Friday, October 24, 2014

David Villa: The Greatest A-League Scam Since Harry Kewell


“The circus comes to town and then leaves.” So said Scott Munn, the chief executive of the club then known as Melbourne Heart, more than three years ago.
He was referring to Harry Kewell, who at the time had just signed with crosstown rivals Melbourne Victory in one of the biggest coups the A-League had seen.
Thanks largely to the hardball tactics of agent Bernie Mandic, it was the competition’s first proper transfer saga. Victory’s courtship of Kewell went for an eternity as Mandic and the number-crunchers at both the club and FFA tried to come up with a contract that suited all parties. When it happened, there was as much relief as celebration.
No part of this “circus” impressed Munn, who scoffed at it all, but those prophetic words came back to haunt him. Two years later, the big top rolled back into Melbourne, Kewell was wearing red and white, and the Heart was scrambling after performing a backflip that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Cirque du Soleil.
Yesterday, we learned the David Villa circus has just two weeks left before it packs up and moves to New York City. Assuming he does not return after next weekend’s home clash against Adelaide United – and, let’s face it, suggestions that he might come back feel like a Larry David-style empty gesture – Villa will leave having played the same number of A-League games as Romario.
It’s disappointing to say the least. New York City, the club which owns his contract, can do what they like. Football is a business, and after seeing their other prized recruit Frank Lampard stretchered off against Tottenham while playing for Manchester City at the weekend, you could forgive them for wanting to wrap their star Spaniard in cotton wool until the new MLS season kicks off.
Melbourne City are powerless, which says much about their ranking in the City Football Group food chain.
Fans have a right to feel disappointed, and they have a right to ask questions. And not just Melbourne City fans. When a club brings a big name to the A-League, they have a responsibility to share the love.
Sydney FC away games over the last two years became events purely because of the presence of Alessandro Del Piero. He gave the competition a lift, and so has Villa, only nobody expected him to bail so soon. It’s not a good look.
While loan deals are cancelled prematurely as a matter of course in football, this is not your ordinary loan. For one, Melbourne and New York share 80 per cent of the same corporate DNA. And it’s not like Villa is going back to his parent club to play games, or even train – pre-season doesn’t start until late January, and NYC won’t play their first game until March. That’s why the full quota of games were expected from him – what else was he going to do with himself until then? The calendars matched up perfectly in a rare win-win.
Thus he became the first face of Melbourne City. It was not by accident that the club announced his guest stint at the exact same time as they unveiled their new name, logo and colours. Villa has been their leverage, the human realisation of the petrodollars that now power them.
That’s no disrespect to Damien Duff, but as I wrote two weeks ago, he’s not a headline act. Neither is Robi Koren, who has clearly been struck by the same unfortunate injury curse as Orlando Engelaar. Memberships and merchandise have been sold on the premise that Villa would be playing 10 games in the A-League.
That any ‘promotional’ work in New York is considered more important to the City Football Group than building a fan-base in Melbourne feels a little disrespectful. There is more money to be made in New York, but there is more work to do in Melbourne. The stench of the Heart still lingers with every game City dominates and fails to win. Everyone wants this reborn club to stick the landing, and having Villa on deck until Christmas would go a long way to ensuring that.
Just four games? Not enough. Villa is entitled to go back and check on his family, if that’s what he wants to do – and man, it must be tough settling into a place like New York on a World Cup winner’s wage. However, if the Melbourne arm of the sky blue empire knew all along that he would go back this early, even if it’s only temporary, they should have been clear and let their fans know it was on the cards.
Honesty is always the best policy, and in this instance, it would have placed an even greater importance upon each of his appearances. By holding this information back, by speaking in maybes and possibilities, the club has used up some of its goodwill, and many fans have been left with a bad taste in their mouths.
In the meantime, Munn will be crossing his fingers, hoping the circus comes back into town once more.
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