Ronaldo a no show in Korea – Do players truly care for pre-season trips?

Imagine being a soccer fan in South Korea.

You have your local sides such as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Seoul FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. But you prefer the higher quality leagues of Europe.

Your national team’s stars play there, including Heung Min-Son, Lee Jae-sung and Hwang Hee-chan. You dream of one day, seeing some of the world’s best play live.

Then, Italian champions Juventus are announced as the headline pre-season tournament side. You’d be pretty darn excited wouldn’t you?

Australian soccer fans would be over the moon if Juventus came Down Under for a few pre-season friendlies.

Understandably, you want tickets to see one of the greatest clubs in world football strut their stuff.

Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Giorgio Chiellini and Cristiano Ronaldo, just to name a few, will be kicking about in your own backyard.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Usually, this is where you’d see the phrase, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”

The only difference this time is that in this instance, it shouldn’t be.

We’ve seen international superstars play pre-season matches across the globe before. English clubs Arsenal, Manchester United and Leeds United sent strong squads to their respective tours.

Granted, younger and lesser-known players were given priority but these stars such as Paul Pogba, Mesut Ozil and Pablo Hernandez still played in front of fans who paid their dues.

Heck, even Real Madrid took new star signing Eden Hazard on their tour of the United States.

They understood and respected how far some fans go for their teams, and that some fans can’t travel to watch league or cup fixtures. They tried giving them lifelong memories.

Autographs, selfies and just the experience of having your heroes out there will do that for fans of these clubs.

Juventus, however and specifically Ronaldo, didn’t seem to care.

Not only was Ronaldo barely sighted during signing and photograph sessions with fans, he didn’t even play!

Imagine taking one the most highly decorated and talented footballers to a country filled with passionate soccer fans, for him to sit on the bench. That’s ludicrous enough.

Now imagine paying to see this match with the promise that he’d be out there playing. That’s where the line is drawn.

Understandably, fans are suing as a result of not getting what they were promised.

The event has gone from a harmless, pre-season friendly to a dumpster fire that the Italian giants have only themselves to blame.

But this begs the question. Do some players genuinely care for their pre-season tours?

Combined with this Ronaldo incident, Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny refused to travel with the squad on the Gunners’ trip across the United States.

It is becoming increasingly commonplace in the elite world of soccer and only time will tell if it becomes an unfortunately commonality.

We understand that some players may not want to risk injury and that’s fine. Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea injured his Achilles tendon during a friendly match and is set for a huge stint on the sidelines.

He is one of many examples where a player jeopardises the side after an injury during a non-competitive fixture.

If clubs and/or the players themselves come out and say that they don’t want to risk injuries to their stars, that’s totally acceptable.

But don’t give fans hope for it to be taken away when they least expect it.

Imagine the uproar if Paul Pogba didn’t play any minutes for Manchester United in the Australian tour. Fans would be left feeling totally ripped off, right?

That’s how all South Korean soccer fans feel right now. Trust me, it’s not an enviable feeling.

 

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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.

Joe Montemurro’s move to Lyon showcases elite coaching talent from Australia

Joe Montemurro has become the first non-French coach to take over Olympique Lyon Women’s team in their 20-year history after a two-year deal was struck with the legendary Australian coach.

The former Juventus and Arsenal head coach takes over the reins from Sonia Bompastor who left at the end of the 2023-24 season to manage WSL club Chelsea.

Montemurro’s resume in the women’s game is truly unmatched, leading Juventus to five trophies over a three year stretch including a treble in his maiden season. Before that he had a revolutionary coaching spell at WSL giants Arsenal, with whom he claimed the 2018 League Cup and the Women’s Super League the following year.

Montemurro is just another of many top Australian coaches produced from home soil, with his youth squads and A-League Women’s experience in Melbourne shaping the genius he has become today.

However, a hot topic in the Australian coaching community has been the lack of opportunities abroad for many local coaches whether it be due to the lack of pathways up the ranks or the AFC/UEFA licencing issue that has locked out managers from going abroad.

In a country that has produced plenty of elite manager talent, there are 14 managers in head coaching roles abroad, with only four of those in Europe (Oxtoby, Postecoglou, Montemurro, and Wehrman). It’s simply not enough.

Names like Jeff Hopkins and Ante Juric, who have plied their trade in Australian women’s football with many titles each are left to ponder the opportunity of coaching abroad without their UEFA licence acquired.

Both Montemurro and Oxtoby in particular have been pioneers in the women’s game regarding the seamless transition from Australia to European success, and the consistent successes of the former will surely legitimise women’s football more in this country and increase opportunities for the next generation of coaches who start locally and experience early success.

With this move, Montemurro also unfortunately rules himself out of the coveted Matildas manager position that he was certainly one of the leading contenders for. It was a story of poor timing with Australia’s best ever women’s football coach left to wait too long for Gustavsson to make way.

Montemurro also ended up on the final three of the shortlist in the USWNT’s pursuit of a new manager with the Olympics arriving soon, however legendary Chelsea manager Emma Hayes was selected to take over.

However, it could be for the better, with Lyon’s sky high expectations something that Montemurro will be very familiar with because of his time at both Arsenal and Juventus.

Lyon have won the French league 17 times in the last 18 seasons, making the league title the minimum requirement for Montemurro, who has really been brought on board to get them back on top in Europe after they lost to Barcelona in last month’s Champions League final.

Montemurro’s move to Europe’s elite is another step forward in his career and again showcases an example of local coaching success translating into roles in Europe, something that has not been seen enough for football in Australia.

How the Liberty A-League can learn from the incredible growth of NWSL

As the A-League Women’s Grand Final approaches and season comes to an end, it is a time to reflect on a season of incredible growth and broken records.

Similarly to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) post-2015 Women’s World Cup, there was a popularity boost that translated into increased attendances and revenue for the league.

However, as the NWSL continued to rapidly develop, it seems as if the Liberty A-League struggled to consistently grow after a fantastic first round showing that involved a record-breaking 11,471 crowd for the Sydney Derby.

In the top 10 attendances of the regular season, eight feature games played before the new year despite the Matildas set to sell out a 14th consecutive home match before the Olympics commence in July.

The Liberty A-League crowd average is a little over 2,200 per match, which is a great benchmark for future growth but doesn’t do the participation and momentum justice.

The NWSL is a great case study to look at, with the league being formed only 12 years ago in 2012 and its first season started in the April of 2013.

In its formative years, the NWSL averaged an attendance 4,270, with a high of 17,619. A decent foundation but plenty of room to improve in the world’s biggest sporting market.

It wasn’t until the 2015 season where the league was forced into a shortened schedule and some early-season roster instability due to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The World Cup, which was won emphatically by the USWNT also provided invaluable exposure to the NWSL, which was credited with boosting attendance numbers across the league.

Instantly, teams such as Seattle and Washington who averaged 3,500 crowds per game were selling upwards of 6,000 to their next home game, an immediate resurgence.

So what did the NWSL do to fast-track growth using the World Cup?

Ticket prices

The NWSL, immediately after the 2015 Women’s World Cup pledged to keep the ticket prices consistent within teams, as it sat at $10-$15 USD (AUD $15-$23) across the league.

It was extremely cheap in a saturated and quite expensive US Sports market that allowed the league to use it as a point of difference.

It’s a simple solution that Melbourne City coach Dario Vidosic hinted at for this weekend’s Grand Final in his recent press conference.

Vidosic claimed that “If it was up to him, everyone would be let in for free for Saturday’s final.”

This is simply to create an exciting atmosphere that legitimises the league’s biggest game of the year on a national stage.

Breakaway from Men’s competition

NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman made an extremely interesting point about the NWSL being its own entity.

Speaking to reporters at the Financial Times’ Business of Football summit in London, Berman said the “superpower” of the NWSL was its “independence” – notably from men’s clubs and leagues, which is not the case in Europe or Australia.

It certainly isn’t an overnight fix by any means but allowing the A-League Women’s to run separately from the A-League Men’s, even if it is just ownership could provide a difference that attracts more fans.

Maintaining local star players

Even in it’s infancy, the NWSL were able to show off USWNT stars like Lynn Williams, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan during their ‘Golden Era.’

It collectively brought in more fans to the stands and increased the league’s exposure in the mainstream media.

It certainly isn’t as easy as that when the prospect of playing for more money and exposure in the US or Europe is a possibility now, but Cortnee Vine provides a great example of a star Matilda willing to be the face of the league to inspire young girls.

If the league are able to keep hold of exciting prospects like Daniela Galic or legends like Michelle Heyman for a few years, it would benefit the league greatly as an entertainment product.

Providing a great fan experience

There was an onus on the NWSL clubs and the league itself to make sure matchdays are an experience that brings fans back.

Two clubs in particular Angel City and San Diego Wave fans host tailgates pre-game near the stadium for anyone to join on top of other activations inside the stadium to connect fans closer to the team.

The WSW Women’s team are a fantastic example of an effort to build support, with their Wander Women program, school clinics, fan interactions and their own social media channels helping them grow slowly but surely.

It’s time the others follow suit in a collective attempt to maximise exposure.

To conclude, the NWSL used the 2015 World Cup as leverage to strike a quick deal with Fox Sports to broadcast 15 games for the rest of that season, cashing in on the national team’s success.

Now it boasts the biggest ever Women’s football media deal in history, with the recent four-year $240 million USD ($324 million AUD) domestic broadcast deal across four major streaming and cable partners.

It will be extremely interesting to see the direction the Liberty A-League takes before it renews its broadcast deal in 2026 as it simply cannot waste this golden opportunity it was presented.

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