Melbourne Heart's re-signing of four of Australia's best young players could prove an A-League blueprint for how struggling clubs can shore up their own futures.
Striker Eli Babalj, defenders Aziz Behich and Brendan Hamill and midfielder Jason Hoffman have extended their contracts by either one or two years. All are now secured until the end of next season at least.Chairman Peter Sidwell says the Heart's signing of some of Australian soccer's most exciting talent shows the direction the club wants to head - developing players and winning trophies with home-grown youth.The Heart now have seven Young Socceroos or Olyroos on their books, and can look forward to on-selling them eventually to overseas clubs, reaping money to either plough back into the club or repay their initial investors.Unlike other clubs who sign marquee players on big wages, live beyond their means, don't develop youth and often end up on Football Federation Australia welfare, the Heart's opposite tack puts them in an ideal position to become a financial success should their players realise their potential.Sidwell was reluctant to cast the Heart as a "selling club". However the successful businessman, who with other directors has ploughed millions into the Heart since their inception 18 months ago for little tangible return so far, admits there is potential for both players and club to benefit when the time is right for them to spread their wings."Our aspiration for these boys is to play where they want to play in the longer-term," Sidwell said. "We understand these boys have international and longer-term hopes of being in Europe and other places."We want to maximise that ability while that ability is in this country. We want to maximise their talent for their benefit, as well as the club's benefit."The consequences of that can be twofold - to their benefit and to a club's benefit. We don't budget for transfer fees, but we do understand these players have aspirations over and above just ourselves as a club."Heart's performance against cross-town rivals Victory at AAMI Park on Friday night - a more established, financially secure club boasting big names - will show whether they are on the right track.