To marquee or not to marquee? That is the question.
It’s a question that stirs up fierce debate whenever the topic is broached. Few can debate the impact a genuine marquee has on the A-League, just look at Dwight Yorke in the inaugural season or Alessandro Del Piero in 2012/13.
But marquees of that calibre are few and far between.
With the MLS and leagues in UAE, Qatar and China able to offer larger salaries, is it realistic for A-League clubs to target these players?
“I think it’s realistic for clubs to attempt to sell their game and their club to prospective players,” player agent Lou Sticca told Football Channel Asia.
“Whether you’re successful or not, it’s a market situation, you’re competing with the market, it may or may not work. But the fact there’s competition shouldn’t put clubs off, it’s a competitive marketplace.
“Some players are attracted to money and hence some of those Asian markets or Arab markets are going to be difficult to toss, others are attracted by lifestyle, others are attracted by a competitive league to go to. So it’s not one cap fits all.”
At the moment no club has a player you would consider a genuine marquee, with Perth Glory the latest to announce their international marquee – the largely unknown Diego Castro Gimenez, a Spaniard with over 200 games experience in La Liga.
No doubt a player of quality, but a marquee? That’s questionable.
“It’s a tough one because it’s easy for agents to say clubs should have marquees, but we’re not paying for them are we?” Sticca said.
“My view is a marquee shouldn’t be a facility to park a highly paid player, a marquee should be a player that actually makes an impact on and off the park.
“Someone that is going to drive public awareness, someone that is going to get the media contingent excited and that will then replicate in what they write in the papers.”
Looking at the MLS it’s easy to see their clubs are now making full use of the Designated Player rule, with the likes of David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Sebastian Giovinco, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Giovani dos Santos and Didier Drogba joining this season alone.
It’s a mouth-watering list.
Few clubs in the A-League have the financial resources to afford marquees of that calibre, however, with many struggling to make ends meet and pay their players on time as it is.
One radical suggestion put forward by Sticca is for the FFA and the television networks, whoever they may be in the next TV rights deal, to create a funding pool which clubs can di into to fund their marquee players.
“I think perhaps it’s a structural thing that maybe can only come from the top at some point down the track,” he said.
“Perhaps the FFA need to build this into the next TV deal. Perhaps the TV companies need to be involved in funding (marquees). A marquee needs to tick a lot of boxes and that’s the issue, it needs to tick a lot of boxes and it can’t be just left to the poor clubs because quite simply it’s not working.”
While some argue that the A-League doesn’t need marquees, the evidence is there to suggest it does. The stats speak for themselves.
In the season before Del Piero arrived in Sydney the Sky Blues average attendance was a meagre 11,861. The following two seasons, with Del Piero, they averaged 18,637 and 18,682. They’ve been able to maintain that average this past season after Del Piero left, suggesting he has left a legacy from his two seasons at the club.
Del Piero’s arrival, together with that of Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono, helped drive the overall league average from 10,819 in 2011/12 to 12,658 in 2012/13, peaking at 13,479 in 2013/14 before dropping slightly last season, the first without the trio, to 13,048.
Australians love big names, as evidenced by the crowds at the recent International Champions Cup in Melbourne and Liverpool games in Brisbane and Adelaide, and with the next generation of Australian players moving to Europe to make their way, there is a dearth of genuine big names to get the general public excited.
It comes at the wrong time for the A-League too as it tries to negotiate a new TV rights deal.
The A-League has made great strides in the last 10 years, but it still has a lot of room for improvement, and while many might view it as a sugar hit with no lasting benefit, the league still needs marquee players. And by marquee, I mean marquee.
Berisha, Castro, Robert Koren, Filip Holosko et al are good players, but marquee, in the true sense of the word, they are not.
I’ll leave the last word to Sticca.
“An expensive player is one thing, a marquee is completely different.”