Imports a tricky balance for A-League clubs

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012
Alessandro Del Piero
Getty Images
IMPORT IMPACT: Alessandro Del Piero pumps his fist after scoring with a sweet free-kick for Sydney FC against the Newcastle Jets.

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OPINION: Assessing the worth of marquee signings in the A-League essentially boils down to two factors - off-field and on-field contribution.

What we have seen is that it's very difficult to find a player who can deliver on both levels. Clubs get excited about what could potentially happen but what actually transpires is usually very different.

That's why several clubs - Central Coast and Wellington certainly spring to mind, and they have been two of the more successful outfits in the past three years - have adopted a cautious approach to marquee signings, so much so that they have basically ruled them out as options.

Fair enough, particularly if it's for financial reasons, but it is short-sighted not to at least consider a marquee signing (a player whose salary falls outside the cap).

I've been sceptical of them, too, but having watched from afar the Alessandro Del Piero effect in Sydney, there's no doubt the right marquee man can transform a club.

Let's look at his early on-field contribution to the A-League.

Sure, Sydney are 0-2 after defeats to the Phoenix and Newcastle - not a great start in anyone's language. But those who have watched all 180 minutes would know the blame is certainly not to be laid at Del Piero's feet.

He may be 37 years old but he's come to the A-League straight from Juventus and he's already shown he's not here to kickstart a retirement fund - not that he needs to - with a $A2 million-a-year wage.

His trademark touch remains, his ability to beat a defender remains, and his deadly accuracy from set-piece situations certainly remains - even Newcastle fans must have enjoyed that brilliant freekick at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night.

There is no doubt that once he gets to know his teammates better - let's remember he's only been in Sydney a few weeks - and they get to know him better, Del Piero is going to have a major influence on Sydney's campaign.

Off-field contribution covers a wide range of things but is perhaps best judged by bums on seats, and subsequent revenue generated.

Here are the bare facts: last season Sydney's crowds ranged between 8500 and 18,200, with an average from 12 home matches of 12,440. The crowd for Saturday's match against Newcastle was a record-breaking 35,419, almost three times last season's average. And, with all due respect, you can't tell me those extra 23,000 fans were there to watch Ali Abbas or Terry McFlynn.

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Some quick sums ... 23,000 multiplied by, say, $25 per adult ticket equals $575,000, or more than a quarter of Del Piero's season wage. I'm told also that merchandise sales are at record levels in Sydney.

Of course, sustaining those sort of numbers will be tough, but already Sydney have gone a long, long way toward covering the financial cost of having one of Europe's finest ever footballers at their club, not factoring in the intangible benefits.

They are set to reap further rewards, and good luck to them. They had a vision and they appear to have found the right man.

Other clubs should take note - signing a marquee player doesn't have to be about throwing money away. It can be an investment on many levels.

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Who thought the Phoenix youth team with a few old heads would go to Melbourne on Sunday and nick a point off the Heart? No takers?

Sure, they got a helping hand, literally, from Simon Colosimo but you had to be impressed by the attitude and the performance, in particular, of the young academy members.

Louis Fenton looks as though he's been in the A-League for years while young midfielder Tom Biss had some nice touches and excellent workrate.

Stand-in coach Chris Greenacre would've bitten someone's hand off for a draw pre-match, though after pelting 10-man Heart's penalty area in the second half, they might have hoped for more by fulltime.

Still, any points away are valuable. Perhaps more significant was restricting Heart to one themselves. They would've banked on all three against the understrength Wellingtonians, especially at home.

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A parting thought ... if it had been Brisbane Roar, or Melbourne Victory, or Sydney FC who were missing seven frontline players to international duty for the Socceroos last weekend, would the A-League bosses have postponed their match?

- © Fairfax NZ News

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