Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Bringing Them Home
Perhaps not, although College Street at least seems to have woken up to the fact that the A-League needs to attract new fans, and fast. Although the "Aussie marquee" initiative is a perfectly good idea, it's hard to see how it will affect matters substantially. Few of the Australians in Europe likely to return in the next couple of years would be box office for fairweather fans.
SBS's blogger-in-chief has used the announcement as the spur for another suggestion to splash the cash in Asia, but I still feel that Latin America (not necessarily Brazil, incidentally) will ultimately prove a more fertile hunting ground if the clubs are interested in bringing genuine quality to the league. Yes, there will be a few misses for every hit, but if the hits are of the calibre of Carlos Hernandez, Fred or Cassio, it's a worthwhile undertaking.
The main problem with Asian recruitment, as Aurelio Vidmar pointed out at the FFA's coaches' conference a couple of years ago, is simply the cost. The wages in Asia are often astronomical compared with Australia, yet the standard is not significantly superior to the A-League (with the exception of Japan). Mark Rudan and Sasa Ognenovski, two defenders on the downhill run of their careers, forsook the A-League for a massive pay increase in Asia, Rudan in the Japanese second division. To offer good Asian players a suitable incentive to stray is not easy.
Newcastle may be satisfied with their acquisition of Song Jin-Hyung, but other Asian imports have been less than dazzling. Brisbane's fans are probably still wondering who was ultimately responsible for the Zhang Yuning embarrassment.
But back to the state of the A-League. An Aussie marquee player, sadly, will not fix the more fundamental problems: invisible marketing, colourless generic club branding (the spirit of Matt Carroll lives on), persistent on-field mediocrity, and poor management of the expansion issues. The FFA have been prudent to retain and gradually loosen the salary cap, but clubs seem to be getting less value for money with every season.
A change of mentality in the coaching ranks would be most welcome as well...but that is unlikely to happen as long as the current smug merry-go-round continues.
The FFA needs to face facts, a new gimmick isn't going to solve the problem. I don't know how exactly you tackle a problem that lies largely in the attitudes of the boards and administration of the clubs, my first idea involves a cattle prod but I suspect there may be legal complications.
Only if it's electrified, surely. ;-)
Needless to say, five players is half the outfield that is not going towards a salary cap. A smart, rich team could really do a lot with that.
I feel a bit uneasy with such a move away from the salary cap - one of the major things that makes the a-league interesting.
How many clubs are in a position to spend? Feels like an empty, symbolic action.
If you really wanted players to come home - I dunno, maybe you would make a signing bonus fund available to the clubs?
The game in Brisbane has taken a mortal hit. And this was compounded by the sponsor/owners of the club announcing that in future they would not pay as much as $300,000 for players in the future. So the marquee announcement up here is just another indication that the Roar is not going to be competitive next year or in future years until new owners are found.
Then there is the national team. Over 20,000 people turned up mid-week and in the rain to watch a 2nd string Socceroos. The crowd were in green and gold. The team was in blue - what the? The Socceroos played an incredibly boring style of play against a team happy to loose only 1-0 and who insisted on getting a stretcher for every tackle. This and other matches by the national team against Asian teams will not encourage locals to go see Asian marquees. By mid match you could scan the crowd and see kids doing anything other than watching the game.
Contrast this to the dollars, world class coaches and players being fostered in south east Qld by AFL, NRL and now union.
Unfortunately, the A-League is not competitive.