Why big name stars won’t save the ALM

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Daniel Sturridge, Usain Bolt, Nani, Charlie Austin.

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Not all of these names belong in the same category, but they all represent the ‘sugar hit’ problem the A-League Men’s competition is contending with.

The signing of big names in the ALM has worked sparingly over the last decade. Alessandro Del Piero, among others, provided the league and its fans with great exposure in past seasons.

However, that was only after the ALM had done the hard yards and earned the right to sign the world’s best.

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At present, prominent players are being signed strictly as a means of manufacturing excitement to rekindle enthusiasm. Clubs are clearly entitled to sign whomever they wish to, but it is evident that many players are seemingly taking advantage of the A-League in the twilight of their careers.

Players like Nani and Austin appear fully invested in their clubs, but the likes of Sturridge and even Bolt were milking the ALM for exposure and handsome compensation that doesn’t match their commitment, attitude or age-profile.

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This phenomenon is known as the ‘sugar hit’ factor, where the clubs and their foreign owners purchase an international star well beyond their best to generate hype and get more eyeballs on screen.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to rapidly improve your team or progress the ALM’s international appeal, these ‘sugar hits’ only serve to set the competition back in the long term.

Del Pierro arrived on Australian shores at least a decade into the ALM’s existence. Crucially, the groundwork had been laid with investment in youth and fans were on board in big numbers.

Once the league had established itself and ensured Australian football was in good order first and foremost, it then had the luxury of bringing in proven players to further enhance the quality of the competition.

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In the fogginess post-COVID-19, the ALM needs to undergo a similar trajectory.

Brisbane Roar have already scrapped their academy and other clubs are struggling with funding their development pathways, yet they’re prepared to splash the cash on a foreigner in the hopes of improving their situation.

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The talk of expansion is ramping up and a world cup campaign is imminent. Therefore, the ALM’s priorities should be firmly rooted in regaining local credibility and fostering support for Australian football.

Once that investment has begun, the competition can afford to add stars who act as the cherry on top, not the main event.

Feature Image Credit: Vision Inspired Photography

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Liam Cook
Aspiring football enthusiast. Covering Brisbane Roar in 2022/23.

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