swept in by it, and maybe Michael Ballack the final gust that completes it, a perfect storm is blowing through the A-League.
If the Kewell factor was a large cause of the league’s crowds and television ratings spurting up last season – and I believe it was – it makes one wonder what those three might do to them in the coming campaign.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that only a few months ago the marquee player concept was being poo-pooed in some quarters of club officialdom, apparently abandoned in the name of financial belt-tightening.
It doesn’t work, was the claim. There’s no evidence it grows the audience or the brand, suggested the sceptics, ignoring the fact that the concept had been roundly abused when clubs labelled as marquees some players most of us wouldn’t cross a dirt track to watch.
Truth is Dwight Yorke generated numbers, as did Robbie Fowler, and Harry Kewell, and even Juninho until brutal tackling sent his entertaining skills to the infirmary. Even poor old Jardel did, until he got found out.
Those involved in the Del Piero coup – who effectively rescued the marquee player thing as a plausible thesis – actually understood the spirit of the rule. They were bold, unafraid, visionary and had the balls to invest.
Sure, the jury is still out on whether Alessandro will put bums on seats. He hasn’t played a game yet. But I have no doubt. He will cause a tumult, surely, and we can only hope it will last, provided the men with the whistle protect him from the enforcers who no doubt will be out there trying to make names for themselves.
The same can be applied to Heskey and – if he comes – Michael Ballack. You don’t have to have twenty twenty vision to see what these names have already generated in the media, on the social networks and around the water cooler.
Yet the mention of these names as A-League recruits has generated a good dose of negativism, also. This is, again, interesting.
The negative response to the signing, or even the courting, of these players is rooted in the presupposition that little, colonial, backwater Australia has not the credentials to attract them. This is such almighty bull that it barely warrants a breath of a comment.
The technical standard of the A-League is much higher than most give it credit for and the attendances – and therefore the atmosphere – on a global scale is above the average. And if marquee financial outlays are available, why wouldn’t genuine marquee names come here?
Then there are the lifestyle factors. Australia has a high standard of living, offers a good quality of life, has a great climate, and is a true secular democracy with a stable economy. Most available marquee players, of the ADP variety, are in their thirties with young children and find Australia a perfect place in which to raise them.
These things are not on offer everywhere where big cheques are being waved about to attract star players looking for a last payday. Sometimes it’s not just the money.
The reports – as I write – that Michael Ballack wants to come are accurate. We have this from a number of inside sources, both in Sydney and in Germany. From what we know the ball is in the court of the Western Sydney Wanderers and, its owner, Football Federation Australia, as to whether he comes or not.
Our understanding is that Ballack’s wage demands are reasonable and that he’s happy to come on a one year deal with another year’s option. We know, too, that Ballack has rejected all other offers, including two from the Middle East and a number from clubs in Europe. His choice is Australia.
It’s difficult to fathom why WSW is dithering.
If Sydney FC has landed a big fish with Del Piero, here’s the Wanderers’ golden chance to balance the market ledger and land their own whopper. Ballack is a class act, a globally recognised star, a former long-term captain of Germany and probably the best player that country has produced since Lothar Matthaus.
He is also a born leader, something the fledgling WSW team might need as it embarks into the unseen and the unknown.
But most importantly he would act as a source of pride for the western Sydney community the club is so desperate to court and woo. I say it again, the fans of western Sydney will not accept blue-collar football and blue-collar names, especially in the face of the bling identity that has been re-assumed by their rival in the city’s east with the snaring of ADP.
The fans of the Wanderers, or potential fans, will not accept some kind of sleeves-rolled-up, callous-palmed mediocrity, minus star names, to represent them in a market so far dominated by their ritzy neighbour across the city.
Should Ballack come, the cry of the Wanderers’ fans will be: ‘You may have your Del Piero. Well, we have our Ballack! Ole, ole, ole etc.’
Here’s the thing. The western Sydney club was created by FFA in order to create a healthy and viable local rivalry in the country’s biggest city and biggest market. Now that Del Piero has been signed by Sydney FC, it has to respond by signing it own celebrity player to give credibility to that rivalry. A lopsided rivalry is no rivalry.
The ball is in the FFA’s court. The clock is ticking and Michael Ballack is waiting.
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