Feature

International Champions Cup still requires fine-tuning

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The International Champions Cup is back on this week - and it’s fantastic to see an A-League team involved.

While there’s an obvious financial benefit to having Melbourne Victory participate - a significant supporter base and zero travel costs - it does give the tournament real local interest.

We love to see our teams, in all sports, go up against the world’s best. In football, it’s such a rarity that we should cherish these moments to test ourselves.

Though they’re only friendlies, the A-League clubs rarely go in half-heartedly. Collectively, they want to prove they’re more than just a sideshow. Individually, shine and you might be spotted by an overseas club.

In turn, that lifts the opponent. Sydney FC’s friendlies with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea last season were serious battles. I have distinct memories of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Harry Kane playing much harder than I anticipated.

And I think most people went home happy from the first ICC, staged in Melbourne a few months later. It was hard not to be: Real Madrid, Manchester City and AS Roma brought out all their big guns. Nearly 250,000 came to see the three matches.

This year, we’ve got Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, three of Europe’s most in-form sides. Exciting stuff.

Except, Juventus, who play Melbourne Victory in the tournament’s opening game on Saturday night, probably need an asterisk next to their name.

Unfortunately, 13 of their best players - including Paul Pogba, Sami Khedira, Mario Mandzukic, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Simone Zaza, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Claudio Marchisio - won’t be making the trip. All of them have just played at the European Championships, except Marchisio - who's still recovering from a cruciate ligament injury.

It’s understandable, as those players must be exhausted. But what a let down. I was especially looking forward to seeing the “BBC” defence in action, and an all-time great in Buffon behind them.

I’m still excited to see Paulo Dybala, a player I’ve followed since his meteoric teenage rise at Instituto. My consolation is that while Juve banned him from the Olympics, they’ve at least brought him to Melbourne.

This is a tournament that has a great deal of potential. It’s also brought a slew of top international sides to Australia, so it’s definitely something to get behind and looks as though it’s here to stay.

But the timing issue must be resolved. It was always going to be a problem holding these matches right after the Euros, so perhaps there were better options.

We definitely want clubs of this calibre touring, but we also want their best players.

I’d love to see more South American clubs but the Copa Libertadores rules out the sides who would pull a crowd here, and we already have exposure to Asian clubs through the Champions League.

And Australian sports fans aren’t as easy to please as we like to think.

Whereas we used to go gaga over the visit of anyone, if you’re going to get us off the sofa, we only want premium clubs and top players.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a problem every second year, when the big players head off to World Cups and European Championships. Even worse, there’s no easy solution.

When Juventus came out in 2014, they played the A-League All-Stars on 10 August, and brought all their guns. In a World Cup year, the extra three weeks made all the difference.

The date change is the best solution, but the ICC has designated matches in China and Australia - the furthest markets from Europe - get played as early as possible (this year between 23 and 29 July).

I’m sure the promoters will gain compensation for so many players being left behind but I know the ticket prices won’t drop. I feel for those who’ve already paid up.

The other option is looking for canny alternatives: Ajax, Celtic, Red Star Belgrade and Olympiakos hail from nations that didn’t make the Euros, have major followings in Australia, and could have brought their biggest stars.

But whether these clubs have the raw, mainstream appeal of last year’s clubs is debatable. Maybe Celtic. For the others, it's AAMI Park, not the MCG or Etihad Stadium.

Either way, the days of watered down friendlies won’t cut it any longer.