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A First In World Football

23/01/2016 6:38 AM AEDT | Updated 28/09/2016 9:56 PM AEST
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Zak Kaczmarek - Liverpool FC via Getty Images
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 07: Luis Garcia takes a selfie in Sydney Harbour on January 7, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Zak Kaczmarek - Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

On Saturday, at an A-League match on the NSW Central Coast, there will be a supporter's bay dedicated to people who are supporters of neither of the sides actually playing -- perhaps a first in world football.

Instead, a bunch of people wearing red shirts will be singing songs about a club on the other side of the planet and cheering on exactly one player instead of the entire team.

Ex-Liverpool player Luis Garcia signed on for a guest stint with the Central Coast Mariners, with the signing, bizarrely, announced mid-match during the Mariners' away trip to Adelaide United last weekend.

The signing was met with a mixture of incredulity and cautious optimism. Here's a player who has not played a competitive match since 2014, and that was for the Atletico Kolkatta in the Indian Super League.

However, more recently, he did get a run with the Liverpool Legends as they took on an ex-Socceroos XI in a match which was designed to bleed cash from the Liverpool tragic.

It worked, with about 40,000 people dressed mainly in red turning up to see Steven Gerrard and company trot around the place, rather than turning up to see Socceroos heroes of yesteryear.

The Legends clash, which wasn't in support of any particular charity, was a depressing sight for those who support and believe in Australian football. Now we have one of those players in Luis Garcia about to line up for the Mariners -- undoubtedly selling tickets wherever he goes to the legions of Liverpool supporters in the land.

In an interview with FourFourTwo, Mariners manager Tony Walmsley provided some sort of clue as to the reasoning behind the signing:

"I think it's important for the Mariners that we're seen to be doing everything we can for the whole league. We see marquees as they have to be household names and they have to generate TV and stadium revenue through increased following," he was quoted as saying.

Football Federation Australia has been talking tough on metrics this season, culminating in the decision not to extend the Wellington Phoenix's license.

It said that key to the decision was the amount of revenue the Phoenix generate for the league, among other things. For the Mariners, perhaps the smallest club in the league aside from the Phoenix, some alarm bells may have been ringing.

The fact the Mariners officially put aside a "Luis Garcia Bay" for Saturday night's match doesn't as much speak volumes as screams them. Guest player signings are good for short-term revenue, and this one is perhaps designed to make the crowd metrics look better on an ad sales pitch deck.

A-League supporters give a little leeway for commercial-led signings if it leads to better outcomes for the League -- but the traveling Luis Garcia roadshow is as about as damaging for the A-League's soul as it gets.

A decade on from its inception, a hint of authenticity is starting to seep into the domestic competition. Rivalries are being formed, history is being built and despite a drop in viewership this season, the football is generally of a good standard.

Those who support A-League and the Luis Garcia signing say that it will bring eyeballs to the domestic game that have largely ignored it in favour of getting up at 3 am to watch their beloved British sides run around. The dreaded "euro-snob". Those so-called snobs who look down on the A-League do so because it is perceived as a 'plastic' league with no history and a franchise model with absolutely no soul.

The line will be that the appearance of Luis Garcia will get the snobs to A-League matches and therefore convert a few, but the better way to go about that is to run an exciting, established, and vibrant competition.

The signing of Garcia may give the League a short-term PR boost, but the damage to the domestic game's legitimacy will be plain to see.

He may very well end up performing well in the League despite his lack of match fitness, but trading a few bucks for the very legitimacy the game has been working hard to establish in Australia risks damaging the brand even further.

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