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Big name marquees are not a cure-all

There seems to be a growing call for marquee players, big name marquee players, to be recruited to the A-League.

A panacea to all the ills the game currently faces.

As if all that is needed is a well-known overseas player — in the twilight of their career — to grace these shores for a season or two and all will be well.

I’ll admit that I am slightly sceptical of this argument. For all the short term attention big names like Dwight Yorke, Robbie Fowler and Alessandro Del Piero brought with them what exactly has their legacy been?

The sight of hundreds of people in Juventus or Liverpool shirts pouring into stadiums across the country in an attempt to see their heroes did increase attendances in the short term, but how many of those people are still attending matches today?

How many remained actively engaged with the league once their favourite player had departed? I would guess very few judging by attendance figures across the league.

There is something rather distasteful about another ageing footballer topping up his pension and using the league as a stop on their Asian backpacking holiday.

If these players were still of footballing worth they would be plying their trade in the cashed up European leagues, yet there is no demand for them there. So they end up over here, exploiting a league desperate to be taken seriously, desperate to be noticed, desperate to be something.

Just as ageing singers, no longer able to sell new recordings, look to the casinos of Las Vegas for one last residency and a decent pay off, they will be coming here to play a few of their greatest hits, although at a diminished standard, except the adulation of the masses and move on to the next place willing to do the same.

As a young boy I saw the majority of England’s World Cup winning side play in a testimonial match for Martin Peters against Norwich City. It was a great spectacle, a chance to see legends of the game play. They were past their prime but were still more than capable of playing a decent game. It was a one off, they couldn’t play at a competitive standard and were beaten 4-2.

You couldn’t imagine the players being able to do it on a season long basis, yet that seems to be what people will expect from any big name signing. It’s surely a better idea to look at the bigger picture and re-evaluate what the league really needs from a marquee signing.

What the A-League really needs isn’t a short term, temporary injection of casual interest but a carefully thought out long term strategy. A way to convert the huge numbers of people that play the game into regular attendees, to harness the engagement of those people and convert it into a physical presence at A-League matches.

In a league where many clubs have — and in some cases still are — struggling to pay players and staff their entitlements, can it really be a sensible business decision to gamble money they can ill afford on a player that may not add anything to the quality of product on the pitch?

Having a headline grabbing star player may attract headlines but will it actually help a club’s standard of football in the long term? Probably not.

It would seem to be a more logical plan to look for a less well known player that is prepared to commit to a side for an extended period, a player that fits the long term structure and ambition of the club and can help develop a side. They may not grab headlines or attract the (usually) disinterested media but they will help to build the quality of the league and the players in it.

Thomas Broich at Brisbane Roar is a fine example of the sort of player the league should look for. When he signed for the club there was a certain amount of “Thomas who?” and yet he has proved to be one of the best overseas signings the league has seen.

He has provided play of a very high standard on a consistent and long term basis. He has helped to encourage and develop other members of the club’s squad, regularly staying on after training to improve his own game and that of others in the squad. A humble, dedicated professional that is here to play football and help his side evolve and grow.

The money “invested” in big name, short term marquee player would probably be better spent investing in younger, up-and-coming players. Exploring opportunities for fan engagement. Finding ways to get people to come to games on a regular basis, be that by offering discounted tickets and family packages or giving tickets away to local football clubs.

You could even argue that clubs could spend the money on lawyers to look into stadium deals to see if there are ways to restructure them and avoid paying over the odds for facilities.

Big name stars may attract new people to attend an A-League match or two but, as with film stars, if the product on offer isn’t of an overall high standard, people aren’t going to sit through a repeat showing.

About the author

avatarLover of all football with a preference toward Norwich City, Brisbane Roar and Tooting & Mitcham United. Known to be late for appointments due to unexpectedly finding non-league matches to watch.

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  • Ross Krahe

    In season 2013-14 Alessandro Del Piero and Shinji Ono among others joined the A League as overseas Marquee players. Both attracted massive media attention. Rock-star airport receptions greeted both players as they arrived in Australia. Both contributed to their teams on the field with public interest in the A League at an all time high. Bums on seats and TV ratings were up. Although of the two Del Piero was the bigger name, I believe Ono was more the type of Marquee the A League should be looking for. Younger by a couple of years and more mobile, Ono seemed a perfect fit for the Wanderers, whereas Del Piero was more of an addition to Sydney FC. If the A League wants to be a respected, professional league, I believe it needs players that fit into a team rather than a star addition.