MARQUEED MAN: Alessandro del Piero in a rare on-field appearace for Sydney FC against the Brisbane Roar in round two.
MARQUEED MAN: Alessandro del Piero in a rare on-field appearace for Sydney FC against the Brisbane Roar in round two. DAVE HUNTAAP IMAGES

Marquee stars must deliver on the pitch

WHILE supporters of clubs throughout the A-League love seeing marquee players run out for their teams, the question has to be asked just what can they bring to a club?

Off the field there is no doubt that the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, William Gallas, Shinji Ono, Emile Heskey, Harry Kewell, and, in previous years, Robbie Fowler and Dwight Yorke, have been a major boon to the competition.

Since the league's inception in 2005 the crowds have gradually increased with the peak coming last year after the arrival of Heskey, Ono and the really big fish, Del Piero.

But while the clubs will be cashing in with replica shirts and ticket sales, just how much benefit will an older marquee player be to club on the field if he is injured for a significant length of time during a season?

Players want to spend the majority of their playing days in the big European leagues and therefore will only make their way Down Under towards the twilight of their careers.

But with age comes injuries, and, as we have seen with the likes of Del Piero last season, it could mean the difference between a team qualifying for the finals or wallowing in mediocrity.

The 39-year-old Italian spent a lot of the last campaign on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. This season he was sidelined with a calf problem before another hamstring complaint.

Gallas too has only played a little more than an hour for Perth Glory before also succumbing to the so-called 'old-man's injury' (calf).

Heskey was injured in the pre-season and has only just got back playing again over the past couple of weeks.

Kewell, meanwhile, suffered a whiplash injury in the first game of the season and hasn't been seen since due to a number of different issues.

Ono also has been sitting on the sidelines for longer than Western Sydney coach Tony Popovic would have liked, while Melbourne Heart's marquee player, Orlando Engelaar, has not even played an A-League match after breaking his leg in a pre-season game.

Of course, younger players are not adverse to picking up injuries, but when players are in their mid-to-late-30s and have already had a lot of kilometres in older legs, then it does take longer to recover.

I am sure the last thing the clubs would want is for their star men to be out for any time at all. There is always the danger of rushing them back to play too soon and therefore risking a reoccurrence of the injury, and hence more time sitting with their feet up at home.

I think the marquee system is a great concept because of the way it gives clubs that might not normally be able to fit star players into their salary caps a chance to do just that.

But there comes a time when clubs will have to weigh up the pros and cons of having stars such as Kewell, Gallas and Del Piero spending most of their time sitting out games.

These players are not getting any younger, so therefore the chance of them picking up more injuries is obviously high.

Australia is a great destination for ageing stars to spend the twilight of their careers, but they cannot be doing that to the detriment of the clubs and the competition.

What the A-League needs to do is to try to entice those players who are just the other side of 30 as opposed to the ones closer to 40.

When that time comes then perhaps clubs might get better value from their marquee men, but until then club bosses need to choose carefully before splashing their cash.

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