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Sunday, October 21, 2012
Marquee player concept is back in style

Guy Hand

A-League marquee players can be like the little girl with the curl.

Like Alessandro Del Piero, when they're good, they're very, very good.

When they're bad, they're horrid. Like Mario Jardel.

The marquee player concept appeared a great idea when the league started in 2005.

It went out of fashion for a time because of some flops, false starts and the success of lesser-known imports like Fred, Carlos Hernandez, Marcos Flores, Thomas Broich and Patrick Zwaanswijk.

But Del Piero is proving that done well, marquee players can more than justify their price tag - increasing their club and league's profiles domestically and internationally.

The early signs are also promising for Newcastle's Emile Heskey, who has scored twice in three matches.

Before them, there were others who brought a serious international profile to the A-League:

DWIGHT YORKE: Sydney FC, season 1: Ex-Premier League star Yorke was the competition's first marquee player and played just one season. But the impression he made is remembered seven years later. And not just at favoured Sydney nightspot Hugo's Lounge. On-field he was terrific, winning the man of the match award as Sydney FC won the inaugural grand final.

KAZUYOSHI MIURA: Sydney FC, season 1: Japanese superstar Kazu played just four games on a guest stint, but excelled. The Asian footballer of the year's highlight was scoring both goals in a thrilling 3-2 top of the table loss to Adelaide United. Now in his mid-40s, he still plays second-tier Japanese football, and was this week named in Japan's Futsal World Cup squad.

BENITO CARBONE: Sydney FC, season 2: A former hero in England's Premier League, the Italian attacker arrived as a potential replacement for Yorke - initially on a short-term deal. Scored twice in his first three, then did a hamstring. Contract talks stalled, and he departed. He ended his career in Italy's lower leagues. A case of what might have been.

ROMARIO: Adelaide United, season 2: Chasing his 1000th goal as age chased him, Brazilian strike star Romario ended up at Adelaide United on a guest stint at 40. He netted an ugly goal in the last of his four matches, and generally did little except increase exposure for Adelaide's samba dancers, who made several appearances alongside the 1994 World Cup winner at the local airport and Hindmarsh Stadium. The Reds danced on to the grand final after he left.

JUNINHO: Sydney FC, season 3: One of the best credentialled players to grace the A-League, with 49 caps for Brazil. But it never really worked out for the gifted midfielder - the competition's physical nature testing his slight stature. An early shoulder injury limited his appearances. But when he played, he played well - his best coming in the much-hyped friendly against David Beckham's LA Galaxy.

MARIO JARDEL: Newcastle Jets, season 3: In Europe he was a goalscoring machine. In the A-League, he looked more like an eating machine. The rotund Brazilian was a complete failure - 11 appearances, no goals, and a couple of spectacular open-goal misses. Coach Gary van Egmond benched him despite Jets owner Con Constantine's protests, and eventually sent Jardel packing mid-season. The Jets went on to win the grand final. Jardel is the nadir by which all A-League marquees are judged.

ROBBIE FOWLER: North Queensland Fury, season 5; Perth Glory, season 6: The only A-list marquee to play more than one A-League season, the former Liverpool and England striker was serviceable for both clubs. He scored 18 goals in 54 games before quitting Perth for Thailand - the highlight a hat-trick for Glory against Melbourne Victory. Perhaps his greatest achievement was putting backsides on seats wherever he went - benefiting those clubs he visited as much as those he played for.

HARRY KEWELL: Melbourne Victory, season 7: Australia's highest-profile Socceroo started slowly, but finished the season strongly. In echoes of Mark Webber's ill-timed move to Williams, his arrival coincided with the Victory becoming an on and off-field basket case after years of stability and success. Family reasons forced him back to England, where he remains without a club. Sadly, his A-League best would have probably been yet to come.

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