Stakeholders have mixed views on marquees

Australia's football family has mixed feelings about the futility surrounding the A-League's persistence with chasing big-name marquees when the genuine article is becoming more elusive and less affordable.

Fornaroli v Berisha

Melbourne City's Bruno Fornaroli and Melbourne Victory's Besart Berisha Source: Getty Images

The competition is in its second decade and getting better and stronger every year but, like any other league, it needs a constant stream of foreign talent.

The question surrounding the hot topic of foreign players is whether the clubs should insist on trying to entice crowd-pulling stars like Dwight Yorke, Alessandro Del Piero and Robbie Fowler that give the competition a 'wow' factor or concentrate on bringing over more 'unknown' quality foreigners like Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha and Bruno Fornaroli at a fraction of the cost.

Finding the right answer could be the key to the game's future in Australia.

The World Game has sought the views of a cross-section of football's stakeholders, from clubs to supporters and from agents to the media.

The club: Peter Filopoulos (Perth Glory chief executive)

"I'm in favour of going for the big signings. The quality of the league is getting better every year and I believe that the lifestyle opportunity Australia provides can be very appealing to big-name players, perhaps even more so than the big money on offer in China and other places.

"The money aspect might not be the most important for some players.

"From what we can gather by talking to agents overseas, Australia is becoming more prominent abroad as the league's international television rights would suggest.

"I strongly believe that the A-League will become a more attractive destination not only for big players at the end of their careers but for others with an uncertain future at their clubs and for the young ones too.

"For example, we were in discussions with England's Michael Carrick in the off-season. He was not sure if he would get a contract renewal at Manchester United. He was genuinely interested in coming to Perth so he and his young family could enjoy our lifestyle but in the end Jose Mourinho offered him a contract and he opted to stay at Old Trafford."

The coach: Paul Okon (Central Coast Mariners)

"I'm a fan of signing foreign marquees who will bring something different to the competition but you cannot stop giving young Australians their opportunity.

"Visa players are very important and I personally think that players like Broich, for example, have done a lot for our game.

"But at the same time you have to look at the opportunity the competition is generating for our young players.

"If you look at the Young Socceroos of 2014, none of them are playing regularly.

"You have to have a balance and I'm not sure how you can find that if you have five visa spots for each team."

The foreign player: Iacopo La Rocca (Adelaide United)

"Marquees can make a big difference but it all depends on what the clubs want to do or what kind of marquee they are after.

"The problem now is that the media and the fans have a big influence and they decide everything. So if you do not have a marquee there will be disappointment.

"It is true that top players like Fornaroli and Berisha did not come here as marquees but deserve to be now because of what they have done and they are doing.

"The right marquee, like Del Piero, can be good but I see no point in bringing over a big name player for a 10-game guest stint for the sake of having a star at the club for a few months. To me this does not make sense."

The Socceroos player: Alex Wilkinson (Sydney FC)

"I think there is merit to both sides of the argument but I think the A-League has outgrown getting a so-called big name just for the sake of it.

"They need to still be playing at a good level otherwise they won't be successful when they come out here. The A-League is tough and can't be under-estimated.

"Over the last few years we have seen players that are not as well known come to Australia and probably out-perform most so-called big-name players that have ever come here.

"You look at Berisha, Broich, Diego Castro, Matthieu Delpierre, Patrick Zwaanswijk, Fornaroli, Milos Ninkovic and Bobo just to name a few. Not many people had heard of these players before they came out here and now they are the ones that the public will pay money to come and watch."

The governing body: FFA spokesperson

"FFA believes that marquee players have an important role in the A-League competition.

"As announced last month, FFA will be allocating $3 million a season to attracting more marquee players like Tim Cahill to the A-League." 

The promoter/agent: Leo Karis (sports and entertainment consultant)

"My view is if we can secure both type of marquees that is ideal but it becoming almost impossible to nab a big name like Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerard or Del Piero these days given the financial muscle of Major League Soccer in the United States and the Super League in China.

"Given that scenario it is imperative that we as a football community target and entice the next level of marquee player like Berisha, Broich, Fornaroli et cetera. We would be much better off with such players.

"Berisha and Fornaroli both come here under the cap but proved themselves and became marquees.

"Clubs should be investing in top-level scouting to be able to attract these type of players.

"We should be able to get 20 players like Ninkovic, for example. Don't forget, for every 'Bobo' on a $1 million plus there is a 'Ninkovic' on $350,000. So we should be targeting players of Ninkovic's quality now that the cap is likely to rise to $3 million."

The media: Wally Mason (The Australian sports editor)

"In any sport, the two things most likely to get bums on seats are entertaining performances and results. Teams that win games and play entertaining football will attract crowds.

"Fans might come once or twice to see Del Piero, Emile Heskey or Fowler, but they will become rusted on if a team performs well with the help of Broich, Fornaroli, Berisha or Ninkovic.

"The economics of signing big-name marque players are also questionable. In the past we have seen clubs empty their bank accounts to pay massive amounts for faded superstars in the last couple of seasons of their career. There is then nothing left to pay for the rest of the team.

"Lesser-known but none-the-less quality players from overseas have boosted the level of football in the A-League and are a much more sustainable option."

The supporter: Grant Furner (Squadron president)

"I think you have to deal with each club individually. Here in Newcastle we need marquees, even two actually ... an Australian and a foreigner.

"You can see the interest created when Heskey was here. He was definitely responsible for a substantial uptake in the supporter numbers.

"In the next 12 months the new owners should reinvigorate interest in the club by spending some money and bringing in a big name to lift our membership from the present 10,000 to the 14,000 mark.

"It does not have to be a Del Piero type of marquee ... someone of Heskey's calibre would be fine.

"The marquee topic is one that generates a lot of different opinions but I think that here in Newcastle we need someone with a name and reputation."

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7 min read
Published 3 January 2017 at 10:00am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS