An insight into the impact of the A-League’s marquee signings

Ever since the inaugural A-League season, clubs have been consistently on the lookout for marquee players. Players that are no longer in their primes, but are enough of a household name for fans to recognise.

It’s a simple, yet smart method of putting butts in seats and in most cases, genuinely adding to the quality of your side. It also puts the A-League on the map and helps to generate worldwide interest.

In the midst of rumours that Liverpool striker and Premier League star Daniel Sturridge could make a move Down Under this offseason, now’s as good a time as any have a look at the impact marquee players have made in the past.

It’s also a good opportunity to analyse whether the consistent use of such players has impacted on Australian football in a positive or negative manner.

We don’t need to look too far back to see who some of the biggest marquees were. Alessandro Del Piero, David Villa, Emile Heskey and most recently, Keisuke Honda.

These players amongst more are some of the best footballers their countries have produced, making their names in the biggest leagues in Europe. It’s no surprise that at least financially, they were a success in the A-League.

Del Piero, a World Cup winner and genuine legend of the game signed for Sydney in 2012. After over 500 appearances for the Bianconeri, he made the move to the Harbour City. Bear in mind that at the time, he turned down a move to Liverpool, one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

So it wasn’t as if his absolute best was behind him. He still had a lot to give.

He subsequent 24 goals from 48 games in the A-League goes a long way to proving that. He was still a star.

Emile Heskey joined the Newcastle Jets that same season and his impact, safe to say, left a little to be desired.

A solid first season was followed by a dismal second season, which saw him depart the club with a goal to game ratio twice that of Del Piero’s.

David Villa had the shortest stay of the four, managing four games at Melbourne City whilst out on loan from MLS club, New York City FC.

Despite his brief run, Villa garnered a following from all fans of Australian soccer, simply because he was still seen as a player in his prime. It was a real shame to have him leave so soon, but it will have done no harm to anyone or anything.

Finally, Keisuke Honda played at the Melbourne Victory this season and in short, he made a massive impact. One of Japan’s greatest ever, someone’s who’s travelled the world and been good wherever he’s been. Victory were lucky to have him.

But one has to think that with all these successful marquees, what’s the flip side of the coin?

Massimo Maccarone wasn’t the worst marquee in A-League history, but he was far from the best. He had been a modest striker at clubs like Empoli, Siena and Middlesborough.

However, as someone most fans won’t know, someone who was 37 when he arrived at the Brisbane Roar, some if not most may think that he, along with other marquees who had limited impacts, take away opportunities for youngsters.

In the past, we have seen numerous players who have been on A-League rosters move to NPL clubs across Australia, due to lack of opportunity.

One player we can pinpoint is current Avondale FC player Joey Katebian.

At just 23 years old, Katebian still has his best years ahead and for any A-League club, his ability and his age would present a great asset. But that’s not how the Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar saw it.

Katebian was forced to reevaluate after limited opportunities at the A-League clubs, with a mere five appearances combined from 2015-2017. He made the move to the NPL before the start of the 2018 season.

In 2015/2016, during his time at the Victory, Katebian was forced to compete with marquee players Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Gui Finkler. Whilst those two helped the Victory achieve good results in the league and abroad, Katebian didn’t seem to be in future plans for Kevin Muscat’s side.

It was much the same at the Roar. Katebian joined prior to the 16-17 season and was made to compete with seasoned attacker, Spaniard Manuel Arana.

Arana managed 18 games with no goals to his name, whilst Katebian was barely sighted.

Now we don’t know the full story behind why Joey wasn’t played too often by his A-League clubs, but it is fair to assume that the marquees were considered before him at just about every opportunity.

Now averaging a goal every two games and a proven talent at the level, A-League clubs should be looking at Katebian.

And he isn’t the only one who has been overlooked by A-League clubs in favour of marquees, despite their potential.

Jake Brimmer of Perth Glory is a great example of when prolonged gametime helps develop a young player into a pivotal member of a footballing side. In the case of Perth, he helped them make a Grand Final this season.

When done right, signing marquee players can do wonders for an organisation. But when done wrong, it can set the future of the club back several years.

Soccer is the most popular sport amongst youths in Australia. We should be giving them the most opportunities.

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Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

FCA President Gary Cole discusses glaring AFC Pro Licence issue affecting many top Australian coaches

The AFC Pro Licence is still not recognised by UEFA and this issue has been an ongoing battle for many years.

Despite professional coaching badges, years of experience and on-field success, coaches are exploiting loopholes in order to acquire these roles in Europe that clubs clearly believe they are qualified for.

Many top coaches like Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat have battled through many obstacles like job title changes and being unable to take training or sit on the bench for matchdays just to accept offers in Europe.

Football Coaches Australia President Gary Cole discussed the frameworks that are set in order to fix this issue whilst also communicating the many obstacles in place that are currently halting the process.

“The discussions, I’m going to say started at least 5 years ago, Glenn Warry, the inaugural FCA CEO encouraged to Football Australia voraciously to work on that,” he said.

“The truth is that UEFA clearly don’t believe that an AFC pro Licence is as good as theirs because Australian-Asian coaches go to Europe and their qualifications aren’t recognised which doesn’t make a whole bunch of sense.

“Football Coaches Australia will try to influence Football Australia to push for change, it’s very difficult to get the AFC to do so but our legal team has sent a good amount of time writing to FIFA, but they don’t recognise coaching associations.”

David Zdrilic’s story is quite fascinating with the current Sydney FC assistant coach spending around $20,000 on a qualification that was not recognised in Europe. If you factor in flights and accommodation, the outlay was closer to $30,000 as he had to return from Germany four times to complete it. The FCA worked with  Zzdrillic through this interesting period where he worked for the likes of RB Leipzig and Genoa on different job titles to escape trouble. However he wasn’t the only coach to have troubles with this system in Australia recently.

“David was one of the many people that Glenn Warry helped through this process because it’s a challenge. Essentially what they’re saying is, yep you have a certificate that says you have a pro licence, but you need to prove to us that you really are a pro licence coach and that can take many forms,” Cole said.

“I think Muscat ended up, after having to sit to get around it, his club in Belgium called him a Technical Director and initially he couldn’t even sit on the bench for matchdays.

“They eventually got around that and they got to a point where his previous experience gets ratified because they sit down with him, interview him and realise this guy knows what he is talking about. They don’t give him a pro licence, but they give him a letter that says ‘you’re ok to work in Europe’.

“So many Aussie coaches go through it, Kevin [Muscat] went through it, Ange went through it, David Zdrillic didn’t have a pro licence, got a job offer in Italy and couldn’t accept it because his credentials weren’t recognised”

When asked if Australian coaches succeeding in Europe would help force the issue on this situation, Cole mentioned that there was still a lot more that had to done outside of that for it to pass.

“Success will cause change to one degree. Obviously if Ange succeeds it will say we have done something right but that’s a one off,” he said.

“When you start to add up the volume, so you’ve got Ange’s success, now Tanya Oxtoby who’s manager of Northern Ireland women’s national team but like Joe Montemurro they both got their UEFA pro licences whilst spending time abroad and that adds another string to the bow.

“Question is should we be encouraging Australian coaches to plan to go to Europe to get into the UEFA coaching course but that’s really expensive because you have to fly over and take time off work etc.

“We’d like to think no but the reality is today that it would be a better option for those who have the capacity and the willingness to work at that level.

“There are people working to try and fix that but given the organisations involved, I don’t perceive that it will be a quick fix by any means.”

It remains an extremely interesting discussion that has accelerated into a bigger issue in recent years as more Australian coaches start succeeding domestically and in Asia which leads to the bigger job opportunities in Europe that they aren’t qualified for due to this incredible rule.

Aston Villa strike lucrative front-of-shirt deal with Betano

Aston Villa has struck an important sponsorship deal with Greek online betting company Betano worth £40m (AU$77.4 mil) over the next two seasons.

This would become the club’s most lucrative front-of-shirt sponsor in their history and comes at a crucial time where Villa need to drive commercial revenue given the strain on Premier League clubs from Profit and Sustainability Rules.

Villa announced losses of nearly £120million (AU$232.3 million) across 2023, which UEFA claim was the highest in Europe. The mega-deal with Betano coincides with club’s new partnership with Adidas, who will take over from Castore as Villa’s kit manufacturer.

Whilst the club have claimed that the huge financial losses are “in line with their strategic business plan”, there is no doubt they wanted to find the best suitor out of this new deal.

Aston Villa were only allowed to strike a two year deal which runs until 2026 because the Premier League have introduced a ban on gambling companies becoming front of shirt sponsors which comes into effect from the start of the 2026/27 season.

Betano are quickly expanding in the European football market, with UEFA added the company as a global sponsor for the 2024 Euros alongside their current deals with huge Portuguese clubs FC Porto and Sporting CP.

Aston Villa currently have a deal with gambling firm BK8 who sit at the front of their shirts from the 2023/24 season, and the club are doubling down on gambling sponsors with this Betano deal, something that is controversial amongst their own fans.

Following the BK8 deal, Aston Villa fan groups protested the team allying with a company from a taboo sector such as gambling and it remains to be seen what the reaction will be when the club officially announces this new deal.

The main aim for Villa is to boost their commercial revenue as they push for Champions League qualification which would rid the club of some financial stress.

The deal is controversial but a required one for Aston Villa and the club that is taking the right steps to ensure they avoid a point deduction or a fine as the Premier League looks to really clamp down on the Profit & Sustainability rules.

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