Fink: The A-League’s reality check

ESPNSTAR.com columnist Jesse Fink believes Tim Cahill's decision to play in America instead of returning to Australia speaks volumes about A-League's quality.

Football News: Tim Cahill, New York Red Bulls

By Jesse Fink

Tim Cahill, Australia's best player and comfortably among the top dozen in Asia, joined Major League Soccer club New York Red Bulls midweek from Everton after a storied career in England.

And he didn't waste any time after his visa troubles getting into the country, playing 45 minutes in the Red Bulls' friendly against Tottenham Hotspur at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.

It was a transfer that surprised many, not least some of Cahill's fans in Australia, who regarding his snub of the A-League and signing of a three-year, $3-million-a-season contract as something approaching sedition.

How could he not join new club Western Sydney Wanderers (WSW) at the first opportunity? The man bleeds for the green and gold, surely? In his chest beats the heart of a true "westie", born and bred, right?

Nonsense, of course.

To anyone who's ever watched the MLS, and seen the standard of play and how professionally it's run, Cahill's New York adventure makes a whole lot of sense, both on the pitch and off.

The man himself has said: "Moving to the A-League, in all fairness, would have been a step backwards. And that's no disrespect... I didn't speak to any A-League clubs and it was never in my plans.

"I think I'm more interested in the grassroots level of football in Australia and not playing there."

It might not be "disrespect", but it's a good old dressing down all the same.

David Zdrilic, a former Socceroo striker and pundit for SBS, a TV station in Australia, put Cahill's move down to money: "His transfer fee and match wages mean it would never really have been an option. It is a shame we won't see him on our shores on a regular basis, but the A-League seems to be in cost-cutting mode across the board."

It was never just an issue of money.

Zdrilic, Australia's A-League and its masters, Football Federation Australia, are kidding themselves.

Cahill had more reasons than zeros on his pay cheque to go to the United States than Australia. A booming league, one of the most dynamic cities in the world in New York City, the chance to play alongside Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez and against David Beckham, bigger commercial opportunities, a chance at a bit of an adventure with his family.

What's more, the FFA reportedly had the hide to sound out Cahill to put some money into Sydney Rovers, WSW's stillborn antecedent, when they hadn't given his Socceroos captain Lucas Neill's Sydney Wanderers bid (not to be confused with WSW) a chance at the licence.

The FFA should have seen this coming a long time ago but they didn't.

And with Mark Bresciano and Neill having chosen the Middle East as the first stop for their post-European careers and Harry Kewell clearing out of Melbourne early to go back to England, it's the reality check it needed.

The A-League could have been in a far better position than it is now as a potential home for "returning Socceroos" and created the requisite razzle dazzle needed to lure them if the FFA had ever bothered to learn some lessons from how the MLS operates.

Better marketing, media coverage and fan engagement; executives with the right experience and innovative solutions; due diligence with expansion and player recruitment; a coordinated, committed approach to game presentation and match-day experience; and the gathering together of all the one per centers that go into making attending an MLS match so much more of a satisfying experience than its A-League equivalent.

The A-League might be a good decade younger than the MLS but, as Cahill underlined this week, it's more than 20 years off the pace.



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