Thursday, April 28, 2011

Young versus old in the A-League

This week 35 Scott Chipperfield signed a contract extension with FC Basel which, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, will keep him at the club until June 2012 (1). This effectively shuts the possibility of a return to Australia to play in the A-League for the Socceroos veteran. With sporting careers rarely spanning more than a decade and the amount of the contract unsubstantiated who can blame the veteran for obtaining one more valuable contract for his family? The A-League promised a return of the 'golden generation' of Socceroos but that has yet to fully materialise. Should we be concerned at the lack of interest of these players in returning to the A-League or is this giving a new generation of starlets the chance to truly shine?

We have had stars come back haven't we?

Craig Moore came back to the Brisbane Roar and after an initially successful stint as Brisbane captain fell out the new and current A-League winning manager Ange Postecoglou. Craig wanted the backing of the board, it was him or Ange. Brisbane will forever be thankful for the decision to keep the right man at the helm. Moore's exit from the Roar somewhat tainted his time at the Roar. Former Roar CEO Peter McLennan was quoted in the SMH, stating(2):

"On at least two occasions during that time Craig issued me with the ultimatum that either Ange went or he went," McLennan said.
C+ Grade

Danny Tiatto returned to Australia with a checkered history in the English leagues, but as a former 23 game Socceroo, he too was heralded as a successful coup for the A-League and Brisbane Roar. After 2 goals in 49 appearances, playing primarily as a defender, he was sacked in Postecoglou's sweeping 2010 review of the Brisbane based club. His time in the A-League would be considered mildly disappointing with ill-discipline once again letting Tiatto down.
C- Grade

Jason Cullina left PSV Eindhoven in a shock to many football pundits around the world. At the peak of his career Cullina announced that he would join the fledgling A-League outfit, the Gold Coast United in their inaugural 2009/10 campaign. It was argued that it would cost him his spot in the Socceroos squad which, besides injuries, has yet to do. He has now joined his father at Newcastle United for the 2011/12 season. So far it could be argued that he has been the A-League's perfectly aged and performing, returning Socceroo.

B+ Grade

John Aloisi
It was suggested that the return of the World Cup Qualifying hero Aloisi would see a plethora of goal-scoring feats that would take the A-League by storm. In a 75 game A-League career, which spanned three clubs and included an A-League title and 27 goals could be, some would say unfairly, seen as an almost disappointing result for such a talented forward.
C+ Grade

Josip Skoko
A new club, met an old football friend Josip Skoko and the Melbourne Heart had their first marquee player. In what shaped as a talented squad tipped for a finals campaign in their inaugural season the Heart, like Skoko, showed flashes of brilliance but consistent inconsistency!
D+ Grade

Kevin Muscat
Talented, gritty, loved and hated in equal measures. The 'winner' of the league who captained Melbourne Victory to two A-League Championships will be remembered for 'that tackle' on Adrian Zahra, and maybe even his, 'love and tickle' with old mate John Kosmina. Always in the headlines, something that the A-League will take in almost any format, he has to be deemed an A-League, returning success.
A Grade

Fight night: John Kosmina comes to grips with Kevin Muscat when the teams last met at Telstra Dome. Picture: George Salpigtidis Herald Sun

We want and wanted these stars back!
The FFA, huffed, and they puffed, but they have yet been able to lure any of these bona fide stars back to the fold.
Harry Kewell
The former Leeds teenage prodigy would be the ideal signing in a stagnating Sydney market. The looks, the skills and history would make him an ideal marquee player to match the heights of 'all night' Dwight Yorke from season one. Sadly, if he does come back to play a part in the A-League, the return may be more likely as an owner or manager.
Lucas Neill
It has been reported that Neill is looking to return to Australia, possibly playing for a Sydney based club. More in the mould of a Craig Moore than a Harry Kewell, would he bring people through the turnstiles?
Mark Viduka
Some would say Australia's greatest export. How many of us would have loved to see the V-Bomber play as an out and out striker as he did as a precocious teenage talent plying his trade for the Melbourne Knights in the old NSL? Sublime skills, and a deft touch that always brought team mates into the game, Viduka has been seen in the stands watching the Heart instead of gracing the fields.
Tim Cahill
One of Everton's best players and arguably Australia's best current player would be a superstar in the A-League and would have fans young and old attending games even as a neutral fan. His marketing presence and pull would also generate much needed income for the A-League. His passion for the game would be mirrored by adoring crowds.

Those who have briefly sparked and may yet shine bright!
For some these are the stars of tomorrow, for others they have already set the league alight!

Dario Vidosic, Fabian Barbiero, Luke DeVere, Matthew Leckie, Matthew Ryan, Mustafa Amini, Nikita Rukavytsya, Robbie Kruse, David Williams and Tommy Oar. Some of the young names that have all graced the A-League, some have played for the Socceroos, Olyroos and some have ventured to bigger clubs in both Asia and Europe. If you look at the lists of every A-League club there are stars in the making and players who you already want to watch on a weekly basis.

When the A-League started I focused on the experienced players from around the world that were signed by each club and looked forward to seeing them in an Australian competition. Whilst there has been the odd success, Flores, Van Djik, Hernandez, Fred, Broich, Yorke and Smeltz, these players have been the exception to the rule. I now look forward to seeing the unknown youngster flourish in our national competition. This is now more of my focus as a supporter than who is coming back to play for our teams at an older age.

We, as supporters, can always say that we saw the future stars play for and against our teams. It also gives young supporters a role model for their own career paths. That can only be good for Australian football.

Who do you like watching in the A-League?

Which young players do you think will be stars of the future?

Who would you like to see come back and play in the competition?

(1) "Chipperfield shuns move to Sydney FC", The Sydney Morning Herald, April 25, 2011.
(2) "Brisbane Roar release skipper Moore", The Sydney Morning Herald, December 31, 2009.