Has the marquee concept passed its use-by date?

The big-name marquee topic has polarised public opinion ever since the A-League took its first tentative steps in 2005 but it is time to revisit the idea.

brooch del piero

Thomas Broich and Alessandro del Piero Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

Big stars can light up a competition simply by the aura they project and the special skills they display and the A-League is no exception.

We are now in the 12th season and the standard of Australia's club football has never been better.

There are many factors behind the resurgence of the domestic game but the quality of foreigner has had a lot to do with the fact that the A-League - despite its shortcomings - has become an important and respected element within Australia's sporting landscape.


Not unlike other countries, Australia owes a lot to its foreign legion for a level of our game that would have been unthinkable, say, 20 years ago when the National Soccer League was on its last legs.

How successful would Spain's Primera Division be without Messi, Suarez, Neymar, Ronaldo, Modric, Benzema and Griezmann?

What would the English Premier League be without the likes of Silva, Aguero, Hazard, Costa, Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Sanchez and Ozil?

Australia, however, has a problem: the A-League needs an injection of star appeal but our clubs do not have anywhere near the money to attract such famous players before they are well and truly past their peak.

So we end up getting either washed-up players who will provide us with a few fleeting moments of brilliance, put a few more bums on seats and attract a few more eyeballs but who more than likely will leave our shores when their contract is up without leaving a legacy in terms of enriching our game.

And I won't even touch on the gimmicky short-term stints or the situations where a potential guest signing has to pass a 'popularity' test before being allowed to play here.

Which brings me to the point of the article: would Australian football be better off abandoning this obsession with costly big-name marquees and concentrating on importing more quality 'unknowns' who will raise the level of our game and build a rapport with the fans at a fraction of the cost?
The answer may be found in the clubs' attitude towards the matter.

If the priority of a club is a commercial return that would facilitate its economic survival in a tough and competitive sporting environment then the big-name marquee might be the way to go, assuming he is available and affordable.

And with China and the Gulf countries offering crazy money for even just above average players, the A-League is finding it harder to engage crowd-pulling stars who fall into the category of Dwight Yorke, Robbie Fowler, Alessandro del Piero, Emile Heskey or Shinjo Ono.

However if clubs are looking at the long term and are more interested in acquiring gifted and fully fit imports who will come here as virtual unknowns but who will provide a constant level of quality football that will rub off on the rest of the team then they could do much worse than have 'lesser' foreigners like Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Marcelo Carrusca, Bruno Fornaroli, Diego Castro, Nicolas Martinez or Milos Ninkovic.

The case of Del Piero is very interesting.

The Italian superstar came to Sydney FC in 2012 as a genuine marquee and in his first season here he displayed many of the dazzling skills that made him famous worldwide.

The sublime free kick on his home debut against Newcastle Jets, the two gems he scored at Brisbane Roar and his four-goal haul against Wellington Phoenix will live long in the memory.

Crowds flocked to watch "Il Pinturicchio" perform at Allianz and across the country and the media had a ball with this 38-year-old darling of the Italian community who will be remembered not only for his spectacular goals but also for the hours he spent signing thousands of autographs for star-struck fans.

Sydney's Del Piero experiment would appear to have been a success from a public relations and economic point of view but did he leave a football legacy? The answer is probably 'no'.

Del Piero came to a poor Sydney team and left it two seasons later in an equally desolate state.

Sydney's game generally did not improve when Del Piero was in town despite his obvious class and experience and there were even mutterings from rival clubs that they saw the Italian veteran as a weak link because his ageing legs did not allow him to track back.

Brisbane Roar scored a master stroke when then coach Ange Postecoglou travelled to Germany to offer Broich the chance to revive his stalling career in 2010.
Broich took the golden opportunity with open arms and the midfielder is now in his seventh season in Australia.

His complete mastery of the ball and exquisite vision and distribution have helped Brisbane grab three league championships and made him the finest and most valuable import in the history of the competition.

Broich came here as an unknown and may not have been directly responsible for attracting more spectators or viewers to the A-League.

But, boy, how many fans have been drawn to Brisbane's games due to his crucial contribution to the team's rise from under-achievers to true giants of the local game?

While Sydney's crowds dropped after Del Piero's departure, Brisbane's generally remained the same due largely to the solid foundations laid by Broich and Berisha.

So who would be the better value: Del Piero at $2 million a season or Broich at $500,000? Or, rather, which investment yielded the better overall return? You tell me.

The same applies to Fornaroli, Berisha, Carrusca, Ninkovic and before them such talented guys as Carlos Hernandez, Karol Kisel and Patrick Zwaanswijk.

These players helped build strong, quality teams that ended up winning the championship with a brand of modern, eye-catching football that appealed to those fans who may have been more interested in their team's success and the bigger picture than in a star's individual appeal.

It remains to be seen how many clubs are willing to be careful and patient with their imports and not fall into the trap of trying to make a quick dollar at the expense of the long-term benefits on the field.


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6 min read
Published 2 January 2017 at 11:22am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS