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Blue Moon over Melbourne as City move ticks boxes

Next season, both the players and supporters of the former Melbourne Heart vwill be sporting different colours.

Next season, both the players and supporters of the former Melbourne Heart vwill be sporting different colours. Photo: Getty Images

There will, doubtless, be some disgruntled Melbourne Heart fans who will still be dismayed that the club has changed its name to Melbourne City and changed its first team strip to predominantly white and sky blue to reflect its new majority owners wishes.

But surely they will be in a tiny minority.

It is hard to see much, if any, downside from the seismic changes at the club wrought by its controller, Manchester City, which bought out the founding directors to take a majority stake in January, paying some $11 million to do so.

The signing of David Villa, the Spain international and former Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia forward, is the biggest coup in the A-League's 10-year history.

Yes, Alessandro Del Piero was a global name and a giant of the sport, and of course he signed on a long-term basis and spent two years with Sydney FC. His impact, especially in that first season, was enormous, as much off the field as on it.

But Del Piero was a man in his footballing dotage, a player at the end of his illustrious career, close to his 40th birthday.

Villa is only coming on a 10-game guest stint – effectively a pre-season fitness programme for the star striker before he moves to New York to star for City's American franchise, New York City, when it kicks off in March, 2015. His shadow will be cast for barely four months, not two years.

But he is a man in his prime, aged 32. This is a player who lined up for Atletico Madrid in its Champions League final loss to Real Madrid late last month and who will feature for the World Champion, Spain, in the World Cup this month. He is his country's all-time top scorer at international level.

Villa could, literally, play for almost any team in the world. Yet he is coming to the A-League and to Melbourne – something impossible to imagine without the City links.

The colours, more than the name, have been a sticking point for the more vocal and social media-aware of the recalcitrant fans. 

Whether they accept the predominantly white with sky blue trimmings of the new strip remains to be seen, but at least they can have nothing to complain about in City's new away strip, which is the red and white outfit that Heart has used since its inception.

The new badge is also a major improvement on the computer generated image of the stylised 'MH' that Heart used as its original logo. That wasn't too bad, but it didn't look like a traditional football badge: this one does. These things matter.

The move is a boost not just for City but for the whole league. It raises the bar, lifts the profile of the competition and puts the onus on the others to, if not match City, then at least try to improve the quality and calibre of their marquee and guest recruits.

Certainly the rivalry with Melbourne Victory should grow; at the very least City games should attract a minimum of 10,000 fans rather than the 5000-7000 that often came through the gates of AAMI Park.

Victory will have to look to its laurels and ensure its competitiveness on the field. While it may not be in a position to go after the likes of Villa it is still the biggest beast in the local jungle and remains a formidable force on the field, where its rivalry with its local rival will ultimately be judged.

City will strengthen its stocks further by signing a big name marquee player and Australian marquee, both of whose wages will be counted outside the salary cap.

But the idea that it can simply fill its squad with youth and first-team fringe players from the Etihad campus is fanciful. A-League teams still remain restricted to five foreign players (including the marquee) and Heart already has two – Dutch defender Rob Wielaert and Argentinian utility Jonatan Germano. There are also restrictions on the salary cap and how much can be spent on players (not including the marquees). 

FFA has to ensure that the new Melbourne City is compliant with all those conditions, but there is no reason to think that the club in its new guise would not want to be? Why alienate yourself with your new regulators by trying to buck the system and dissipate the good will you have generated.

This is a major breakthrough for the Australian game. If the City investment works well, if the club is competitive (and bookies have already installed the John Van 't Schip side as one of the favourites for the next A-League title) then further investment in the domestic game from other major clubs could follow.

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