The news that Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho is interested in playing in Australia has given the struggling A-League an unexpected fillip.
The 11-year-old competition is having to deal with a drop in general playing standards that has affected gates and television viewership.
One of the main reasons put forward for the league’s falling appeal is the conspicuous absence of genuine marquee players who have the ability to light up the competition.
Guys like Dwight Yorke, Juninho, Robbie Fowler, Shinji Ono, Emile Heskey and Alessandro Del Piero gave the A-League a massive profile when they chose to ply their trade in Australia.
But their departure created an instant vacuum that was hard to fill.
Enter Ronaldinho, a fantastic footballer who has won just about everything at club and national level.
The Brazilian striker, who became clubless after his contract with Fluminense expired in September, is said to be happy to field any offer to play in the A-League on a 14-match guest stint from as early as January.
Nothing gets the fans’ pulses racing more than the prospect of a genuine superstar playing among us.
And if somebody in Australia can pull off such a coup, the A-League’s reputation at home and abroad would make a giant leap forward in terms of quality, appeal and marketability.
Yet clubs alone cannot afford guys like Ronaldinho even though he would cost about $2 million all up (that’s much less than what Del Piero earned in Australia) to show off the incredible skills that made him the world’s finest and most entertaining footballer a decade ago.
However there are some disadvantages in engaging a big name on a guest player basis.
I am all in favour of clubs signing marquees on one-year or two-year contracts but guest stints do not do much for me. And I have valid reasons.
Such clear commercial ventures are seen as quick-fix gimmicks designed to put bums on seats and little consideration is usually given to the playing disruption such a star signing would cause to the team he joins.
Coaches would not be keen to see their work being undone by what could turn into a circus.
It is also doubtful if Ronaldinho, for example, is still good enough to deliver the goods he is famous for, or willing to show the commitment one usually is obliged to display when on a proper contract.
It has been said that Ronaldinho does not need normal training anymore because he operates a lot on his natural talent.
That would go down really well with Ronaldinho’s teammates, particularly the unfortunate one to make way for him.
There are many who believe that guest deals, as opposed to proper marquee contracts, affect the credibility of a competition.
It also is not a healthy sign that a competition has to rely on short-term guest stints to boost its appeal.
It is not suggested here that the idea of Ronaldinho playing in Australia should be knocked back outright.
As I said, Ronaldinho playing in the A-League would be an extraordinary coup, almost the stuff of fantasy football, particularly for a club like Melbourne City whose average gates are below the 10,000 mark.
Ronaldinho is an expression of joy on a football field and he has wooed the crowds wherever he has played. His CV lists Gremio, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, AC Milan, Flamengo, Atletico Mineiro, Queretaro and Fluminense as his professional clubs. He would do the same in Australia, no doubt.
One can only imagine what level of interest Ronaldinho would create among the fans and the media, for example.
But any parties interested in acquiring Ronaldinho’s services would need to weigh the pros and the cons before going ahead.
It would boil down to a simple metric: the promotional gain associated with having Ronaldinho among us or the collateral pain his visit could inflict.
A no-brainer it certainly ain’t.