Australian newspapers today reported that storied Uruguayan international Alvaro Recoba was a target for last season’s A-league cellar dwellers Perth Glory.
If the deal goes through Recoba—the man who said before Uruguay's defeat at the hands (or is that feet) of Australia in a World Cup playoff in 2005 "Uruguay has a divine right to play...[in the Finals]”—will become the latest 30-something great (some say former great) of the game plying his trade as a “Marquee Player” in the A-League.
But in the fifth season of Australia’s fledgling national competition is this as great a move as some make out?
Since its inception, the A-League has enforced a strict salary cap. However, each team is allowed to sign one marquee player whose salary is not included under this cap. This is the system that allowed the likes of Dwight Yorke, Juninho, John Aloisi, and, from next season, Robbie Fowler, to come to the A-League party.
It’s also allowed some lesser-known but talented Australian players such as Archie Thompson, Joel Griffiths, Ned Zelic, Craig Moore and Tony Vidmar to ply their trade at home.
But it’s also the policy that’s brought us the likes of a 38-year-old Brian Deane (who left Perth Glory after seven games because he couldn’t keep up), Romario’s embarrassing four-game stint at Adelaide United, Scot Gemmill’s uninspiring tenure with the now defunct New Zealand Knights and an overweight and unfit Mario Jardel making a laughing stock of himself at Newcastle Jets.
Obviously, as the A-League is tiny by international standards, we could never hope to grab a superstar at his peak, but there was a hope that the money on offer, combined with the Australian lifestyle, would pull in some players near the end of their career who still had the skill and flair to light up the occasional game (as well as a well-known name that the marketing guys could throw about, of course).
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved watching Yorke, Juninho and even Deane (although that was because he was so bad it was entertaining). And yes, the prospect of watching North Queensland, with Robbie Fowler up-front, take on a Recoba-led Perth Glory side has many A-league supporters including myself salivating.
However, I can’t help but be filled with dread looking at Fowler’s ample waistline and Recoba’s recent form which has been far from stellar.
All the hype surrounding these two reminds me of the media smoke blowing a few years about Jardel and, gulp, Brian Deane. But hey, Charlie Miller proved last year, winning the best foreign player gong, that you can be a lard-arse and still have good touch.
So football fans, what do you think of the marquee player, or designated player system? Does this rule allow a small league to attract big international names? Or does it pay over inflated salaries to has-beens and declining stars of yesteryear while keeping young local talent out?