The footballing world was taken aback in 2007 when David Beckham joined the MLS. ‘Soccer’ in the United States had never quite taken off, after the North American Soccer League collapsed under the weight of poorly managed finances and a short-term system the sport had faltered into existence with the Major League Soccer system that was still lagging well behind the main attractions of Baseball, Basketball and American Football in the popularity and financial stakes.
Not much has changed there as it is still not near the popularity of its more engrained American sporting stalwarts but since Beckham moved Stateside he acted as a trail-blazer, with many other big names moving to the MLS. Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Rafael Marquez to name a few and now a similar motion may be in clicking into gear Down Under as the A-League finally starts to lure the big boys.
The league has had names such as Dwight Yorke and Juninho in the past while luring internationals such as Jason Culina, Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell back to their homelands acted as major coups they proved to be false dawns. With Culina’s injury and recent contract disputes and Brett Emerton also suffering in the physio room things got worse when Harry Kewell ‘abandoned’ the A-League for personal reasons before the start of the season.
The A-League needed a boost, and despite being run on a strict budget in the past, in order to avoid the catastrophic financial meltdown that effectively terminated its predecessor. Just like their American cousins ‘soccer’ is not held in the highest of regards with its main rivals Aussie Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union taking on much more significance over the game we love.
Sydney FC delivered, bringing in Alessandro Del Piero to the club as Australia’s big marquee signing. Not only a talented footballer but a globally recognisable name arriving at a club in a city of Sydney’s magnitude is huge for the Australian game; especially in Australia which has a large Italian diaspora.
A flash in the pan? Perhaps not as the trail seems to have been officially blazed for Australia to challenge the USA, China and the Middle East as the major beacon call for superstars whose careers begin to dwindle down. Emile Heskey has followed suit signing on at Newcastle Jets while it appears new side Western Sydney Wanderers, managed by former Crystal Palace defender Tony Popovic, could be on the verge of bringing Michael Ballack in to the club; which would represent an even bigger coup then their city rival’s Del Piero move.
As long as Australia continues to implement their rules of youth players in order to avoid a dissipation of talent than the current trend is only a positive for the A-League as it embarks on a true season of revolution.
What do you think of ‘soccer’ in Australia? Where can it go?
image: © jbagley