STAR BILLING: Emile Heskey scored nine goals and was instrumental in average crowd numbers at Hunter Stadium increasing by nearly 2000 in his first season at the Jets. Picture: Getty ImagesGREG Inglis, Jonathan Thurston, Sam Burgess, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith. It took just one round of the competition tospell out the advantage that the NRL has over the A-League.
Compare them to the A-League’s best, Aaron Mooy, Alex Brosque, even imports Bruno Fornaroli, Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha.Unfortunately our players don’t have the same traction, the same star billing. Yes, they are household names in football but how many non-A-League fans would know them if they walked throughthe Hunter St Mall.
Therein lies the battle facing the A-League in its attemptto win the hearts and minds of the Australian public, let alone luremulti-national corporations.
Don’t get me wrong, thequality of football in the A-League has been good. There is just not enough people watching it.One of the answers is marquees. Not just blue-ribbon players, but bignames who will be familiar to theaverage Joe in the street.Only two seasons ago, Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono set the league alight. On the field they lived up to their reputation. Off it their presence was immeasurable. In Heskey’sfirst season at the Jets the average home crowdjumpednearly 2000.
This week Football Federation Australia unveiled a four-year strategic plan. Central to the plan is a treasure chest or fighting fund tolurebig names to the A-League. Hallelujah!The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the next broadcast deal.
Why take four years?Get on the front foot. Act now.Rather than spend money on FFA executives flying first-class and needless camps for national youth teams, make the money count.I’m not suggesting wethrow cash around like they are in China. The US Major League Soccer is an example we could follow. In the MLS clubs work together to bring out a top player to each franchise. They realise a strong league with recognised stars is good for everyone. Good for the bottom line.I’m not talking about 40-year-olds past theirexpiry dateand here for a holiday. The A-league hasmoved beyond that.You need players who have just tipped over from their best.
In recent seasons, clubs havefocused on findinghidden gems – another BroichorBerisha. For every diamond there are10 rocks.Likewise there is an argument that imports shouldn’t take the spot of local kids. I’m all for local talent.If they are good enough, they will finda place in any 23 man roster.
The marquees I’m talking about are proven performers. They come with a name and a profile. Not to mention the experience and professionalism they bring to a dressing room
Imagine a league that featured the likes ofNicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Robbie Keane, RioFerdinand and Arjen Robben,
The rights would skyrocket. You couldn’t keep the fans away.