Phoenix share spotlight with A-list superstars

SAM WORTHINGTON IN SYDNEY
Last updated 05:00 03/10/2012
A League stars
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The A-League's three high profile signings (from left) Shinji Ono, Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey at the 2012/13 season launch at Parramatta Stadium.

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The venue was less glamorous than usual but the star power was at an all-time high at yesterday's A-League season launch at Parramatta Stadium.

Normally the league opts to kick things off on Sydney's waterfront but this year the action was at the home of new club Western Sydney Wanderers, who replaced the now defunct Gold Coast United as the competition's 10th team.

The cameras were clicking furiously as Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono met media and outlined the reasons for their new footballing adventures.

One is money - Del Piero is on A$2 million (NZ$2.48m) at Sydney FC - but the trio of former internationals also hope to leave a lasting legacy on the league and help propel it towards more global prominence.

They're off to a good start, with Sydney's daily newspapers devoting plenty of space to football yesterday as rugby league and AFL fades into off-season mode.

Del Piero's league debut against the Phoenix in Wellington on Saturday will even be shown live on Italian television

“Everybody in Italy will watch Sydney FC now,” the former Juventus striker and World Cup winner said. “I'm excited about that and I'm not here to take my time, I play to win.”

Del Piero declared himself fit and ready for the season opener at Westpac Stadium although he was unsure how many minutes he would play. “We have to see what happens with the flight to Wellington but I'm OK, I feel good and this is the most important thing.”

Former England striker Heskey has signed with the Newcastle Jets, while former Japan World Cup star Ono is the Wanderers' marquee player.

No-one seemed to realise the Phoenix had signed their own former international - Belgium striker Stein Huysegems - but then again that suits their coach Ricki Herbert just fine.

“We're probably comparing bringing in players on a couple of hundred grand to players coming in on one or two million,” Herbert said.

“But the flipside of that is we've made the finals three years in a row with not being a big spending club.”

Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Sydney are the bookmakers' favourites but Herbert is confident his underdogs will be in the playoff mix again.

His main selection headache for round one is whether to start Paul Ifill, who is on the comeback from injury.

Tawa teenager Louis Fenton would probably miss out if Ifill gets the nod; Herbert also hinted pacy Panamanian Ricardo Clarke would get a run off the bench on Saturday.

“Gee, he looks like a 15-year-old, but I've been really pleased with him, I think he's growing every day.”

Meanwhile, Herbert was keeping mum on whether this would be his final season as Phoenix coach.

He's been at the helm since the club's inception in 2007 and after this season has an option to extend for another two years on “football related matters”.

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