Villa deal throws spotlight on A-League's growth
Perhaps even more surprising was the news that he would join Melbourne City, a little-known franchise in the A-League, on a 10-match loan deal before linking up with sister club New York City.
Citing the existence of an "irresistible project" that would provide the all-conquering striker with a "new challenge" at a club that dubs itself as the heart of Australia’s sporting capital, seemed a rash decision for the 32-year-old.
He had just played a crucial role as Los Rojiblancos broke the Spanish duopoly, and had helped his side to a Champions League runners up medal - why then would he leave when there was silverware to defend?
A player who still is arguably in his prime, who still had the enviable ability of toying with defences, akin to those before him, was about to throw away his career – the A-League is rubbish, many who are not familiar with Australian football itself opine.
Indeed, the standards of the A-League are not as high as that of its Spanish counterpart, but for a league which has only been in existence for nine or so years, it’s pretty darn good.
Which brings me to my point – the decision to bring Villa over for a 10-game stint wasn’t rash, but a carefully executed move by all parties involved. The transfer highlights the unprecedented growth Australian football, and it’s time that every sports nut recognises the real impact the beautiful game has on this nation’s sporting dynamic.
Look no further than the past two seasons.
The introduction of a Western Sydney franchise truly turned the A-League on its head. The success of their inaugural season, in which they made virtually every established superpower look nothing more than a bunch of schoolboys, was a site to behold as they romped to an A-League premiership, out-ranking Central Coast Mariners by three points before being stoically beaten in the finals by Graham Arnold’s men.
Despite his ripe-old age, marquee signing Shinji Ono was vintage, producing moments of quality which we are accustomed to witnessing in league’s abroad.
In addition, the transfers of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and the aforementioned Blue Samurai opened the floodgates for the introduction of more star players. Orlando Engelaar followed, so too did Villa.
Perhaps the announcement earlier this year that Manchester City would acquire the faltering Melbourne Heart (now City) yet again highlights football’s growing muscle in a nation where allegiances lie vastly with sports played by a maximum of five other nations worldwide.
Just to put things in perspective; according to Forbes, Manchester City is the seventh richest club on the planet, with a valuation of US$863 million. The fact that the Abu Dhabi owners see potential in an A-League franchise where the prospects of unprecedented fan growth and strong financial returns lie, speaks volumes of an increasingly football-philic nation.
There was a lot of talk surrounding the Asian Champions League draw and just how tough it might be for the Australian teams to compete in. But the league nearly saw all three of its representatives progress – the Wanderers, though, have been a class above as they continue to navigate their tricky route as they attempt to compete for Champions League glory.
Just recently, Melbourne Victory produced a spectacular performance against Marcello Lippi’s Guangzhou Evergrande, a team oft-recognised as Asia’s finest, as they cruised to a 2-0 victory, prompting Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee to admit that Australian teams were making the process of qualifying past the group stages a much more strenuous affair.
And the simple fact that Australia has qualified for three consecutive World Cups is, in itself, a fine reflection of where Australian football stands – our free-falling FIFA ranking less so.
Still, that is not to say there is no more room for improvement. Villa’s signing will bring just that extra boost that football in this country needed.
They say all publicity is good publicity, and this sentiment could not have been any more appropriate. As a player who is constantly in the limelight Villa’s performances - and the performances of those around him – will be analysed by many worldwide. His transfer shows the potential and exciting prospects ahead for football in Australia.