Just three years after Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero signed for the A-League’s Sydney FC, Australian football seems to be going through somewhat of a lull in its’ expansion and progression. Fewer big-name players are heading down under to earn their living, many instead opting to join the MLS in America instead as their playing careers begin to wind down. This year alone, MLS clubs have acquired Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Sebastian Giovinco, Giovani Dos Santos, Didier Drogba and Kaka.
Make no mistake about it, this is bad news for the A-League who rely on these type of players to attract attention to their nation’s top flight. Football isn’t at the top of the list for popularity of sport in Australia as it is, let alone without any idol’s to bring some excitement to fans.
Australia’s national team may also have a part to play in the diminishing interest in the sport in the country. Only a decade or so ago the team was filled with well-known players across Europe and making an impact in the Premier League. The likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer were all making a name for themselves in England and were led by Dutchman Guus Hiddink.
Of their 23-man squad which went to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, 17 of their squad were playing for European top flight clubs – 10 of them in the Premier League and one also in the Championship. In comparison, their 2014 World Cup squad contained just 8 players who were playing in the top flight of any European nations – Mile Jedinak the solitary Premier League representation in the Socceroos squad.
It’s not as if the people running the A-League haven’t made an effort in trying to increase popularity and awareness but when you are sanctioning an idea such as ‘HeskeyCam’ there must be an issue somewhere along the line. Joking aside, the future is beginning to look bleak for the league, members of which are beginning to feel the financial struggles it is currently under. Both Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets have struggled financially and both face the serious threat of liquidation.
One club who aren’t struggling financially are Melbourne City, who are owned by the City Football Group, alongside Manchester City and New York City. However, their story this season is hardly likely to draw up any global interest when their most recognisable names are Aaron Hughes, Robert Koren and Patrick Kisnorbo. A-League fixtures are shown regularly on BT Sport, but receive as little public interest as their can be.
They should look to take a leaf from the MLS book in doing all it can to lure as many marquee players as it can to join the league just to bring some finance and attention to the A-League. Of course it’s not as easy as it sounds, but just as David Beckham was to the US, a marquee signing could prove to be the trigger it needs to become at least a financial success.