Why the A-League Men should ditch big-name marquee players

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The A-League Men’s star marquee players have flattered to deceive as of late. Often the players have operated as publicity stunts as opposed to providing spectacular on-field performances.

The premature departure of Brisbane Roar’s Charlie Austin is a disappointing reflection of the success of ALM marquees over the past few seasons.

It was only last season that an English compatriot of Austin, Daniel Sturridge, departed following just one season after significantly limited game time in Perth Glory’s dismal 2021/22 campaign. Hence, there are ample examples of marquee signings failing to meet expectations.

One may also suggest that the star appeal offered by these players has also taken a hit. The current crop of marquees coming into the league have had solid careers, particularly in Europe, yet pale in comparison to the talent acquired by the competition in its early years.

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Alessandro Del Piero was a legend of the game when he joined Sydney FC after winning numerous major honours at the pinnacle of European football, including the World Cup with Italy. Del Piero is considered a legend of Italian side Juventus. The forward stayed with the club during arguably its most challenging time following relegation to the second division of Italian football, while plenty of other big names chose to depart.

Generally, recent ALM marquees cannot claim to hold such incredible accolades and history-defining moments. Stories and careers like the former Italian international’s were ones that the league and its fans could be inspired by and feel privileged to be experiencing in Australia, irrespective of the advancing age of the player.

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Austin’s incredible goalscoring for Queens Park Rangers during their 2014/15 Premier League season should be appreciated. However, this was arguably the best form seen from the English forward in his career – one phenomenal season approaching a decade ago. 

Melbourne Victory’s Nani is 36 and is in the twilight of a glittering career across Europe’s major leagues. Most notably, his time at Manchester United, where he won several Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League.

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The Nani ALM fans see on the weekend is far from the tricky winger who lifted Europe’s top club honour 14 years ago. Since then, he’s played in Portugal, Turkey, Spain, the United States and Italy before landing in Australia, where he may very well finish his career.

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The marquee system in Australian football has consistently brought players into the league who are at the end of their careers. The focus should be on encouraging players to make their careers in Australia rather than finish them here.

The memorable moments of the ALM have overwhelmingly been created by players whose footballing stories were still waiting to be written. For example, Bruno Fornaroli moved from club to club across several countries, seeking a consistent goalscoring record.

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Before the Uruguayan joined Melbourne City where his goalscoring exploded, becoming the first ALM player to score 20 goals in the regular season. In this way, the ALM presented Fornaroli with the chance to flourish and etch himself into Australian football history.

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Just the past year, Jason Cummings joined Central Coast Mariners after some tough times in the United Kingdom. Since then, he’s become an integral part of the Mariners side and a coveted favourite across the competition’s fans. Not to mention his journey to the Socceroos.

The ALM has also witnessed some incredible human stories. A recent example is 18-year-old Garang Kuol, whose family fled Sudan before moving to Australia as refugees. Kuol’s performances in his short time in the competition have earned him a move to the English Premier League with Newcastle United.

These kinds of stories and memories form the basis of the league.

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In Australia, the fans have a unique connection to the players that is not so apparent in other competitions worldwide. To this extent, the ALM has a strong history of making the careers of players who were waiting to shine.

Every league has its unique appeal, and the ALM should capitalise on telling the tales of today’s talents rather than chasing the fading stardom of those whose football stories have already been told.

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan 

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Timothy Gibson
I am a student currently studying a Bachelor of Journalism/ Bachelor of Laws while writing football match reports and feature articles.

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