The bad and the brilliant of Barca's trip down under
Last Wednesday, the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) announced the return of an A-League All-Stars side that will play a friendly against Barcelona on May 25th.
Details about who will be involved are yet to be revealed. However, this match still presents an exciting opportunity to see some of the best players in the A-League Men come up against one of the biggest clubs on the planet.
The match will see a Barcelona squad fresh off a late resurgence in La Liga under club legend Xavi take on some of the A-League Men's finest. Several fans are hoping to see some of the league's best young Australian talent get called up alongside the biggest names in the domestic league down under.
The last A-League All-Stars squad, who played a friendly against Juventus in 2014. (Sporting News)
However, the announcement was met with mixed reviews. While many fans were excited to see a world-class side on Aussie shores, those more invested in the domestic game saw this move as an own goal by the APL. The main reason for their scepticism is that the game is set to take place in the lead up to the A-League Men Grand Final.
The APL would undoubtedly have their reasons for the timing, and only time will tell if it proves to be a positive move.
However, said timing will bring about challenges regarding how the A-League All-Stars will look. Playing in the lead-up to the league’s showpiece event will mean anyone involved in that game will be unavailable.
The point of an All-Stars team is to bring the most talented players from across the league together. But having players from the two best teams ruled out may question how much of an ‘All-Star’ side it is.
The last All-Stars match saw Besart Berisha (left), Thomas Broich (right), and the legendary Alessandro Del Piero (centre) all feature. (FTBL)
Another argument brought forward regarding the friendly is how it might detract attention from the Grand Final altogether.
It’s no secret that the A-League Men competition has struggled for attention and viewership throughout this season. But the finals series presents a perfect opportunity to regain fan interest in the local game.
An event such as this one in the midst of it could help to market the Grand Final itself, as it will likely be the ‘best of the rest’ playing in this fixture. But the stubbornness of some fans towards Australian football could see their appetite for live football satisfied by watching a team with the quality and reputation of Barcelona.
There’s always the potential for the reverse to happen. A-League Men's talent could shine in front of local eyes that may have overlooked them in the past. But only time will tell whether those people are impressed or disappointed with the quality in front of them.
Tomi Juric shocked the crowd when his second-half goal put the A-League All-Stars ahead against Juventus. (News.com)
Some fans have also voiced that they would rather see an A-League club in this match over an All-Star team.
This change would allow a club to profit from the match monetarily and crucially put themselves in front of a wider audience. It would also mean a much less disjointed team plays, as they won’t have been thrown together the week before, and also removes the "gimmicky" aspect of All-Star teams.
Matches such as those are always a big occasion for the clubs themselves and allow for an increased atmosphere from the club's fan bases, who will look to put on a show for their players.
The Cove during Sydney FC's friendly against Tottenham Hotspur in 2015. (Keith McInnes Photography)
Meanwhile, the All-Stars match will likely have only one set of supporters, those backing Barcelona. The A-League Men players that fans of the domestic game are hoping to shine will go into a stadium with 80-odd thousand fans against them. And even the ones that do go to show support to the league's best will most likely be isolated and spread out around the stadium.
There is still plenty to love about this match among everything there is to not like about it. There are plenty of opportunities for the local game to benefit.
As mentioned before, the match being in the leadup to the Grand Final may take attention away. However, there is still the chance the complete opposite occurs.
Eyes on the league have been slowly decreasing over recent seasons. The impacts of COVID, the scheduling headaches it has caused, and the limited marketing of rearranged games have seen those decreasing numbers take somewhat of a nosedive this year.
The APL now has an opportunity to go hell-for-leather with the marketing for the final through an event where even the most casual football fans in Australia will be watching. They can ensure that the Grand Final has every possibility of being a success.
Not everyone who watches the All-Stars will then go and tune into the Grand Final, but even inspiring a fraction to do so will make all of this effort worthwhile.
This exhibition match presents the perfect opportunity to market the Grand Final to a wider football audience. (Twitter: @thatjaydeegeeza)
In a season where the league has struggled for mainstream attention, the APL must use this opportunity to push the most prominent football match on the domestic calendar to as many people as possible.
They must also ensure, as many people will watch this match in the first place, there needs to be an opportunity for as many of Barcelona’s stars to feature.
The La Liga season finishes on Sunday, May 22. The June international window begins on May 30, and UEFA Nations League games start as early as June 2. This tight schedule may be an explanation for the timing of the match.
There was a narrow window to schedule the match between the end of Barcelona’s season and when players will join up with their national teams. This headache would have left the APL with little choice but to have the match played in the lead-up to the Grand Final.
Some sceptics may say not to hold the event at all. But the return of the All-Stars was something the APL promised when they were first formed. It might have raised more questions if they decided to turn down the opportunity altogether.
Fan view aside, from a player perspective, there is still a rare opportunity to go toe to toe with some of the best players in the world. Opportunities like this one are once-in-a-lifetime stuff for players in Australia and one that no player will turn down if given the opportunity.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be one of the big names A-League Men players will be hoping to test themselves against. (Sports Illustrated)
For any young players that get involved, this experience will be one they won’t forget and allows them to prove they can mix it with world-class players.
Fans will have input into the All-Stars selection. Hopefully, the most popular young players across the league in Tilio, Nisbet, and Folami will be selected. They should feature if their teams do not make the Grand Final.
Much debate has been made about Barcelona’s visit down under. However, between the conversations about the timing of the match and who they will play, it seems people forget the most significant factor of all. A world-class side is about to come to Australia, and fans will have the opportunity to see them live or at a reasonable time on TV.
As much as the timing has been an issue for some fans, the prospect of watching Barcelona in Australia is still an exciting prospect. (Twitter: @VinceRugari)
Whether you love it or hate it, it’s certainly hard not to be at least a bit excited about it.
Arguments about some of the decisions around this match are certainly justified. But any football fan would still be happy about seeing a team with the stature of Barcelona in their backyard. For Australian football fans, the week will see two games contribute firmly to the mainstream sports media in only a few days.
Hopefully, should the APL play their cards right, Australian football fans will get to see the local game benefit from this special event.