To sign or not to sign?

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The build up to season 8 of the Hyundai A-League has been moving along quite well with the exception of a few minor crowd incidents in preseason games. But that “well” could be upgraded to “exceptionally well” if the proposed “out of the sky blue” signing of Juventus and Italian legend, Alessandro Del Piero, actually comes to fruition. So before Rebecca Wilson can finish googling him and go on a Ted-Bullpit rant, let’s congratulate the initiative and vision of Tony Pignata, Sydney FC and all those behind this on attempting one of the boldest moves in the short history of our competition.

With the addition of Del Piero and the presence of Brett Emerton, Sydney FC can boast to have arguably the A-League’s two biggest names as well as demonstrating perfectly what the Australian and International Marquee system was designed for. It appears that the bling is being put back into Bling FC and that is not a bad thing.

Of course people will question Del Piero’s age (37) and how much money is being spent amongst other things but really this would be to completely miss the point and undervalue the impact such a signing would have.

Age is no factor. The biggest club in one of the best, if not the best league, have two valuable members of their playing staff who are as old and even older, in Paul Scholes (37) and Ryan Giggs (38).  European giants, Inter Milan, still have Javier Zanetti at 39 on their books too. The list of players who have and still do play on in tough leagues around the world is endless. Is Del Piero going to offer as much now as he would’ve ten years ago? No, but ten years ago he wouldn’t have cost only two million Aussie dollars.

The A-League at 27 rounds is not as hectic as most European leagues and it is commonly agreed that the standard and intensity are not yet at the same level as the Premier League and Serie A so this should be fine for a player who played 28 league and cup games last season. He did only start 9 games and score 5 goals but having declared at the beginning of the season that it would be his last for the Old Lady it makes sense the coach would use him sparingly off the bench. The fact that they had a title-winning season also would’ve contributed to not changing the starting line-up unnecessarily.

The price tag of 2 million for one season might seem steep for a player in his twilight years but not when he brings to the table much more than just his ability to kick a ball. The marquee system was designed to be much more than just to sign a gifted player but to get someone to the club who lifts the profile of the club, the league, and the sport as a whole. On this basis, the reported offer on the table looks a bargain already with all the international and domestic publicity it has generated so far. There is no doubt either that the Del Piero Related Income (DPRI) for Sydney will more than cover the initial outlay. A club could spend 2 million on an unknown player in his prime who could tear up the league and that would be great but they probably wouldn’t get the same financial benefits of what signing a Del Piero or Kewell would, Thomas Broich and Marco Flores are perfect examples. Mind you, for that much money you could get a player a couple of rungs higher than Broich or Flores.

Sure that money could’ve been invested in an academy but just because it wasn’t doesn’t mean that there aren’t other funds to go to youth development, or that the revenue raised from DPRI can’t be funneled back into this area. Sydney FC could see a return on this investment, in fact, the whole could see an upswing in revenue.  Signing a “true” marquee isn’t the be all and end all of a club’s planning and policy for one season but the fuse to really ignite the other areas of the football club. It would be fair to say that the majority of Marquee Related Income (MRI) would be redistributed into vital areas.

The two leagues we are often compared to and encouraged to follow as examples are, the J-League and the MLS. Both of these leagues recognised the importance of signing not just talented foreigners but big names to bring big publicity. The J-League has signed names like Linekar, Laudrup, Stoichkov, Edmundo, and Schillaci. These types of big name signings are rarer in recent history as the J-League has been able to grow to a point where it can sustain itself with high quality locals and an entertaining brand of football. The MLS have signed players like Djorkaeff, Matthaus, Zenga, Henry, and Beckham to name but a few. They are still signing big names as their competition isn’t quite at the point of the J-League and they are fighting for recognition against four bigger domestic competitions. Trust me, big names mean global exposure. Basketball isn’t big in the UK but if the London Lions signed Kobe Bryant the front page news would be splashed with his image.

On field success is the least predictable variable in the marquee equation. Injury, for example, could force a player to sit out for the majority of the season which would have a big impact on the gate. This is where the true value of signing a genuine marquee comes into play. Regardless of injury or form, a marquee through promotion, advertising, exposure, and inspiration can show his real off-the-pitch value. Del Piero shirts will be sold, articles will be written, air-time filled, memberships sold, advertising revenue increased, the name of Del Piero and Sydney FC tweeted. In fact, Del Piero might not even have to kick a ball in anger before a return on the initial investment is seen.

A final argument that people might have against a big name player is that it could be a distraction to the players and disrupt a coach’s plans. Does anyone think Joel Chianese is kicking the ground and cursing that he is about to be playing with and learning from one of his childhood heroes? I don’t think so either. Does anyone think that Del Piero or any other marquee would be unable to adapt to just about any system thrown at them by a coach? Highly doubtful. Every top player is not only professional but also adaptable. Brett Emerton has played just about every position on the park except goalkeeper since becoming professional. Harry Kewell in his pro-career has played CB, LB, LW, RW, AM, CM, and striker. The truly class players have versatility in their locker as well as a strong work ethic. You don’t make it to 37 in the Serie A being lazy, nor do you bounce back from injury after injury without hard work and determination. Players and coaches alike should be and probably will be positively giddy to come up against and play with world class players.

The Bah-humbuggers of the world will inevitably focus on the inconsequential negatives but let them. The rest of us can cross our fingers and pray that Il Capitano signs on the dotted line this week and thus creating a watershed moment in Australian sporting history.

Follow Alessandro on Twitter @delpieroale

Adam Howard

Adam is one of the founders of Football Central and the creator of OSAussies.com.  He has followed the career paths of Australian footballers playing in leagues all over the world.  Born in Adelaide and currently residing in Hiroshima, Adam brings a unique perspective to Australian football.  He is an ardent supporter of Australia's domestic competition and national team.

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