Nurturing home-grown talent key to growth
David Beckham and son Romeo are likely to bypass Australia. Photo: AP
SO DAVID Beckham has enrolled his children at exclusive English private schools as he prepares for the final rundown of his illustrious career.
If reports from London are correct, then the dream of Becks ending his days in Australia have been well and truly dashed.
Well, dashed might not be the word to describe what some regard as a pipedream in the first place, and others hoped, rather than expected, might come true.
If true, is it a letdown? Yes, of course. A dose of reality? Definitely. The inevitable outcome of some fanciful thinking? Maybe.
Still, it was fair enough to have a crack. If you don't ask, you don't get.
After all, Alessandro Del Piero's arrival in Sydney for the 2012-13 A-League season seemed to herald all manner of weird and wonderful possibilities.
If the Italian legend could be lured to the harbour city, why not Beckham to Perth Glory, or Melbourne Heart, or Central Coast Mariners. Stranger things have happened.
But the likelihood was never great that the biggest name of his soccer generation, plus his wife and four children, would move to the other side of the world to play out his days.
The A-League is improving year by year and the arrival this season of players such as Del Piero, Emile Heskey, a former teammate of Beckham's, and former Japanese international Shinji Ono have all added to its lustre and given the league a boost in far-flung markets.
All are important factors when judging their effectiveness, never mind the importance they have had for their teams on the pitch.
Ono has become an important cog in the rapidly improving West Sydney, Del Piero has galvanised Sydney - when he has been fit enough to play - while Heskey has bagged numerous goals for the Jets.
Beckham would have eclipsed all three put together had he decided to play here.
The purists might argue that Del Piero is a better player, and that might well be the case.
But he's not a bigger name, nor a bigger star, and had Glory, Heart or the Mariners pulled off an unlikely coup, if only for a 10-game guest stint, then the luminosity of the Beckham brand would have lit up the domestic game like no other.
Still, for all that massive publicity Beckham would have brought, and the new fans he would have attracted, he would have been only a short-term marketing ploy.
What will build the game here for the long term is a commitment to excellence and the development of our own young talents, players who can star on the domestic stage before the best and brightest are sold to bigger clubs overseas.
What is also needed is the development of a dedicated fan culture, the kind of emotional commitment to a team and a shirt that means supporters stick with the club through thick and thin and turn up at games irrespective of conditions.
Beckham would have attracted the theatregoers and boosted crowds while here, but the reality is that Australia is almost certainly too small a market for someone like him, whose global reach, branding and marketing businesses - a key aspect of his planning now that his time in the game is running out - will be best served by being either home in Europe, the heartland of the game, or in one of the new frontiers with an enormous population and massive revenue-generating opportunities.
Still, it was nice to dream, if only for a while.