With just over two months until the start of the twelfth A-League season it might be time to think about the things that could make it one of the best ever.
With most squads settled, aside from Sydney F.C’s worldwide search for a marquee number nine, the quality of football must surely be the best measuring stick to gauge our local competition in the coming months.
Depending on what people felt the league had accomplished over the previous few seasons will undoubtedly effect their level of expectation and hopes for the coming one. There were immense positives in 2015-16.
The derbies lived up to expectations in the main, the quality of the top four was consistently good and the semi-finals culminated in a wonderful spectacle that saw a fairy tale story unfold.
That fairytale is one of the things we need to see again. Not necessarily Adelaide being held winless for the first eight games and making a run all the way to the title, but a replication of the style of football and goal production that saw the club come from the darkest depths of the table.
After only mustering seven goals in the first eight weeks, Adelaide peeled of 45 goals in their last 21 games.
In a way it was interesting to see a more dour team like Sydney FC struggle in the latter stages of the season. Sydney played with negativity and stifled creativity that hampered their run as other teams began to play more expansively.
The attacking mindset of Adelaide, Brisbane, Western Sydney and Melbourne City saw them waving at the others as they left them in their wake. Their style stood up as the most effective and the semi-final series’ average goal stats backed up their reliance on positive football.
The regular season saw a scoring average of 3.12 goals per game whereas the finals average stood at a lofty 5.00. While there are only a limited number of matches in the final series, it was more the willingness to attack and playing for victories that made it a great spectacle.
Sure there were some awful defensive mistakes, particularly in Brisbane Roar’s 5-4 nail-biting loss to Western Sydney. Even with a three-goal deficit, the Wanderers kept attacking aggressively at the risk of exposing their own end with more than 60 minutes remaining.
Both teams in the final three encounters of the season came to score, win and dominate, it was awesome to watch. Seeing multiple goals scored in every finals match is good for the brand. We need more of the same this year.
Marquee players have been vital for the development of the league as it has attempted to grab a foothold in a congested summer season of sport. From the early days of Dwight Yorke, Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey, right through to the explosion of interest caused by Alessandro Del Piero, the marquee plays a vital role in creating interest and crossing fans over from other sports.
Maintaining those fans is the key and as fake and cheap as some might feel the signing of the often thirty plus marquee players is, there is no mistaking the commercial benefits.
Unfortunately David Villa proved to be somewhat of a disappointment and didn’t really impact the league despite an initial flurry.
There were plenty of expressions of concern over the quality of the marquees and names like Federico Piovaccari and Filip Holosko were mostly disappointing and the solid Thomas Broich has always been underestimated in terms of his parity with overseas players.
At the time of writing there hasn’t been a signing that would make the level of noise created by others that have gone before. That’s not to say that the added quality of Josh Brillante, Bernie Ibini and returning quality such as Rhys Williams will not have a significant impact.
Let’s hope that the loss of players like Aaron Mooy, Pablo Sanchez, Corona and others will lead to some of our best and brightest stepping up to fill the void.
Perhaps Sydney F.C have one more card up their sleeve as they undertake their worldwide search for a marquee number nine. How big? Only time will tell.
2016-17 will be a telling year for crowds and coming up off a reasonably good base will make it tough to improve. Only five weekends dropped below the ten thousand per game average in 2015-16. An average crowd of 12,309 for the season is highly commendable.
League friends of mine constantly argue that these figures are inflated as the A-League doesn’t tackle the other football codes head to head over the winter months. This is fallacy, people don’t spend money and travel out to A-League matches because they are bored and have nothing else to do.
Supporters develop passion and loyalty to their club and the figures suggest that real growth is occurring. It is fair to think that a thirteen or fourteen thousand average is within the realms of possibility this year especially when the membership figures from last season are considered.
There are reasons explaining why those with low membership numbers have low membership numbers, and they should all increase soon. Brisbane Roar (5347), seem to be on their way back and should get a bounce in support due to a wonderful season in 15-16, The Wellington Phoenix (5,062) have added real quality with Kosta Barbarouses and Guilherme Finkler. The Central Coast Mariners (6,059) who have recruited well with Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares.
The memberships of Sydney F.C, Western Sydney, Melbourne Victory and an Asian Champions League bound Adelaide should all continue to grow and provide the bulk of the approximately 110,000 people who enjoy A-League Club membership.
Quality Foxtel coverage, more extensive media such as weekly football radio shows which are now common place in Sydney, can both assist in keeping the upward trend in the game continuing.
Ensuring that late afternoon fixtures in extreme heat are avoided is vitally important, as is highly competitive derbies being held at venues that maximise attendance, hype and build-up.
If the gap that grew between the top six and the bottom four tightens up and fans can remain engaged with their club over what is a long season, the league should experience another season of growth. Hopefully, recent player movements help out clubs like Newcastle, Central Coast and Wellington and see them compete more consistently.
The busy year facing the Socceroos and indeed the coming weeks for the Matildas, will also have a significant bearing on the season.
The enormity of the World Cup qualifiers will hit home late in the year and another run through to the World Cup Finals will keep all our juniors passionately striving to be future wearers of one of our nation’s most prized jerseys.
As the F.F.A Cup moves onto our screens in the coming weeks, the energy for the season will build. Hopefully it sets a wonderful tone and the league itself can parlay the interest created.
The great thing for football in this country is that we have so far to travel in terms of our development, yet we have done so many things right along the way.
With wise council and further engagement with fans, our game will continue to flourish.