How a move for Del Piero could lead the A-League in two very different ways

Recent speculation of Alessandro Del Piero moving to Sydney FC has raised questions about whether the move would have a completely positive influence on the A-League as a long-term prospect. Although upsides such as international publicity and recognition from overseas are obviously much needed for the A-League, there are 2 current examples of how marquee players can be drawn to a growing league.

One glaring example of how too much money can be spent the wrong way in a developing league is the Chinese Super League. Although they may now boast two of the Premier League’s best strikers of the last 6 years in Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, they face a big problem in managing the stability and depth of the competition. Shanghai Shenhua has been fortunate enough to land both players, who no more than a year ago were leading the line at Chelsea. For Drogba especially, he may experience one of the all-time drops in playing standard after his last kick on a field was the winning penalty of the UEFA Champions League Final. They don’t come much bigger than that. The problem here is not necessarily that they are both in the same league, but that they are on the same team. To have Anelka and Drogba alongside each other was sometimes too much even for some of the world’s best defences in the world’s best league. God help defensive pairings in the Super League because I fear that Shanghai will inflict unhealthy pain on the league’s cellar-dwellers. The result of this can only turn more fans away from clubs which already experience much torment throughout a regular season. Not for a moment am I suggesting that the A-League has enough money for this kind of spending, but a situation like this is the last thing that the A-League needs. Signing Del Piero has a small potential to be the instigator of circumstances like this in Australia, however it is something that the A-League, FFA and clubs alike need to be starkly aware of when making moves for players like this.

A different approach to attracting players of Del Piero’s ilk would be to follow the lead of Major League Soccer in United States which has been able to create an established and well respected league from fostering their very own players. Home grown players such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey made a name for themselves in the MLS before dipping their toes into the European market when at their prime. Donovan’s successful loan move to Everton a couple of years back prompted speculation about a full-time move to Europe, however his home league seemed to be a more enticing proposition at the time. Clint Dempsey broke into the national team while playing for New England Revolution before making his move to Fulham 5 seasons ago, making the Premier League team of the season last year. By having players such as these 2 doing this, it helped create more interest in the league making for a healthier organisation. This in turn gave players from home and overseas alike more reason to play in the MLS. Big transfers in recent years have given the MLS a leg-up in publicity as well. Thierry Henry, Freddy Ljunberg and David Beckham are each perfect cases of well-executed dealing by the MLS to not only increase the quality on the pitch but to get the brand out there. New York Red Bulls and Los Angeles Galaxy now sit among the world’s most well-known clubs thanks largely to these players. However unlike the Chinese Super League, the MLS have managed to make it not about the players but about the league, or at the very least the clubs at which they play.

Recently our very own Tim Cahill made the switch from Everton to New York, opting for guaranteed time on the pitch and more time in the spotlight to finish his career over any move back home. Dare I say that if it had been somebody like fellow ageing Everton player and USA international Tim Howard looking for a move elsewhere, he would also have taken the USA over any other potential move. Where we want to get to in the A-League is that kind of a situation where we have the older stars of the Socceroos returning home to finish their career when they still have something to offer. Brett Emerton’s move to Sydney last season was case in point. At the time of his transfer, Emerton was a key player for then Premier League outfit Blackburn who went on to get relegated.

Recent young Aussie stars have shifted to Europe at young ages because they value bench time at a minor European club over starring at an A-League club. Tommy Oar, Michael Zullo and Adam Sarota all moved to Utrecht at the culmination of the 2010-11 season in search of the much desired taste of European football that so many of our youngsters are after. I can guarantee them that playing reserve games in Holland are far less beneficial for themselves and Australian football than playing here. Robbie Kruse, Matt Leckie and Mitch Langerak have all made their way over to Germany in recent season, only to again be largely starved of game time. Although Langerak is a relative exception seeing as he is second in line at champions Borussia Dortmund, the other 2 are yet to make a mark for their respective clubs. I would argue that they could have advanced far more as footballers if they had stuck around for another couple of years to help the A-League do likewise.

Yes, we are still a developing footballing nation, but we can only do so at a prosperous rate if our own players stay here to stick it out. In the long-term the results will speak for themselves as they have been in the USA and we won’t have to resort to what the Chinese Super League have done and pluck random ageing superstars off shelves and give them half of the league’s wage budget. If we do follow the MLS, then perhaps players like Del Piero will be more inclined to come and ply their trade in Australia once their days in the mighty Europe are numbered.

About Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Swinburne University. He loves all sports, and plays for Brunswick Cricket Club. He supports the Western Bulldogs and can be found on weekends among half a dozen others in Q38 on the top level of the MCC.


  1. SMH is tonight reporting Del Pierro as committing to a 6 mth, 2m deal with Sydney United.
    Thought provoking article Tom…not sure I totally agree, but it is a perspective that must be considered before being blinded by bling.

  2. Tom, how will the signing of Del Pierro differ from the signing of Kewell. Will Sydney FC put him on the park and hope for the best?

  3. And is there any truth in the rumours that the new Western Sydney club are going to sign Israel Folau on a multi-million deal to raise the profile of the game?

  4. Cookie because this deal is a 6 month stint his role at the club will be to promote the game through his actions on the field. Kewell’s was much the same, however he was here for that month or 2 before the season meaning that he could do more of the media-related work.

    Not so sure about Izzy though! I think he should just stick to League

  5. Dear author of this article Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba is at Shanghai Shenhua not Beijing Gu’oan. :0

  6. reports tonight are indicating that Del Pierro will be at Sydney FC next year.
    This is a huge story and a big gamble. A real roll of the dice for the whole comp. Exciting, but if it doesn’t work out…….Sydney United better have their books in order because a poor decision here would be critical for Aus soccer.
    Other Clubs are in strife – look at Tinkler’s scenario!!?- so we have to hope that this is a fantastic injection of quality and publicity for a great A-League season.

  7. AustguyTang…your correction is acknowledged, though Tom’s points remain valid.

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