Australian football has created headlines after the announcement of a huge signing. The A-League's champions, Melbourne Victory, have signed the Japanese star Keisuke Honda in a deal worth 2.9 million Australian Dollars (2.1 US Dollars) according to reports in Australia. Honda played in Pachuca, Mexico in the last season.
Even though this deal sounds unbelievable, you can find behind it an unusual project that involves the Australian FA, who aspire to make the league a bit more interesting.
When the A-League was founded in 2005, some famous international players signed in Australia. Former world champions such as Alessandro Del Piero, David Villa and other famous players like Dwight Yorke and Emile Heskey were among the players that have arrived in the Kangaroos' country. The main reason was their marquee player status, which allowed the clubs to exempt players with high salaries from the salary cap.
More than a decade later, the A-League has been left behind in the race for famous players. The Chinese money and the rising reputation of the MLS, made it hard for Australian teams to sign high reputation players. Even though each team is allow to sign two marquee players, only 4 out of 10 teams did so in the last season. Moreover, three teams didn't sign even a single marquee player.
One of the major problems that the A-League faced is a potential decrease of the broadcasting rights agreement. Their current agreement with FOX is about to end in 2019 and the league would like to at least get the same contract, 180 million Australian Dollars (120 US Dollars) for four years.
Therefore, the FFA, the Football Federation Australia, decided on a new project. In this project, known as the FFA Marquee Fund, the FA will fund signing of famous players. "The four-year strategic plan represents a significant shift in emphasis towards our showcase competition, the A-League," says the FFA chairman, Steven Lowy. "This is primarily about broadcast rights and commercial partnerships, which are the economic foundation of football around the world."
During the summer break, there were several attempts to add marquee players to the squads. Fernando Torres and Peter Crouch rejected, but Keisuke Honda was the first player to sign as part of this program. The FFA, with FOX co-operation, paid half of the deal – 1.4 million Australian Dollars (1 million US Dollar). In the press conference to present the deal, the A-League chairman, Greg O'Rourke, couldn't hide his excitement. "That's what this program stands for. We are taking this next step to bring Asia to the A-League".
It's not a cliché, Melbourne Victory can really find themselves one step closer to Asia. Even in 2018, a signing of a Japanese player can create attention in his home nation, especially when we are talking about a popular player like Honda. This signing can bring Melbourne Victory into the Japanese market, while the A-League will also hope to do so.
Melbourne Victory also gets a major chance to close the gap from the leading teams in the East region of the AFC Champions League. While Chinese, Japanese and Korean teams attract famous players, Honda will be a great improvement for the Australian side. They will also have an advantage, as Honda could be registered for the Champions League as an AFC foreigner, which means that Melbourne Victory can register four foreigners in the squad.
The Australian football leaders invested time and money in order to bring this deal to fruition. According to O'Rourke there is still funding money that can be used in this season. We need to remember that there are some problems in a case that the FA is actually taking an active part on strengthening a club, but the Australians look for its long-term benefits with talks about building the new brand that will influence the local football.
David Gallop, the FFA chief executive, summed it up. "We've got to tilt our resources, and our money, to make sure we get the maximum," says Gallop, "It's the A-League where we're going to get commercial growth and convert the sport into being funded top-down and less bottom-up."