A-League bank on superstar Del Piero power

LIAM FITZGIBBON
Last updated 14:35 28/09/2012
Piero_STD
Reuters
STAR POWER: A-League chief Damien de Bohun hopes the signing of Del Piero will make football a growing talking point in Australia.

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Rookie A-League chief Damien de Bohun has a goal for football many would consider impossible - making it the most talked-about sport in Australia.

But De Bohun reckons unprecedented hype surrounding the A-League's eighth season, starting on October 5, provides the perfect launching pad.

Italy great Alessandro Del Piero's arrival, along with several other European stars, has sparked hopes of a renaissance in Australia's domestic competition after some troubled times.

While Del Piero's signing for Sydney FC - followed by Emile Heskey for Newcastle Jets - has opened new marketing doors and ensured increased attendances, De Bohun said it will also help toward making football "a sport for all Australians".

While AFL, rugby league and cricket have traditionally hogged the attention of the wider sporting public, De Bohun believes attitudes towards football are changing, especially with the enormous participation rates at junior level.

Crowds and ratings must continue to build but he believes getting people talking is also a big key if the A-League is to cut across the boundaries of other codes.

"It needs to be the most discussed sport, the one people are talking about more than any other," De Bohun told AAP.

"That's what this really does, signings like Del Piero and Heskey.

"All of the people who didn't have football on their radar necessarily are starting to engage in conversations and starting to think about football and what it means.

"The challenge now to make sure it's not a one-off that this is something we build on."

The 37-year-old Del Piero, a World Cup winner and voted Italy's most loved sportsman in a recent poll, is the biggest name to grace the competition and his signing alone has generated worldwide headlines for the league.

There's no question he's the headline act of the new season, but the support cast are also strong.

Newcastle's capture of former England international Heskey, Brisbane Roar's re-signing of the bulk of their championship-winning squad - including German star Thomas Broich to a five-year deal - and the return of former Johnny Warren medallist Marcos Flores of Argentina, this time to Melbourne Victory, have also generated excitement.

Combined with the arrival of the new Western Sydney Wanderers franchise, pre-season interest is stronger than ever.

And it couldn't have come at a better time.

Reeling from a turbulent 2011-12 season which featured the dramatic demise of Gold Coast United and the near-collapse of the Jets, De Bohun admits the competition has been given a timely boost.

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Similar hype surrounded the arrivals of Socceroos stars Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton last season, but the novelty appeared to wear off as the season went on.

De Bohun said the key to maintaining the hype this time would be the increasing standard of football.

"Something like this brings new people to the game, it brings people who are already in the game to a new level of excitement, and our job is to make sure the entertainment on the field and the experience off the field continues to build," he said.

"We just have to keep focusing on making sure the fan experience is memorable and one to remember.

"In order to achieve our goals the A-League has to be the best league and the highest quality it possibly can."

While Del Piero's pulling power is clear, how he will contribute to Sydney's campaign on the park remains to be seen.

New Sky Blues coach Ian Crook will need to use his 37-year-old star signing wisely as a new-look squad strives for the club's third championship.

The Roar rightly remain favourites for a third successive title after keeping the core of their all-conquering team together, though new mentor Rado Vidosic has huge shoes to fill in his debut head coaching role.

Super coach Ange Postecoglou's switch from Brisbane to Melbourne Victory is an intriguing one and he could be the man to unlock the promise within a squad that finished a disappointing eighth in 2011-12.

Last season's runners up Perth and minor premiers Central Coast are sure to be strong again, along with the dependable Wellington Phoenix.

Newcastle and the John Aloisi-coached Melbourne Heart look fringe finals contenders, along with Adelaide, should they be able to carry their Asian Champions League form into the domestic competition.

The biggest question mark of the season hovers over the Wanderers, with inaugural coach Tony Popovic having only had five months to build a squad from scratch.

The former Socceroos defender has been bullish about the fact the team will at least be competitive and with some astute acquisitions they are unlikely to be easybeats.

The season begins with the Melbourne derby on October 5.

- AAP

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