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Becks brings sex appeal, but substance is key

FOOTBALL Federation Australia's new $160 million media rights deal might be the most significant moment for the game since John Aloisi knocked in that celebrated penalty at ANZ Stadium. The A-League still needs more, or at least some, clubs to turn a profit. But the competition is off the financial canvas and ready to start throwing a few punches.

But we live in a world where the fragrance an athlete puts on the department store shelves seems more significant than the one he emits after 90 minutes on the park. So it is the possible appearance of David Beckham with an A-League club, rather than the media deal, that has everyone talking.

Everyone except Beckham, who could not have seemed more surprised about a potential move to Australia had he been told his wife had won the Nobel Prize for physics. This cluelessness surprised everyone except the New Zealand Prime Minister, and caused some anxious moments for FFA officials who, for a few awkward hours, wondered if they had been sold a pup.

But some reassurance from the FFA's industrious go-between at the weekend, and Beckham's announcement on Tuesday that he would quit the LA Galaxy after the MLS final on December 1, have intensified the belief the world's most prominent soccer label could be attached to an A-League shirt.

For the sceptics - hands up here - the possibility Beckham could swap Hollywood for Villawood raises some awkward questions. First, it provides a reminder of the game's long-term addiction to the quick fix. The superstar saviour or, in the case of the failed World Cup bid, the far-fetched notion that putting a toe in FIFA's shark-infested waters would provide the impetus required to exploit soccer's latent potential.

In Beckham's case, the (red) devil in the detail was whether the 10-game guest appearance initially floated by his management would be more beneficial to Beckham Inc than the A-League. Comparisons with Alessandro Del Piero's very positive impact on Sydney FC's attendances and membership are apt. But Del Piero's two-year commitment creates a far greater chance he will leave a permanent legacy, not merely attract daytrippers who identify more with Beckham's celebrity than his killer right foot.

Harry Kewell's deal with Melbourne Victory started with the best of intentions. But as Kewell and his wife Sheree embedded themselves with Melbourne society B-listers, and put their affairs in the hands of a celebrity agent, the title ''marquee player'' referred more to the tents where he spent the spring carnival than his value on the pitch.

But as A-League clubs lined up for a crack at Beckham, the still unconfirmed possibility he could be available for more than just a 10-game guest stint made his signature far more valuable. LA Galaxy has progressed from being Beckham's club, to merely the club where Beckham plays. A longer commitment would significantly improve the chances of Beckham improving the value of an A-League franchise, and the A-League itself.

Importantly, the FFA will not dip significantly into its own pockets to pay for Beckham. Despite driving the Beckham deal, it would be up to his club of choice to find most of the cash. A compelling incentive to make the deal work.

Meanwhile, chairman Frank Lowy's statements on the FFA website after the media rights agreement was signed were encouraging. He made it clear the deal was about consolidating, even protecting, that to which the A-League had clung during the first seven years. You will have to wait for the trimmings such as further expansion and cup competitions.

From a viewer's perspective, it will be interesting to see whether SBS provides a distinctive production to Fox Sports' excellent coverage. If a pay-TV coverage has limited the A-League's reach, there is a real energy and enthusiasm about the way it presents the game. SBS has always been far more reverential.

Such a distinctive choice is the substance of a pleasant conversation for fans of a league that has been given a chance to create a business model that matches its ambition. And that remains far more significant than whether or not Becks and Posh are up for a barbie at Singo's beach house.

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