Every player in every sport reaches a point when they can no longer perform the way they used to. It is a sad reality of time passing by.
There is also a long-held belief that talented players who drop down to a lower level than their ability, will stand out, but after time will soon fall into playing at that standard. This was a reason given for FA Cup giant-killing upsets of yesteryear. Apart from teams from lower divisions lifting their game, the higher placed teams dropped to their opponent’s level.
Of course what this really meant was that they tried to match the lower-division teams in a style of football that they were not used to, and not surprisingly were beaten. The teams that became “Giant-killers” were the teams who did not let the higher placed teams play the style of football they played week-in-week-out. They did not allow them time or space on the ball.
The A-League has witnessed some top class footballers come and play in Australia. Sadly several were well past their best, attracted attention for a short period, were paid a large sum of money and left. This was a topic we covered just over three years ago in “Recycling Players and Ideas – A bad Pathway.”
Apart from the very high profile players we have seen lesser-known foreign players come and set the A-League alight with their skills, vision and ability. Many of these have been players who have struggled to gain top flight football in the homelands or in Europe. Players who have played for the lesser teams or played a key role in sides in the division below the top flight. These players have looked to be a good investment early on in their careers in Australia.
Virtually all have shown that they truly have been class acts in the A-League, and posses a skill level above many of the players around them. The likes of Thomas Broich, Besart Berisha, Diego Castro, Milos Ninkovic, Marcos Flores and this year’s addition Polish International Adrian Mierzejewski spring to mind.
Broich and Berisha stayed in Australia and continued to deliver for their sides on a regular basis. Unfortunately for Brisbane Roar and Thomas Broich age started to catch up with him. The question that has to be asked is how many of the others after a blistering first season, and sometimes a good second season in the A-League suddenly fall back in with the rest of the players? How many maintain the high level of performance they showed and continue to perform at the standard they set themselves to be judged by?
Are too many of these players becoming like shooting stars? They light up the A-League for a season and have us all gasping in awe, only to then peter out and disappear from sight?
If this is the case should A-League clubs be so quick to re-sign these players onto longer contracts than a year at a time? The idea being to keep them hungry for another contract. The problem is the minute one club did that the player would move to another club who offered them two years or more.
As an ageing player with talent the A-League must be paradise. Their footballing ability sees them possess talent that is higher than most in the competition, so a few moments of what would be commonplace in the top leagues, sees them elevated to superstar status.
Then there is the fact that the season only lasts six months, unless you make the Finals series. You can come lower than mid-table, sixth in the league, and still end up champion, and there is no relegation. Away from the Football it is a great place to live, the lifestyle is excellent. Most players can walk down the street across the country and only a select few will recognise them. It is the ideal environment in which to play professional sport when you come from the melting pots that are Europe and South America. So is it any wonder they want to stay? That they want that new two year deal to see out their career in such a wonderful place?
Is it therefore any wonder that some of these players, definitely not all, lose their hunger once they sign that second contract that guarantees them another two years minimum?
If you look at those players from overseas who have left the A-League and then returned, or those who have excelled at one club and switched to another few have managed to recapture the form of that first season. The Brazilian, Fred is one that springs to mind. He was never the player he was at Melbourne Victory when he returned and signed for what was then Melbourne Heart. Yet the Heart made the finals scraping into sixth spot on the ladder, and Fred won the Alex Tobin Medal. Was this won on past performances and reputation?
Sadly the winners of this award have at times been questionable, and the award has lost its sheen because of it. For example quite how the immobile Alessandro del Piero managed to win it in 2012/13 is beyond many. Maybe it was due to points accumulated for the exquisite execution of his dives? Or maybe it was a clause in his contract?
Of course not all foreign players come here and fade into the background. Take Adama Traore, one of the most under-rated defenders in the A-League. He was signed by Gold Coast United when he was 19 years of age, was virtually ever-present until the FFA withdrew the A-League licence from the Gold Coast. He then moved to Melbourne Victory. From there he moved to Portugal and then Switzerland and FC Basel, where despite having dual citizenship, Australian and Ivory Coast, he was selected for his home country’s national team. He is now playing in Turkey.
The sad thing is Traore’s story is a rare one. If you take the time to read up on where many of the foreign players that have graced the A-League end up after their time down-under, few find their career moving in an upward direction in terms of the clubs, the divisions and the countries they ply their trade in.
Does this mean that the focus is on too many older foreign players? Should the A-league coaches be asking their scouting networks to find them more Adama Traores? It would certainly make more sense to the cash-strapped A-League club owners. Rather than shelling out big money on a player whose performances decline after one or two seasons, and whom when he leaves will result in no financial return, surely a young foreign player hungry for success will reap you greater rewards in the transfer market?
The A-League is in its teenage years, a crucial age where long term decisions need to be made. Will we see a shift from the club owners moving forward, as one feels that the current situation cannot continue for long.