News that a second Socceroo is returning home as Brett Emerton prepares to sign for Sydney FC confirms the end of an era for Australian Football. Many are hailing his return and Melbourne Victory’s signing of Harry Kewell as a major coup and one that is great for football in Australia, forgive this writer for not being quiet so enthused.
Many thought that Kewell would return to his hometown, but it may appear that Sydney were wise to invest in Emerton rather than the injury prone Kewell.
Harry Kewell possessed immense footballing talent, and there is also no doubt that at times he has been much maligned, often wrongly, sometimes justifiably, as his manager endeavours to obtain the best deal possible for his client.
Emerton too has had a wonderful career in Europe with Feyenoord and Blackburn Rovers and has always managed to let his football do the talking, although the recent game against Wales showed the talking is becoming more of a whisper at international level as age and injuries begin to catch up with him.
The A League is a tougher league than many realize, and the pace is very different to the European leagues. As has been seen in previous seasons some attacking players from these leagues have struggled to adjust.
If we look at those former Socceroos who have returned to the A League to finish their careers it is the defenders who have stood out, Kevin Muscat, Craig Moore and Tony Vidmar. The attacking players have all struggled, Stan Lazarides, John Aloisi, Mile Sterjovski to name a few.
Both Emerton and Kewell are going to have to buck that trend. Kewell is going to have to realize if he plays the role discussed, behind the front two, that his teammates may not think as quickly as he does on the park. Emerton will find that his pace may not be there and will have to rely on his ability to keep possession and hold onto the ball, to bring other players into the game. There is no doubt his delivery from the wing will be a huge bonus to Sydney FC.
Kewell was touted by Melbourne Victory as being the best player of his generation, a statement that is open to opinion, there is no doubt that he has been marketed the best.
Kewell is going to have to hit the ground running when he arrives in Australia a month before the start of the A League season to convince many that this is a good move for Melbourne Victory, and The Hyundai A League. The same will apply to Emerton.
It appears that the FFA see the signing of these two as a Marketing coup, something that will help garner interest in a flagging Hyundai A League, if that is the case it also has a feel of desperation about it from those close to the game, almost a last roll of the dice, to pull punters in.
As always when Harry Kewell is involved the non-football media go into an excited frenzy. Emerton will not create such stir. Kewell is quoted on the Melbourne Victory website as stating, “I am proud to be Australian and want to give something back to the game there. It has always been my ambition to play in my home country and I am very pleased to have that opportunity by playing for Melbourne Victory.”
There are many questions surrounding Kewell’s signing, had his manager been able to land him a contract overseas would he be playing in Australia next season? Had he still not harboured hopes of playing in the 2014 World Cup would he have signed a three-year deal? Why when on the Australian sporting rich list with earnings reported as being $10.5million, would you want a percentage of the increase in attendance income, sponsorship income and membership income, which has been reported?
Emerton’s return appears to have more to do with where he is at in his football life.
Kewell has stated that he wishes to play in a third world cup but this move could see that dream end in tears. It is one thing to return to Australia to prolong your career, and play under the nose of the Australian coach, but as witnessed in Jason Culina, eventually the standard that you attained playing in superior leagues in Europe begins to slip, and whether Harry Kewell in three years is still of a standard that warrants selection for the World Cup should Australia, qualify only time will tell. Interestingly Emerton has not been drawn on his aspirations to play in Brazil in 2014.
The only way Harry Kewell will win over his doubters is by maintaining fitness, and maintaining high standards on the pitch. With such a short A league season that could prove a challenge over three years.
If Kewell fails and Emerton disappoints don’t expect clubs to be shelling out big bucks on returning Socceroos, as so far it has been a gamble that has rarely paid off, especially with attacking players.