THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

6 October ~ After a few horror seasons, Australia's A-League may be about to experience a Harry Kewell-led recovery. A-League attendances have plummeted with all but one club, Melbourne Victory, haemorrhaging cash. At the end of last season the league's North Queensland franchise folded after just two years in business. Enter Harry Kewell. He signed an imaginative revenue-sharing agreement with Victory in the off-season. It's the first time he's played professionally for a club in his home country. Some scoffed at the club's boast that this was the biggest signing in Australian sporting history, but no one could mount a compelling case to the contrary.

Then came the move of Brett Emerton from Blackburn to Sydney FC. He's not as marketable as Kewell, but he is the the second most-capped Socceroo and a first choice for the national side. Suddenly, the season's opening clash between Victory and Sydney was no longer about the two biggest clubs, it was a match-up between two of the country's best players – a marketing department's dream. But there was a major problem.

For publicity's sake, the start of the season has been pushed back until the second weekend of October. It's the weekend after the country's two dominant winter sports – rules and rugby league – wrap up their seasons. It's also a weekend set aside by FIFA for international matches, with Australia hosting Oman in a World Cup qualifier. The scheduling clash would not usually have been a problem as the league's national players tend to be only fringe members of the squad or have retired from international duty. So no one could have forecast this scenario. The federation said it would not intervene with national coach Holger Osieck's squad selection, even after it was unable to shift the Victory-Sydney clash forward to a date that wouldn't clash with preparations for Tuesday's qualifier.

In the end, Osieck diplomatically left out his two stars, saying: "[Emerton's] last game will have been four weeks ago and I wanted to give him an opportunity to get settled in his new environment. I want to let him get into his rhythm again. With Harry... it's better for him to get his feet on the ground with Victory and be ready to play for the Socceroos again. I will definitely have those two included for the games in November." All the right noises have been made and a good compromise reached. Just don't be surprised if it's brought up the next time, say, David Moyes doesn't feel that sending Tim Cahill half way around the world for a weekend is in his team's best interest. Jack Kerr

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