Does The A-League Need A Circus?

10/01/2016 6:10 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2012 file photo, Sydney FC player Alessandro Del Piero celebrates after scoring a goal against Western Sydney Wanderers during their A-league soccer match in Sydney, Australia. A vacancy at Sydney FC may have given former Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero another possible career option in the A-League. Del Piero has yet to sign a new playing contract for next season after two years as the highest profile marquee signing ever in the Australian domestic competition. But the firing Wednesday, April 23, 2014 of Frank Farina - the team's seventh coach in nine seasons - has triggered hype in the Australian media that the 2006 World Cup winner might move into a coaching role next season. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, File)

Once upon a time a lack of big-name marquees was read as a sign the A-League was growing up -- but in a season where the razzle-dazzle has well and truly gone, does maturity need to be put aside for a touch of showmanship?

Since the start of the A-League, marquee players have divided opinion. For every Alessandro Del Piero there was a Mario Jardel, and for every Shinji Ono there was a Brian Deane.

However, in the past couple of seasons there has been a distinct lack of star power in the league -- save for the four-match fiasco which was David Villa's appearance in Melbourne.

The lack of big names has been read one of two ways: firstly, that the A-League has simply been priced out of the market with the US and big-money leagues in Asia and the Middle East putting up more coin than the League's clubs can handle.


There has, however, been a second school of thought that the lack of big-name, over-the-hill superstars was about the League as a whole maturing.

Coaches were seeing that these players may be a sugar-hit in the short term, but a well-regarded journeyman may become the next Besart Berisha, Thomas Broich, or Marcelo Carusca, who have all transformed the fortunes of the clubs they have played with.

It is these players that A-League coaches are now looking for, the diamonds in the rough that cash-strapped clubs can afford and players who can make a real impact on the pitch.

Coaches don't want the hooplah which can come with big names, instead looking to mould a championship-winning team. This is great from a football development viewpoint, but the circus is in town.

Cricket's Big Bash League has created waves and caused more than a few furrowed brows on the football terraces. Kids and parents who would once consider a night out at the football are now being lured to packed stadiums full of dancers, light shows, and back-flipping motorcyclists .

There's the odd spot of cricket, too.

It is in this context that the discussion about marquees has begun again, particularly guest-player marquees. News that A-League clubs had knocked back the chance to sign one of football's great showmen, Ronaldinho, on a short-term deal, flummoxed many. Even the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Robbie Keane had been offered to clubs, to no avail.

It is quite likely that coaches simply don't want the sort of season interruption a guest player can bring to the dressing room. Instead, names such as Bruno Fornaroli and Corona have been brought in and have both offered their clubs a focal point on the pitch.

They haven't, however, been much of a marketing success. The neutral simply can't get jazzed about these players, despite them perhaps being among the higher class of imports to ever grace the League.

So, with a three-ringed circus going on down the road, and slipping TV figures, does the League need the sort of buzz that big-name marquees can bring? It seems the FFA at least are keen to see more marquees in the League if the rumours are true, and it's clear to see where it's coming from.

At the end of the 2016/17 season, the current TV deal rolls off and it would be high on the agenda to secure a free-to-air TV partner to bring the game's profile to the next level. Network Ten has done an outstanding job in building the Big Bash League property, and A-League bosses may just be hoping for a similar renovation job.

However, that simply can't happen if there's no hint the popularity of the sport is there. Talks are happening all the time, but it is likely formal talks on the next deal are due to start this year. Those talks are more likely to go better if there are full stadiums and noisy fans cheering on their sides, instead of half-empty arenas.

In many ways, this is a Sophie's Choice moment for the A-League. Will a circus in the short-term lead to a long-term benefit, or will it simply tarnish the A-League as a retirement-home League in the eyes of a skeptical neutral?

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