While some celebrate the signing of 37 year old former Liverpool player Luis Garcia, others simply shake their heads in wonderment. Forget whether this signing is good for the Mariners, the question is whether it is good for the A-League.
There is no doubt the competition is floundering, it is in serious trouble, and don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. The football – like the EPL – is rarely exciting as most teams concentrate on not losing, rather than going out to win in a competition where you cannot be relegated. Also as long as you finish in the top 60% you have a chance of being crowned Champions. When you consider those facts the A-League should be full of attacking football, as teams can play with more freedom in search of wins.
The TV audiences have dropped off as well. The owners of the clubs are all struggling financially, not to make money but to simply break even. The A-League is facing its biggest challenge yet, and that is to actually remain a fully professional competition with ten teams in the next 3-4 years.
It is somewhat ironic that the FFA who run the A-League, and who have made plenty of mistakes in doing so, should recently make the decision to finally acknowledge the role played by the clubs, coaches, players, and fans who were connected to the old National competition the NSL. Finally the records from this era are being acknowledged, and so they should be as the NSL was the first truly national football league in the country, and was set up in 1977. Had it not been laid to rest next year it would have been 40 years old. The FFA was its replacement, “New Football,” as fans were advised and were to believe that this “New Football” was going to better.
They say that the best way to learn about situations is to look at history. Those at the helm of the FFA chose to throw history in the bin, and maybe that is why they find themselves in the situation they are now in.
The A-League, like the NSL, tried to get too big too quickly and as a result teams fell by the wayside. When the novelty of the competition started to wane a deliberate move was made to try and attract top level overseas players at the end of their careers to boost the crowds. In those days there was no social media and the ploy was an attempt to gain media coverage. Now we find the FFA doing exactly the same thing.
The signing of a 37 year old player who has not played since 2014 is aimed at gaining media attention and hopefully pulling new fans through the gate. Some cynics would say that the FFA’s decision to finally acknowledge the history, players and clubs of the NSL is also a deliberate ploy to try and pull people through the turnstiles. There were many who refused to watch the A-League, or support its clubs, as a result of the way “their Clubs” were discarded under the new regime.
Garcia is long past his best, and what is worrying is if he stands out for the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League the publicity angle could well back fire, as many suddenly start to question the quality of the competition. That is why some are hoping that he struggles. As it will prove that the A-League is still a good standard, but just lacks marketing profile and the required investment to pull fans in. If he succeeds more aged players may head down under for a final big pay day as a swan song, but the credibility of the competition will take a severe knock. In fact more similar signings could be the death of it as a globally credible competition.
In the ’80’s the performance of imported stars in the NSL was in the main fleeting. They grabbed the attention for a few weeks, but their performances at the ends of their careers failed to keep the attention. The key element here is back in the 80’s the cost even in relative terms was no where near as great. The ageing player did not make such huge demands financially. In 2016 the same may be true in terms of publicity but the cost is far greater.
In 2014 in Re Cycling Players and Ideas – A Bad Pathway Not The footy Show stated that it was time the A-League stood on its own as a competition. That it promoted and marketed itself for what it is, and stopped trying to be the English Premier League, because it is not and never will be.
The signing of Luis Garcia highlights a lack of vision, a lack of football knowledge in terms of running the game. Rather than signing retired players the FFA needs to employ marketing experts with a knowledge of football and employ new marketing techniques, rather than repeating the mistakes of the NSL. They need to hold back some of the money they currently give the A-League owners to promote the game. The clubs will hate the sound of this, but very few of the A-League clubs are honestly doing an adequate job. Many believe a Twitter handle, a Facebook page or an Instagram account is marketing; these are components, but are far from being an effective marketing approach. To be fair a few clubs social media presence is superb, others leave a great deal to be desired. Does the FFA coach clubs how to maximise this exposure? If not why not?
The money blown on players who can no longer perform is not good for the competition. It is a short term fix. Like a company that is struggling financially having a sale simply to generate much needed cash.
One of the key elements in the NSL was that fans of the game in this country wanted to see home grown talent thrive. Clubs were proud to relate the names of players who wore their colours. The names would roll off the tongue. Sure some were pleased to say that former greats wore their shirts, but the players who evoke the best memories were local boys who went on to greater things.
Much can be learned from history. The FFA need to pay closer attention to the mistakes made in the past, in the NSL, if they are to avoid teams in the A-League in the next five years pulling out or making some of their squad semi-professional. That would be a great shame and a very hard path back to a full time professional competition with television coverage. It is however a very real possibility.