A-League: Australian League?

The A-League’s ‘A’ is meant to represent the capital letter that adorns the beginning of it’s home country: Australia. However, I’m starting to wonder if that was really an appropriate branding for the league. Because yes, while the majority of the players do come from Australia (thanks to a well implemented restriction on foreigners), it seems that the players that the clubs and fans get really excited about are the ones that hail originally from South America, and Brazil in particular.

This is something I’ve noticed too since moving from England to live in New Zealand. Brazilians, while highly regarded the world over for both their passion for and proficiency at the beautiful game, are absolutely revered here in the Pacific. As soon as any club signs a Brazilian it is headline news, and clubs seem to without fail attempt to bring in at least one or two per season – with Gold Coast United having just announced the capture of Jefferson and Robson.

And whenever a World Cup rolls round, or any sort of football related tournament, they all jump on the Brazilian band wagon. Yes, they’re usually the favourites and everyone loves to back a winner, but I always found that neutrals loved to back an underdog in Europe, like Trinidad and Tobago at the last World Cup. It seems like Australia and New Zealand actually admire Brazil and Argentina so much that they actually hope to try and emulate them, and their success in world football.

Both are countries in the southern hemisphere, far removed from Europe, both the birthplace and undoubted location of the World’s best domestic leagues, and it’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League. Yet Brazil and Argentina are major players on the international scene. No country has won more world cups, and both teams are highly regarded both for their passion and technical ability. Australia and New Zealand are both far newer to the game really, but there can be no doubt that they would like to emulate the success of their fellow southern hemispheric countries in challenging the European powerhouses.

But I am sceptical as to whether this obsession with bringing in Brazillian players is necessarily a good thing for the game down under, and whether it will actually help them to progress on an international level. For a start I don;t actually think that as a whole, the Brazillians have necessarily proved to be a success in most cases. Sure, a couple of them have impressed (Fred at Melbourne and now at the Phoenix with Daniel, another success) but there have been many failures, players who have come in with big expectations but have failed to make the grade.

In the most part when they have failed I think it is because they do not have the physicality to cope with the game over here. They have great technical ability, but that is no good if some of the big Aussie bruisers, and the ex-pat Englishmen, are just going to be able to knock you off the ball. They need to have a bit of fight in them, the desire to work hard and play for the club and its fans. In Brazil, they have that passion as the fans have it, and they also know the clubs, know the rivalries and so it means something to them.

But when they come to this part of the world, everything is as foreign to them as they are to us. And this sort of awe and respect that is automatically attributed to these foreign players also may have an adverse effect on the homegrown talent. The Brazilians who are signed up are regarded immediately as top players, even though they haven’t kicked a ball yet. And yet the homegrown youngsters have to work really hard just to get a chance, and are then simply dismissed as being inferior, because they don’t have the “samba style” or the “technical ability” or some other such cliche.

But that is rubbish. Absolute rubbish. The fact that kids in this country grow up idolising the Brazilians means that they grow up with an awareness of the importance of technical ability. Unlike a generation of Britons who grew up with the lump it up ideal that won us a world cup, there is a very high level of technical skill at grassroots in Australia and New Zealand. And the players who are coming through to the top level now will have had that breeding. But they are also at home in the culture, and the style of football. They have no language barrier, and they know the league, they know the countries and regions, and they know the passion.

And of course, there is the ultimate impact that such emphasis on foreign imports could have on the international prospects of these two nations. While there is the restriction on foreigners in place at the moment, it is decreasing each season and if such importance continues to be placed on the impact that foreign players could have on a team’s fortunes, we may see a situation where it is eventually abolished altogether. This could create the sort of over-dependence on foreign players that the Premier League has developed, and just look how the English national team has suffered as a result: we didn’t even qualify with our ‘golden generation’ for the last Euros.

What I am not saying here, is that there should be no foreign players in the A-League. What I am also not saying is that the foreign players do not have a positive impact for their clubs, many do. But what I do think is that clubs need to be a bit more choosy when signing their foreign players. Rather than just signing ‘a brazillian’ a club should carefully assess its weaknesses and try and find a player tailored to fit. Someone who has both the necessary technical attributes and the physical and mental attributes to adapt well and fit in with a new culture. If that player turns out to be Brazilian, then so be it.

I think the main lesson to be learnt here is that just because a club signs the best players on paper, it does not mean thay will ultimately earn success. Real Madrid tried that with the ‘Galactico’ era and it failed quite spectacularly, wheras in the 80’s and 90’s Wimbledon’s crazy gang had few players that one would call supremely talented, and yet they acheived a lot of success through hard work and a great team spirit. So A-League clubs don’t need to fill their teams with Brazillian names (at least for the sake of the commentators), they will more likely acheive success through building a good unit, and it will also help the countries’ long term international ambitions too.

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2 Responses to A-League: Australian League?

  1. Chris H says:

    I don’t know if that’s so much true now, at least not universially so. I’m not going to support Brasil in any tournament, and on the whole have been unimpressed by the Brazillians (you probably actually mean South Americans, let’s not forget the laughable Jardel & Edmundo Zura) in the A-League.

    Look at the Central Coast Mariners though, a team that has never signed a South American and to date only has had four foreigners in their line up (one of whom only played due to short handedness and one hasn’t played yet) but they have managed to be successful without it. There is certainly an unhealthy obsession with South Americans in the A-Leaue it has to stop. I like the end of your penultimate paragraph…

    “Rather than just signing ‘a brazillian’ a club should carefully assess its weaknesses and try and find a player tailored to fit. Someone who has both the necessary technical attributes and the physical and mental attributes to adapt well and fit in with a new culture. If that player turns out to be Brazilian, then so be it” That’s ultimately what it’s all about.

  2. Adam says:

    Yeah you’re right, I probably do over generalize a bit at times, I must admit that I didn’t put any specific research into this one, it’s more just the general feeling I pick up at times.

    And you’re correct again, not all people in this part of the world will support Brazil, especially those who are actually knowledgable on the game. ‘South Americans’ is certainly a better classification too, I just sort of got going based on Gold Coast’s new signings who are both Brazilian and so just stuck with that label most of the time.

    Your point about Central Coast is excellent too, they’ve been consistently up there in recent seasons and largely done with homegrown players, and I think it shows too in their style of play. For the most part the don’t try anything too flashy, but they work well as a unit and play a good passing game that serves them well.

    Thanks for your comment Chris, much appreciated, and I hope you like the site 🙂

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