Stars are under no obligation to come home

Source: Getty Images

A hero returning home is not always the dream story that everyone hopes it to be when it comes to football.

If parting is such sweet sorrow then, in football, coming home can also be something of a mixed bag. 

Sooner or later, the question of whether to return before retirement is posed to every big name Socceroo in Europe. Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer didn’t but Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill did.  

The desire for fans, media and clubs to see the stars at home before boots are permanently hung up is understandable. 

Cahill came back in 2016 to Melbourne City.

“To be finally home as international Australian players, it’s good for us, good for our families and great for the game,” he said.  

Staying on the Socceroo scene was part of Cahill’s reasoning. Being under the nose of national team coaches can be useful for players who want to extend their international career as much as possible. Regular game time at home and less travel mean that veterans are more available. 

Football Federation Australia (FFA) certainly thought bringing exports home was a good idea, and helped clubs who wanted to sign “returning Socceroos” such as when Sydney FC signed Lucas Neill in 2013.  

"As a Sydney junior who has seen the world through football, it's wonderful that the journey has brought Lucas back to play for his home town club in the A-League," said FFA CEO David Gallop at the time. 

"A number of clubs held discussions with Lucas and his representatives and FFA made the same offer of assistance to each club," said Gallop.

"The marquee players and returning Socceroos have added great value to the A-League in terms of playing standard and marketability.” 

In the case of Neill, who was also keen to keep his Australia shirt, what happened on the pitch did not match the hype.

Neill’s time with Sydney FC was a disaster and he played just three games of a 10 game stint. Such is football.

The likes of Cahill and Kewell fared better even if their spells in Melbourne were more solid than spectacular. 

It is not just about bringing back big names though. It has been said that the veterans can ‘give something back’ and help the local game develop. You hear this often in Japan and South Korea with their stars who go to Europe.

There are often calls for them to play for the K or J Leagues before they retire in order to pass on their wisdom to others and, as Gallop says, to add value in standards and marketability. 

The subject was raised last week when Keisuke Honda decided to continue his globetrotting. The Japanese star -who has played for clubs on every continent except Africa - announced a move to Portugal.  

English striker Jay Boothroyd, who plays in Japan for Consadole Sapporo, replied by asking the former Melbourne man why he did not come home.

“I don’t know why this guy continues to play overseas, why?” Boothroyd wrote on social media. “Why don’t you come back to Japan and help the young players become top players.. give back to the J.League and your country by passing on your knowledge and skill to the next generation!!” 

Honda replied with “Because it’s fun” which is surely the perfect answer especially for a player who could do without the media interest that would arise from a return to his homeland.    

Schwarzer said something along those lines in 2011. ''I have seen too many players go back home and it has not worked out,'' Schwarzer said.

''The biggest example is John Aloisi and how he was treated so badly. You are up there to be shot down very, very quickly.''

But you can still give something back without going back. Is there a connection between Keisuke Honda playing for Melbourne Victory and the growth in the number of Japanese players in the A-League at the moment?

It is hard to say for sure but the fact that such a high profile star spent time in Australia can’t have done the image of the A-League any harm in Japan.

If the A-League is good enough for Keisuke Honda then it is good enough for anyone else. 

It could be argued that Honda has done more to help develop Japanese football by playing overseas. 

Ultimately though, it is up to the players. 

For those who actually want to  “give something back” to the local league, there are others who can give just as much by staying away. Come home if you want but there is no obligation.