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The problem with Nani’s move to the A-League




The title of this article references Nani, but it could be applied to the many marquee foreign signings by A-League clubs, like Charlie Austin to name a recent example.

I want to convince people that signing olden goldies is not the way forward for the A-League, and how A-League clubs should instead spend their money.

Let’s put the focus on Nani’s transfer to Melbourne Victory. It has been met with much excitement by fans and experts alike, and with a quick glance, who can blame them?

Someone with over 100 international caps, one Champions League, one European Championship and four Premier Leagues, arriving on our humble Aussie shores.

In his latest article on The Roar, Stuart Thomas stated that Nani is, “universally considered to be far too good when compared to A-League standards.”

I don’t think he should be. Nani is 35 and played 10 games with 0 goals for relegated Venezia in Serie A last season.

Undoubtedly he used to be far too good for the A-League, but is he now? What is “A-League standards?” Well, the ALM got about 500 more fans per match than the average English League Two game last season, so this is a pretty low standard.

One factor is how much you can expect Nani to care about his contract with Victory. Most likely, he is looking for ‘one last big pay cheque’, as are many ageing players when they enter the A-League.

He might be a bit too good but not by “far.” I have commented quite a few times on The Roar about trying to lower expectations of foreign imports, as many have flopped over the years. Daniel Sturridge *cough* *cough*.

So, if international big names won’t actually do staggeringly well in the A-League, then why do clubs sign them? That answer is simple, the clubs are seeking exposure, fans and most of all, revenue.

People say big stars benefit the entire league, drawing in young fans, desperate to see European stars, to stadiums. The same can be said about the many friendlies being played in Aussie grounds right now.

Owners believe that the more players like Nani the league have, the more eyeballs it will garner, and thus grow the league and their individual clubs.

I think differently. The average A-League attendance last season (excluding the finals) was 5,349. In the year of the league’s formation, 2005-06, the lowest attendance for an A-League game hosted in Australia during the entire season was 5,033.

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

That’s not growth, if anything that’s decline for a league that promised to take Australian football to heights never seen before.

While you might point to the league’s expansion for the falling attendances, in the 2010-11 season, where the league had just one less team than it has now, the average non-finals attendance was still 8,441.

Alessandro Del Piero, Juninho, Romàrio, Emile Heskey, David Villa and even cult hero Tim Cahill have not done much to grow the league.

If paying big for those who have reached the very top is not the way forward for A-League clubs, then what is? Here I point you to another sporting country where football is fighting a losing battle, the USA. The MLS is known as the big ‘retiring league’.

Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Kaká, David Beckam and our friends Villa and Nani all spent a period of the twilight of their career in the MLS. That perception is out of date, however.

With the exception of Beckam’s new franchise Inter Miami, the MLS clubs have reduced the amount of money they have spent on designated players.

They have instead prioritised the youth and player development. The league has since gone from strength to strength and has significantly increased its competitiveness.

The A-League should try to replicate this. Whilst experts may already wax lyrical about the players coming through, it can still be massively improved. If clubs moved the money from the big signing pot to the youth academy pot, we might see a stronger and better A-League as a result.





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