It’s dangerous to jump to conclusions and break out the champagne when it comes to rumours in Australian soccer.
Fanciful notions concerning players who may be on their way here, along with the string of managers perennially linked with a move down under have been a mainstay of the sport. Think Gabriel Batistuta’s link to Perth Glory a few years ago or the recent spotting of Roy Keane in Sydney that soon turned into the fiery Irishmen becoming the Victory’s next coach.
Granted, there’s sometimes an element of truth to the rumours and it’s often simply the tyranny of distance or money, usually both, which keep the rumour form eventuating. Regardless, such innuendo adds colour to the Australian soccer scene along with genuine hope, however fleeting and far-fetched.
The current status of Australian soccer is hard to define. On the one hand, participation at a junior level is second to none in this country while the Socceroos under Holger Osiek have emerged as a formidable team who is now ranked inside FIFA’s top 20.
On the other hand, the sport’s governing body in Australia, the FFA, has proven something of a different beast.
Despite the ever improving on-field quality of the A-League, the competition has been plagued by infighting and economic mismanagement since day one. It’s continually been marketed deplorably and after six years struggled to capture the public’s imagination. Crowds are dwindling and not a single club operates at a profit; one was thrown out last season while one was still-born. It’s broadcasting deal, due for negotiation, remains in limbo.
Thankfully, steps are being taken to lift the competition’s status. Recently, the League’s start and end dates have been modified so it doesn’t conflict with the AFL or NRL finals whilst extra revenue has been allocated to marketing. Most importantly, the national team coach has endorsed the League’s standard resulting in promising players thinking twice about leaving for Europe on the first available flight.
But the problem for the A-League has never really been the standard. Getting people to watch has been the real issue.
This is where a player like Harry Kewell can help.
Kewell’s one Australian player who needs no introduction. No singing of his brilliance, no regaling of his feats.
Simply put, Kewell’s the most recognisable soccer player this country has produced and for those not the slightest bit interested in soccer, it’s his face that’s most easily identified in a green and gold line-up.
At almost 33 Kewell still has something to give. He proved this at January’s Asian Cup where he was the Socceroos most potent threat for most of the tournament. And there’s no reason to think he won’t still be by the time the 2014 Brazilian World Cup rolls around.
In the past three seasons he’s scored 33 goals for his club side Galatasaray in the Turkish league and if not for the teams’ failure to qualify for Europe next season, Kewell would more than likely have earned himself another contract there.
So essentially he’s now a free agent. Newly promoted EPL side Queens Park Rangers have apparently expressed an interest, as too have a host of MLS sides in the States. And now Melbourne Victory.
Kewell would have plenty to gain from a move back to Australia. Financially he’ll be offered big bucks now that the Victory has shown its hand and one can soon expect other A-League clubs to follow suit. Sydney FC has declared an interest as too has the Newcastle Jets based on Nathan Tinkler’s sizable wallet coupled with his passion for sport in the Hunter region.
From a professional point of view, Kewell has nothing to fear from returning. Holger Osiek has put his money where his mouth is in regards to Socceroos playing in the A-League; Brisbane Roar’s Matt McKay is now a fixture in the Socceroo midfield, likewise with Victory’s Robbie Kruse. Newcastle’s Jason Culina’s Socceroo status is more determined by his own injuries rather than his chosen workplace these days, while many others such as Mile Jedinak and Sasa Ognenovski are previous A-League graduates.
It might all be pie in the sky and Kewell might just be testing the waters for the best possible deal, wherever that may be, however in the meantime Australian soccer has been provided with one hell of a day dream to contemplate.
Watch out if this one comes true.