Neil Sherwin reports on the runners and riders in an eventful transfer season Down Under.
It’s been a busy offseason transfer wise in the Hyundai A-League, and why wouldn’t it be when you consider that clubs have had since March to sit around twiddling their thumbs?
However for Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC in particular it has actually been a worthwhile period of downtime, with both doing great business to acquire Socceroos Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton respectively, as their Australian marquee players.
The A-League has often been looked down upon by the Australian public as the unattractive younger, ginger brother of the AFL and NRL; but with household names such as Kewell and Emerton signing on, football Down Under has become front and back page news for all the right reasons.
Much like Major League Soccer, marquee signings are seen as a sure fire way to excite both current and potential fans while also raising the profile of the clubs they have joined. Kewell, for example, is a marketing dream in Australia and his personalised shirts are sure to fly out the door of sports stores across the country when a squad number is confirmed. Marquee players, of which each club is allowed two (one Australian and one international), are exempt from the A-League salary cap. The allocated salary cap for 2010/11 was AUD$2.35 million with which clubs were required to make up squads of between twenty and twenty-three players.
The Kewell transfer saga dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, becoming essentially the southern hemisphere equivalent of the Cesc Fabregas fiasco, but Victory finally got their man and instantly saw a noticeable increase in membership signups.
Emerton is less of a high profile signing but a fantastic one nonetheless. At only 32, he could easily have stayed on at Blackburn Rovers playing first team football in the Premier League for another couple of seasons. Emerton has put pen to paper on a three year deal, and a straw poll taken by the Sydney Morning Herald in the wake of the news showed that four out of five readers believe that he will turn out to be a better signing than Kewell.
Sydney FC has set a target of 10,000 members for the coming season and with a current Socceroo in their ranks that figure is certainly achievable.
Lesser known international Dario Vidošić has also made a return to the A-League to take up the Australian marquee spot at Adelaide United. The 24 year old Serbian born attacking midfielder has been playing in Germany with FC Nuremberg, MSV Duisburg and Arminia Bielefeld and eases the pain caused by the loss of Marcos Flores who was outstanding for the South Australians last year.
Perth Glory is another club to have jumped on the marquee bandwagon, giving their international spot to New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz who scored against Italy for the Kiwis in the 2010 World Cup. He has been joined in the west by Republic of Ireland international and former Manchester United, Sunderland and Celtic midfielder Liam Miller who should provide the creative spark that has been lacking in recent seasons.
It hasn’t all been good news on the transfer front for the A-League with last year’s dominant force, Brisbane Roar, losing key players Matt McKay (Rangers) and Kosta Barbarouses (Alania Vladikavkaz), but such is the nature of a league that is now both developing players and providing a good home for those looking for a new challenge.
We’re now just over a month away from the big kick off, and with Victory and Sydney due to face off in Round 1 on October 8th, the new season is set to begin with a bang.