Alessandro del Piero is reportedly on his way to Sydney. A magical player, one of the finest in world football over the past two decades, will offer immediate media interest and a major promotional boost heading into season eight of the A-League.
Assuming a successful conclusion to negotiations, Sydney FC chairman David Traktovenko can be congratulated for making what is a large investment for the benefit of the club and competition. All clubs benefit from the halo effect, and fans will be tremendously excited about seeing a player who only last season was still capable of moments of genius at Serie A level.
A signing of such class meets with universal approval and excitement. The Italian community of Sydney, not to mention nationwide, will come out in numbers to see one of their all-time heroes. Kids are inspired by watching a great legend, the football media love a genuine, high-quality star and the broader public's interest is piqued.
With much of the cash freed up by Nicky Carle's loan deal to the Middle East, the competition would receive the sort of promotional turbocharge brought by Harry Kewell last season, when it was really needed.
Football can only win from the deal and although employing a 37-year-old player on extremely high levels of salary carries significant risk, in the Sydney market a brand-name player makes a compelling difference.
The real issues are twofold: such stars must not be the only strategy, merely the most visible part of it, and the team, club and league must maximise the investment.
Sydney have a history of big-name signings and are yet to fully parlay these into the ''stickability'' of their fan base year after year, although with a new chief executive and the lessons of the past, that should change. With the Wanderers dividing the Sydney market, such a signing will provide a point of difference - as long as the club continues to work hard at building a fantastic match-day atmosphere, growing the community programs and making Allianz Stadium the only place to be when a home game is on.
The lesson of the past is to convert the new recruits who come to see a del Piero into long-term devotees, but it is critical such expensive signings don't come at the expense of building for the future.
Ideally, we would like to have every club invest in its own youth department to develop high-class players for the mid- to long-term future, as well as maintain high-quality teams to grow the A-League brand, visibility, credibility and commercial revenues. Given the choice between the two, though, the latter wins hands down.
Putting several million dollars into youth development will produce a team in five to 10 years capable of winning trophies while playing sensational football, as well as promise tens of millions of dollars in international transfer fees. At this time, the A-League will become a net retailer, rather than consumer.
Hopefully, Traktovenko is being persuaded to do both, to invest the same amount in the club's future with outstanding youth coaches and the finest young talent, while also providing some promotional traction and serious marketing appeal today. It is a difficult business ensuring such huge outlays are worthwhile, if we look at the recent past. Robbie Fowler proved himself a gentleman of immense class and left behind an outstanding reputation as a person, but was his presence really such a boost for the competition? Playing in extreme heat and humidity in North Queensland and Perth certainly compromised his chances of performing to his maximum, but with several million dollars involved, the return was nowhere near commensurate with the outlay.
On the other hand, the return of Kewell and Brett Emerton last season gave a critical promotional boost to the competition at the perfect moment when it was needed, as will del Piero's arrival.
The league has matured, so that whereas in the early years the competition was all about marketing and less about the quality of the product, now it is a strong combination of the two. While the cluttered Sydney market can do with a star player to gain the necessary media oxygen, it is vital they come into the right environment.
Unquestionably, Juninho provided some magical moments but was under-appreciated and under-used, making the exercise a waste of time. Ian Crook has built a younger, faster Sydney FC that will play aggressive, attacking football which will be much better suited to the harbour city, so Del Piero would have a functioning team around him capable of taking advantage of his creative gifts.
So, as great as del Piero has been as a footballer, is the investment really worthwhile for the club and the game? The answer is absolutely, but not at the expense of the future.
If the owners of Sydney are willing to invest the same amount in an academy to produce players for the first team and to sell abroad, while also recruiting a legend to drive the immediate column space and bums on seats today, congratulations, and thanks to them. I'll be buying a Sydney FC del Piero shirt. But I'll be every bit as proud, more so in fact, to wear a Chianese or an Antonis.
Twitter - @Craig-Foster