Firstly I’d like to apologise in advance for the length of this week’s blog. Despite our team continuing to languish at the bottom of the table, there is an incredible amount happening and most of it is great news.
It was a poor result in Adelaide on the weekend which did nothing to pull the Mariners further away from earning a first dreaded wooden spoon. The Mariners continued to show the new intensity shown since New Year’s Eve but it just wasn’t enough against and Adelaide side now showing they are not the easy beats of the early season. A bit of a shame the FFA’s bizarre scheduling meant we had to wait until they hit form before getting to play them…
Central Coast Mariners this week announced the signing of former Liverpool legend – Luis Garcia. While the majority of fans are excited about what this means for our club, there is (as always) the contrary brigade who have trawled out lines like “he’s too old”, “he’s coming out of retirement” or “signed on the strength of a legends game” and even “it’s embarrassing for the A-League”. I’m not sure I share some of the views of what having a marquee player is about. Isn’t it as much about the attention and opportunities which flow from that as it is about whether he can singlehandedly rescue the team? His arrival can provide the club and the A-League some significant interest in a season where star power is notably lacking!
So here are my thoughts about the signing of Luis Garcia
To begin with – Garcia is younger (if only slightly) than Alessandro Del Piero was when he arrived amid great fan fair. Garcia is coming out of a short retirement and he was a part of the recent Liverpool Legends side that barely raised a sweat accounting for our aging Socceroos. He was close to, if not the most fit and potent player in that game (outside of Steve Gerrard) but to be fair it was an exhibition match. All reports indicate he has continued to maintain his fitness as any elite athlete would and remains in great shape to make this move. There will be few who have any idea whether Luis Garcia is fit enough and young enough to be a success in the A-League but one person who does is himself. Judging from his comments upon arrival, he totally understands how to treat his body at this point in his career. Given the reputation and brand of the man, I don’t imagine he is taking on this challenge without being pretty certain he can see himself making a reasonable success of it. I dare say he will be keen to prove any doubters wrong. Who is brave enough to say he can’t do that before he kicks a ball?
The reality is that his success or failure on the field is far from the only point in this and probably not even the most important point. Of course any economic success can only be measured based on the cost of bringing him here and since I haven’t seen one media outlet quote the amount paid for his services, apparently they haven’t been able to establish how much this acquisition has cost – Nice work from CCM to achieve this. I’m of the belief that we won’t have emptied the bank to do this. Given our owner’s well known efforts to stop the club losing large amounts of his money, I reckon he believes there is well sufficient return on investment envisaged to cover the amount being paid to the player.
There is a long list of positives which a marquee player with the profile Luis Garcia has can bring to the Mariners and to the A-League. The most obvious is his general star pulling power, not just in Gosford but in every stadium he plays at. This means of course increased attendances, TV audiences, media focus and improved atmospheres. In Gosford the boon in attendance could have a massive impact. Over many years of playing local football I have wondered at the number of local players who love the game of football and support EPL team but don’t come and watch the local product – considering it without interest. Already, the announcement that Luis Garcia will be playing on the coast has had more than one of those call and ask me about getting along to our next match. It has recently been pondered that Liverpool is probably the most supported EPL team in Australia. For this reason alone, the selection of a former Red for this role could quite possibly turn out to be a masterstroke.
Another opportunity is his presence raising the interest needed to bring us more commercial success – something much more difficult for a regional team than any of the big city teams. On the ground that means a front of away shirt sponsor, among many other commercial opportunities this can open. Then there is the impact on merchandise. I understand there have been many enquiries already, including from interstate and overseas, and I have to admit I am among those who have now availed myself of a palm tree shirt, with Luis Garcia #10 on the back of it.
The impact he can have in the football department and playing staff off the pitch is another benefit. I read somewhere a theory our players would be disappointed about the announcement of the signing taking the light away from them and the match they lost in Adelaide. As if the players in the squad would be frustrated about the impending arrival of this superstar. I can’t see how there will be a player in the squad who isn’t excited to be working with Garcia for the remainder of what has been a tough season.
Then there is the community. The level of interest among locals since this announcement is nothing short of amazing and this will no doubt ramp up even more now that he has arrived. Up to 50 fans made the long trip to the airport to greet him. Similarly the number of fans indicating they will travel from Sydney (and further) to see his first match this weekend is where this signing can have a positive economic impact the community and the Central Coast.
These are just a few of the reason why Luis Garcia is great for the Mariners, great for Central Coast, great for the team and great for the A-League. There are others and did I mention he has a track record and might be able to play some decent football too? So again, who is prepared to get on the record and say he can’t produce some of that here?
If Luis Garcia’s signing is even a moderate success in a few of the areas I have mentioned, and possibly a few I haven’t, he will have been a great acquisition for the Mariners. For so many years I have listened to people complain about the lack of fans at Central Coast Stadium and the lack of atmosphere on game day. It’s incredible to me that anyone would begrudge the Mariners doing something positive about these things and one or two well known pundits will have some backtracking to do should this move turn out to be a success.
While of course it’s important for fans to have their team an on field success, given our club is in the smallest market among the A-League, any positives in terms of the longer term viability of the club must also be a big interest to our fans.
In other player news – the club continues to be linked with signing Youssouf Hersi and while some say this is not the kind of player we need, they should also remember the impact he had for the Wanderers when he was playing against us a couple of years ago when they won the Premiership and we won the Championship. There is little doubt about his quality and ability with the only question mark being whether the perception he is injury prone is a reality. The other recent signing news was of Matthew Fletcher, a young Australian striker (former Young Socceroo) who has been training with the squad since well before Christmas. Without knowing too many details about this young prospect, he fits a similar mould to the signings of Mitch Austin and Harry Ascroft. If he can show the kind of application and improvement those two have with his opportunity, I have no doubt he will be a positive acquisition and provide a needed level of depth in the attacking third.
This Weekend’s Game
This weekend we take on Western Sydney who have rightly carved out a position close to the top of the table. They have shown real quality and resilience in getting there and have at times been unlucky not find themselves right at the top. They will be aware of the hype surrounding this match but Popovic will have them primed to try and make sure Luis Garcia’s first appearance at Central Coast Stadium is not a memorable one for him. With quality all over the park Western Sydney will be a very tough proposition for our young and quickly evolving side and it would be naïve to think they’re not raging favourites to take the points.
My prediction – Wanderers by 1, Luis Garcia to make a cameo appearance which creates more talking points and provides more of the attendance we’ve been hoping to see for some time.
I can’t wait. Bring it on!Google+