Take a bow A-league clubs for making one of the most sensible decisions since the commencement of the League, rejecting World Cup Winner Ronaldinho.
There are many who are up in arms that the former World Cup winner and two time winner of the Ballon d’Or, as the FIFA Player of the Year, was not found a club in the A-League, but these people are blinded by the name, and not what he will add to the A-League.
The A-League is over ten years old and no longer needs such tokenism as guest players. The whole guest player position should be scrapped. Currently “a club can spend an unlimited amount on one Guest Player who must satisfy the prescribed marketability criteria as approved by FFA. A Guest Player is restricted to a maximum of 14 Hyundai A-League matches.”
As has been the excuse by many of the coaches, they do not want to disrupt their squads by bringing in a player well past his prime, who will undoubtedly deflect attention from what they are trying to achieve, and may in fact result in some players losing focus too. As was reported in the past week the A-League has plateaued, what that has meant is that this season as Perth Glory coach Kenny Lowe quite rightly said, any team can beat another. So in such a tight competition do you need a high profile distraction, that could in fact be detrimental to your team?
We must also put Ronaldinho the player into perspective, he won the World Cup back in 2002, fourteen years ago when he was aged 22. The second of his Ballon d’Or awards was won in 2005, ten years ago. Having been in his prime at Barcelona, a club he joined in 2001 when he was 21 years old, in 2008, Barcelona club president Joan Laporta stated that Ronaldinho needed a “new challenge”, claiming that he needed a new club if he were to revive his career. He moved to Italy where he had a spell at Inter Milan before heading back to Brazil in 2011. He has had four clubs in four seasons in Brazil, and in September 2015 he and Fluminese agreed to part ways by mutual consent. The club announced that Ronaldinho had asked to meet with them and in that meeting “He respectfully told us he didn’t feel he was able to perform as good as he wanted and that it was a bad situation for him. He made a great gesture in saying he wasn’t being the player he felt he could be right now.” So what will have changed in four months? Does this not reflect a player very much on the decline?
If the A-League is to move forward in the next ten years it is time it stopped offering the stars of yesteryear one final payday, or one last hurrah down-under. This is not good for the league, or the game as a whole. Statistics have shown that players such as Harry Kewell, Robbie Fowler and Alessandro del Piero do not swell the gates on a regular basis. Fans come to see them play once to say they saw them play, and then realising that they are a shadow of the players they were stay at home. (Re-Cycling Players and Ideas – A Bad Pathway)
If the A-League wants to sign overseas players who will have an impact and will not break the bank; del Piero’s Aussie adventure is believed to have cost Sydney FC in the region of $4million over his two year stay with the various add-ons in his contract. Clubs simply cannot afford these levels of investment unless they get a return and win trophies.
Besart Berisha has been an outstanding signing. He puts bums on seats, riles opposing fans, but helps his team win trophies. Thomas Broich’s influence is on the wane, but he too was a key player in his first three to four seasons in the A-League and helped Brisbane Roar to two Championships. Andy Keogh at Perth Glory last season was another great signing, a player who had played at the top level, like the aforementioned, and like them had struggled to hold his place. He came to Australia still with plenty left in the tank. Sadly for the fans he wanted a little more financially than was declared, and then opted to chase the dollar again in Thailand. He will have a lot to prove once he finally gets back on the park for Perth Glory. Expectations will be very, very high and the fans very unforgiving.
These are the calibre of player the A-League needs to attract. Not guest players who take the money and run. Romario was a disaster as a guest player at Adelaide United and was so far away from his peak it was a joke. David Villa was signed for ten games and despite playing well only played four games for Melbourne City, which still left fans feeling ripped off.
Ronaldinho was a truly great player. He should remain great in our minds by not trying to play on when by his own admission to Fluminese his performances had dropped to a level he felt was unacceptable. Why then should that level of performance be acceptable to fans and clubs in the A-League?
There have been plenty in the media who have lambasted the clubs for turning Ronaldinho away. No doubt the same will be quick to have ‘a selfie’ taken at the first press conference! Some have claimed that the clubs needed to look at the commercial aspect of such a deal, as they believe it would help the clubs financially to have such a player on their books. Yet del Piero should be a lesson to all as to how much the additional clauses can end up costing a club; Also let us not forget that the FFA paid a percentage of his salary. Should they being doing that for any player at any club in a league that is over ten years old? No, they should not. So suddenly the clubs have to make the best commercial decisions for their futures, and one of the best things for any club commercially is to win.
With, as mentioned the League wide open this season the clubs need to be creating home-grown heroes, the young players who are breaking through into the first team, who are showing that there is a path to professional football in Australia. These are the players who will encourage those just entering their teenage years to stick with the game and practice. These are the players of the future.
A prime example is Sydney FC’s Brandon O’Neill. In Perth Glory’s Youth team he was an exquisite passer of a ball, but there were concerns over his mobility. He worked tirelessly on that aspect of his game and made sure that his fitness levels could never be questioned. Ian Ferguson gave him his first team debut and then signed him to a two year contract when he was 18 years of age. Unluckily for O’Neill the next two seasons saw the club go through three coaches, and he was forced out of Perth Glory. He did not give up and was rewarded with a contract at Sydney FC where he has shone in their midfield; while his former club has struggled in this area of the pitch. O’Neill has now been rewarded with a place in the Olyroos squad, and who knows may find himself going to the Olympics in seven months time. Whether he goes overseas or spends his career in the A-League O’Neill’s story is inspiring. He is a player who was always determined to leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of playing the game professionally. He has always believed in himself, but has never ever been arrogant.
Which is honestly the better commercial prospect? Which will serve the A-League better in the long run?
It appears the A-League owners are beginning to smarten up and not be blinded by the big name stars, and the A-League in the long term will be the better for it. So rather than being criticised they should be applauded.