Bring on Melbourne City
When Melbourne City resurfaced as a potential name for Melbourne's new Hyundai A-League team, I had my fingers crossed.
Melbourne City? Like it. No, love it.
I've loved it ever since 1989. A little-known slice of our football history. In that year Footscray JUST, a founding member of the NSL, changed their name to Melbourne City in a last-ditch attempt to bring the 'mainstream' (non-Serbian) crowds flocking to Schintler Reserve. A year later they were out of the national league, and after one more season in state league were out of business. A group of South Americans took over the club, which now plays in the Victorian lower leagues. But they had planted a seed.
When Melbourne City resurfaced as a potential name for Melbourne's new Hyundai A-League team, I had my fingers crossed. As we all know, we got Melbourne Heart instead. I'll be kind and say it's never been my cup of tea.
So now it's going to be third-time lucky, presuming trademark issues can be resolved with the lower-league amateurs. Manchester City's 'takeover' of the Heart will almost certainly see the long-awaited arrival of Melbourne City on the big stage, possibly in time for next season. There will be those who say it's too 'Anglo', but nobody complained too much when Western Sydney chose to be the Wanderers.
Two points on that. Whether we like it or not, the British brought football to Australia, and created a huge slice of our heritage. And it's not, by definition, an 'Anglo' name. Here is a list of just some of the clubs across the country who have chosen to call themselves City - Hume City (Turkish), Rockdale City (Macedonian), Brisbane City (Italian), Campbelltown City (Italian), Cockburn City (Dalmatian), Sydney City (Jewish), Canberra City (Australian), Launceston City (Italian), Charlestown City (Italian). Not too many Poms in that lot.
If you're wondering why I'm so interested in the IP surrounding what is such a significant story - the investment of the Abu Dhabi Group in our competition - it's because, believe it or not, it's going to have a big say in whether this grand experiment works. There will be an armada of suits who will be re-inventing Melbourne Heart, but in the end it's not the boardroom, the dressing room, or the function room which matters the most.
It's on the terraces at AAMI Park where this project has to work. These days fans are loud, active, and empowered, and names and colours are crucial to them.
Melbourne City, I believe, will be embraced. It will be interesting to see whether a change to sky blue will be. Another history lesson. The beginning of the end for another defunct NSL club, Northern Spirit, came when they put the badge of their benefactors, Rangers FC, on the sleeve of their shirt. Celtic fans stopped coming to North Sydney Oval. Others did on religious grounds. Tribalism runs deep in football. For instance, how will the 80,000 fans who showed up last year to watch Manchester United in Sydney feel if Melbourne City look and feel too much like Manchester City?
It's an issue the Abu Dhabi Group is wrestling with in one of its other key foreign football investments, New York City, and that's a start-up club with a clean slate. Melbourne Heart is not, and after four years of struggle the 'Yarraside', and other fans, have some right to be heard. So on the matter of imagery, the new owners of Melbourne's second team need to tread carefully.
But, of course, this is ultimately a fantastic coup for our game. The news was greeted with a tsunami of excitement, and bewilderment, from the complete cross-section - fans, media, administrators, owners, players and coaches. And so it should be. David Gallop is 100 percent right when he says this is a massive vindication for the A-League. It's something we too often underestimate, or undervalue - the international stature of our league.
Those who argue against the foreign player quota, for instance, rarely seem to take into account the premium that word-of-mouth delivers around the globe. From the superstars like Alessandro del Piero, Emile Heskey, Shinji Ono, Dwight Yorke, Romario, Robbie Fowler and Juninho, down to all those lesser lights that have graced our shores, these foreigners have - by and large - been spreading the same gospel. The A-League is a wonderful competition with a promising future.
We beat ourselves up about our growing pains - and that's understandable and perhaps necessary - but from the outside looking in the football world is largely focusing on the positives - of which the salary cap is one. In an era when so many 'old' leagues are showing their age, our new league is positioned well as the global game re-aligns itself - and a lot of that blue sky for the world game is hanging over Asia.
And this, of course, is ultimately an Asian investment. Manchester City is the vehicle, but the Abu Dhabi Group is paying the bills. That's a trillion dollars of underwriting, which I'm led to believe is a million million. I'm not privy to the buyout figure, but let's say it's around $10million. ADG had to pay eight times that for their 80percent stake in New York City, and they've still got to build a stadium. That makes investing in the A-League a snip, and means there should be plenty of spare change for crucial projects like refurbishing, or building, a training centre for Melbourne Heart/City.
Does the unbelievable wealth behind this deal threaten the competitive balance (five different champions in eight seasons) that makes the A-League so enthralling? ''Thank goodness we've got a salary cap,'' says Brisbane Roar coach Mike Mulvey, a rather plaintive look on his face. That's coming from a born-and-bred Mancunian, and avowed Manchester United supporter, of course.
Fact is, we do have a salary cap, and it must be policed. But what Melbourne Heart/City can do is spend big on two marquee players, and create a world-class infrastructure around the team. The best coaches, the best facilities, the best support staff, the best administrators, the best marketing.
Does that mean they'll be throwing down the gauntlet to their rivals, not least Melbourne Victory? You bet they will be, and that's a good thing. The fact that Sydney FC owner David Traktovenko wasn't willing to sell to ADG suggests he, at least, is up for the fight.
Ultimately, foreign investment in our league - if handled with care - can be a good thing. We now have three clubs with offshore owners (Brisbane Roar, Sydney FC and Melbourne Heart/City) - significantly two of which come from Asia. The bridge to Asia remains our biggest competitive advantage over the other codes, and this deal represents a massive leap of faith.
It's a game-changer, no doubt, and it's impossible not to be breathlessly excited by the possibilities. We want to be part of the Asian football revolution. We need to be. And now we are. Brilliant.