Where do we find the positives from an A-League season not going to plan?
After another weekend in which not that many people watched some excellent A-League football, perhaps the only thing that can save the competition is a visit from Paris Saint-Germain.
“We don’t do gimmicks,” Australian Professional Leagues boss Danny Townsend said on the official A-League podcast last November.
Now Sydney Morning Herald journalist Vince Rugari is reporting that Paris Saint-Germain’s latest premature exit from the UEFA Champions League could see them in line to pay a visit to Australia this May for the latest encounter with the A-League All Stars.
More than 70,000 fans filed into Accor Stadium in Homebush to watch the All Stars rattle Barcelona last May, in a match that helped put Garang Kuol on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Now Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe could be the next to sample the salubrious sights of Sydney’s Olympic precinct – Neymar is injured – as the APL tries desperately to forge a connection between casual football watchers and diehard A-League fans.
If it was ever going to happen, you would have thought it might have happened by now.
Townsend has made comments in the past about the A-League being an “entertainment business” and it’s clear the APL’s decision to bundle an All Stars game in with the A-League Grand Final is an attempt to look beyond the existing market for fans.
The problem is that fewer and fewer of those existing fans are currently turning up at matches.
A reported crowd of just 4,881 fans showed up on a glorious Sunday afternoon to watch the best team in the league in Melbourne City down Brisbane Roar 2-1 in an entertaining affair at AAMI Park.
Aiden O’Neill’s opening goal was a thing of beauty for the home side, and the Brisbane-born midfielder won the game with his second after Jay O’Shea hauled the visitors level from the penalty spot.
Almost 10 years after the City Football Group’s takeover, the club moved into its custom-built training centre at Casey Fields in the city’s south-eastern suburbs this time last year.
But they’ve remained curiously disinterested in growing attendances at AAMI Park and seem more inclined to move City personnel on to feeder clubs like Troyes in France.
It’s a shame more fans didn’t turn up on Sunday, yet the situation was mirrored in Saturday night’s free-to-air fixture at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.
On the plus side, the timeslot didn’t feature one of the Sydney or Melbourne clubs for the first time since February 4.
And when Nestory Irankunda came off the bench to smash home his third goal in three games – following a five-goal first half – he set the seal on what was another enthralling encounter.
All eyes will now be on Graham Arnold as he names his Socceroos squad for the upcoming two friendlies against fellow World Cup combatants Ecuador.
But if there’s a connection between the likes of Irankunda – or better yet, Craig Goodwin – and the quality of football regularly on display in the A-League, it seems to be lost on fans.
Newcastle are in the unique position of being propped up by a consortium of three clubs in the form of Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers and Western United, as the search for new owners drags into its third year.
And the ongoing uncertainty is doing nothing for their box office appeal, with only 4839 fans turning up on Saturday night to see the returning Goodwin play a starring role in Adelaide’s absorbing 4-2 win.
There are those who insist we dwell too much on crowd figures in the A-League – preferring instead to focus on the quality of football on the pitch.
But that argument overlooks a couple of key points.
The first is that almost any game in the world feels like it’s worth watching when it’s played in front of packed stands.
And the second is that the sight of all these empty seats is doing nothing to convince anyone that it’s our league that’s worth watching.
Perhaps that’s why the APL needs to pin their hopes on PSG as a desperate last resort.