Expansion and international interest abroad is always a delicate and passionate subject and Australian football is not immune from this. At present, ten teams from Australia and New Zealand are represented in the Hyundai A-League, with more interest than ever after Melbourne City (formerly Melbourne Heart) were heavily invested in by one of the world’s biggest names in world football.
For the world’s richest football club, Manchester City, there was only one choice when it came to investing in a franchise in the Asian region.
Melbourne’s reputation as Australia’s sporting capital, with the prospect of fan growth and strong financial returns from a city of some 4 million people, tipped the scales easily in Melbourne Heart’s direction even when clubs who have enjoyed more on field success – like Western Sydney Wanderers – were on the market in cities with a similar demographic.
City’s investment follows last year’s establishment of the New York City Football Club, which will enter the Major League Soccer competition in 2015. It also set up Manchester City women’s team. Do we rate this investment as a success?
Foreign investors have lined up to have their controlling say in clubs, all games are televised live and foreigners are jumping at the chance to now play in Australia. Our own players, coaches and administrators have enjoyed their share of success since the birth of Australia’s first full-time professional football competition, but plenty of challenges remain. As a country building its football reputation, one would certainly agree it has been a success to date. More importantly, however, is the effect this investment has as on rival clubs in the A-League.
The A-League in its current format is an entertaining and well-balanced competition, and the standard of football is improving at an impressive rate. The enforcement of a salary cap ensures that any team can conceivably win the championship in any given season, and a team at the bottom one year can go to the top the next.
Brisbane Roar are a good example of this – they stormed to the title in 2010/11 having missed the finals the previous season. New teams can also come in and be competitive straight away, such as the Western Sydney Wanderers last season and, to a certain extent, Gold Coast United before them.
Over the last decade the English Premier League has become increasingly distorted by the influence of money. Only a handful of clubs can realistically win the title every year. This year, however, the title race is quite open this year, but that appears to be mainly due to managerial instability at the top clubs. A salary cap would automatically provide all clubs with that extra incentive to win that coveted title that young footballers dream of – whilst playing for a non-big name club.
So should overseas clubs continue to invest in our A-League? Quite simply, yes. It can only develop and improve the quality of football here in Australia whilst the salary cap is still in play. Whispers were circling that Melbourne Victory had instigated talks with the possibility of selling a stake to Liverpool. A Melbourne derby with influential powerhouses Manchester City and Liverpool would certainly light up the eyes of all football fans in Australia. Global interest in our competition is currently at an all-time high after the success of marquee players Alessandro Del Piero and more recently (yet only a short stint) David Villa, so let’s continue to encourage overseas raiders to obtain a worthy investment and make our game a better spectacle for all.