What constitutes as the ideal marquee player? It’s a question that gets tossed around every time a potential big name marquee signing looms.
Given the possible arrival of Juventus legend, Alessandro Del Piero, to Sydney FC, it seems appropriate to give it some air again.
Is it a high profile player in the twilight years of their career whose main contribution will be to put bums on seats and pique the interest of the mainstream through their name alone, ala Robbie Fowler?
Or is it a younger breed like a Thomas Broich, who may not have the same pulling power in a PR sense, yet makes their presence felt on the pitch by delivering success to their club and its fans?
In its original context, option 1 fits the definition of what a marquee is supposed to achieve.
Fans will be treated to the occasional demonstration of pure genius that would have been commonplace during the respective player’s time at the top.
But essentially, such a player is there to significantly boost the club’s mainstream persona and lure fans through the turnstiles — with the hope that they keep returning even after the marquee has gone.
Throw in some silverware as Dwight Yorke did for Sydney FC in season one and you’ve got yourself the dream marquee.
In Del Piero’s case, there’s absolutely no disputing the positive impact a player of his calibre would have on the A-League given his ability to tap into a wider audience.
But is this what it’s all about? History tells us that clubs have failed to capitalise on big name coups once they’re gone. History also suggests that it’s the younger, significantly cheaper type of marquee that delivers success on the pitch.
When Archie Thompson was signed from Belgian club Lierse SK as Melbourne Victory’s inaugural marquee, he returned to Australia without huge fanfare and overwhelming expectations from supporters.
Yet by the end of season two of the A-League, he had achieved cult status among the Victory faithful and penetrated the city’s mainstream market to the point where Melburnians were calling him by his first name — just as they did to revered AFL types like Buddy Franklin.
Although enjoying less off-field appeal than Thompson and far less pulling power than a player like Fowler before he signed for Brisbane Roar, there’s no doubting the impact Broich has had on the A-League, too.
It therefore becomes a question of what an A-League club regards as the objectives of a marquee.
In a market like Sydney, a Del Piero-type figure makes sense. But whatever the option, a marquee shouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb in a team of misfits.
Their style should replicate the brand the club aspires to play once they move on, ensuring the marquee’s legacy is not lost in the club’s quest for a short-term spike in attendance figures and corporate dollars.
And if fans indeed flock to stadiums to watch the marquee run around, clubs need to find a way to keep those bums on seats once their star player moves on.
While not a marquee player per se, John van ‘t Schip was a marquee coach in every sense of the word. He may not have delivered title success to Melbourne Heart, but his creation of a club culture that nurtures and develops promising young Australian talent is a far greater legacy than that of a flash in a pan side.
A marquee player can do something similar by helping to create a culture and leaving behind a lasting legacy. Otherwise, it’s just an expensive exercise with very little capital growth for the club, its future players and the league.