European footballers bring fresh momentum to Australian league | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 29.08.2013
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European footballers bring fresh momentum to Australian league

Striking out for one of football's more remote frontiers does not have to mean the death of a career. It can benefit the player as much as the league - that's what some German players experience "down under".

In 2007, former England captain and Manchester United star David Beckham shocked the football world when he left Real Madrid to join American Major League Soccer club Los Angeles Galaxy.

The move for one of the world's most marketable men to the world's most market-driven country was not without its problems, but the lasting impact is obvious.

The MLS continues its ascension and a driving force is its continued ability to attract big names; the home debut of star United States international Clint Dempsey for the Seattle Sounders attracted almost 70,000 people in August, making it the third-most watched football match in the world.

Trailing some years behind the MLS is Australia's A-League, but the latter can certainly find some inspiration in the former.

David Beckham EPA/PAUL BUCK

David Beckham put the international spotlight on the American Major League

The reservoirs of sponsorship money may be far shallower down under, and - like soccer in America - the Australian game has continually played bridesmaid to more established sports in the local market.

But the marked improvement of the standard of football in the A-League over the past few seasons has helped the game eke out a few extra valuable inches of elbow room.

Sharing the credit with a handful of intrepid coaches and a host of diligent local players are the more esteemed members of the A-League's foreign legion.

The German connection

Take Thomas Broich, for example. Broich is preparing for his fourth A-League season with Brisbane Roar - the same club Germany women's captain Nadine Angerer will link up with in September. But while Angerer moves to Australia after a long and successful career in her search for a new challenge, fellow Bavarian Broich represents the other side of the coin.

Regarded as an unfulfilled talent in stints with several Bundesliga teams, former Germany youth international Broich found a "second life" to his career in the A-League. Finding the perfect arena for his talents, Broich has shone for the Roar, winning the league's player of the year in the 2011-12 season and playing a key role in the club's back-to-back championships

Whatever the reason for their respective arrivals, both Broich and Angerer contribute directly to the gradual growth of the game in Australia.

And general optimism remains high, helped by Australia's fourth-straight World Cup qualification, under another German: coach Holger Osieck.

The league reached new heights last season on the back of the signings of distinguished former internationals Alessandro Del Piero (Sydney FC), Emile Heskey (the Newcastle Jets) and Shinji Ono (the Western Sydney Wanderers).

The trick will be capitalising on the momentum - just like the MLS did a handful of seasons before.

The signs are there: Western Sydney - the A-League's tenth and newest club - reached the 2012-13 grand final in their debut season, roared on by crowds sometimes approaching 20,000. More than 42,000 watched on as the Central Coast Mariners lifted the title, while 95,446 filled the MCG when Melbourne Victory hosted English heavyweights Liverpool in July.

Big bucks are made elsewhere

But it is not all long-range volleys and fine finger-tip saves. The crowded sports market means a fight over every sponsorship cent, while clubs rarely turn a profit.

Player wages are tempered by a salary cap designed to keep spending within means, but it has often meant the departure of local players to the more cashed-up leagues of Asia. Disappointment over the failure to host the 2022 World Cup lingers on.

And the new broadcast deal agreed in November 2011 includes free-to-air A-League coverage for the first time since the national league's reboot in 2004, thus delivering the game to a far wider audience.

Not subject to the same the funding and profile as its male counterpart, the women's game has still taken great strides since the introduction of the pre-eminent semi-professional W-League five seasons ago. When the new season begins in October, Angerer can expect to come up against the cream of Australia's national team and several fellow foreign international players.

And where frostbitten mornings and overly inquisitive journalists were previously, Angerer and company now have sun-drenched training sessions amid relative anonymity.

Alessandro Del Piero of Sydney FC in action August 7, 2013 in Padova, Italy. (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)

Italy's Alessandro Del Piero adds European flair to Sydney's football club

The money might not be of the same calibre, but the lifestyle is a definite drawcard; witness the decision of Juventus legend Del Piero - perhaps the A-League's own Beckham - to spurn English powerhouse Liverpool in favour of a move to Sydney FC.

Now, rival codes like Australian rules football and rugby league are beginning to cast the odd apprehensive look over their shoulders. Football, meanwhile, continues to look forward, with an increasing ability to attract high-profile names to Australian shores certainly quickening the game's strides.

It may be sun, style of life or simply a new challenge that brings those players to Australia - often despite more lucrative offers from bigger clubs.

But the effects - rather than the causes - are important for the game down under.