Fitness questions: Ronaldinho is one of the players being considered as a guest player in the A-League. Photo: New PressA-League needs new free-to-air deal to survive
A-League clubs’ search for bargain buys is set to continue well beyond Boxing Day with teams desperately seeking high-profile guest players who could remain as marquees for next season.
Struggling to attract star players, clubs could use the short 14-game guest player window as the start of a long-term stint by then signing players on second-year deals as marquee players.
Several clubs are eager to raise the profile of the competition and improve their own fortunes for the remainder of the season with the signing of star players, such as Ronaldinho and Michael Essien who have been linked with moves to Australia.
The league is in dire need of a boost to its profile with crowds and television ratings dropping since SBS moved Friday night A-League games to SBS 2, leading to an average audience of just 78,000 viewers. Football Federation Australia is keen for clubs to sign a known player to address that situation but have strict regulations on who qualifies as a guest player.
Representatives of Ronaldinho and Australian-based agents have held discussions over the possibility of bringing the Brazilian star to the A-League as a guest player in January and are seeking interest from clubs. While there are no concerns from the FFA head office whether the World Cup winner would satisfy their strict criteria for guest players, there is some hesitancy from Australian suitors over the fitness of the 35-year-old.
Ronaldinho has not played professionally since late September when he left Brazilian club Fluminense, making just nine appearances and not scoring a goal. The guest-player conditions have been expanded from 10 to 14 games, though clubs are reluctant to make a significant financial gamble on the star player who may need a number of games to attain the physical conditioning required in the A-League.
There is no doubting the ability of a player widely regarded as one of the greatest ever but there are questions about his dedication and fitness. Several clubs informed Fairfax Media they were settled on their squad and would require assurances on the player’s eagerness to play in the A-League and his fitness for a relatively short stint. It’s understood Sydney FC’s preference is for an Asian or Australian player who would qualify for their Asian Champions League squad.
Ronaldinho is understood to be open to the possibility of playing in Australia and agreed in principle to play for Victorian semi-professional club Hume City in their FFA Cup semi-final against Melbourne Victory.
That move failed to eventuate with the club unable to obtain special dispensation to field an additional foreign player beyond its allocation.
Essien remains less likely to make a move to the A-League, having finally made his season debut for Panathanaikos and playing in their past two games. The Ghanaian star’s career at the Greek club has thus far been plagued by injuries, which tested the patience of Panathanaikos.
For any potential move to the A-League to occur, it would first have to be approved by Panathanaikos before personal terms could be discussed with the player and his management. Weeks ago that seemed more likely, but having returned from injury and immediately created a social media storm with a superb 40-metre pass with the outside of the boot, Essien will likely see out the season with the Greek giants, who sit second on the Super League table, 14 points behind rivals, Olympiacos.
There are others available but may not be attainable for A-League sides. Former Dutch international and AC Milan winger Urby Emmanuelson is still without a club and could fit the requirements of a guest player while former Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor would certainly be approved by the FFA and remains without a club.
Unattached Greek international Giorgios Samaras would be an ideal target as he holds an Australian passport and would not occupy a visa spot.
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