Where marquees are concerned, be careful what you wish for…

There’s nothing like an arresting statistic to grab your attention, so when I was monitoring my social media feed and an article from the Irish Times popped up about salaries in America’s major League Soccer it certainly piqued my interest.
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After all, there are some similarities – albeit on a different scale – between the American competition and Australia’s A-League.

Both are relatively new competitions, although the MLS is more than 20 years old compared to the A-League’s 10.

Both apply a salary cap, and both have provision for marquee players whose signature is expected to boost the club’s marketplace appeal and cut through as much as it is designed to assist on the pitch.

Both are closed competitions, with no promotion or relegation and little incentive to encourage second-tier clubs to invest heavily in playing staff to gain a place with the big boys. Like here, there are an increasing number of voices calling for authorities to consider a two-tier set up, but like the FFA, the US soccer chiefs have so far been unconvinced by the idea.

But there the connections end, and as everywhere, it is money that breaks the links.

The salaries paid to America’s star imports are mouthwatering, and well beyond the scale that can be found here. But they also can lead to extreme disparities and, presumably, threaten dressing room harmony.

Many players in MLS squads are on the minimum of around $60,000. It can’t be easy to share a changing room and a pitch if you are working flat out and playing alongside a star import such as Kaka, for example, the Brazilian who is earning $6.6 million at Orlando City.

No one would argue that Kaka is an immensely more talented player than the standard US pro on minimum wage, but in a team sport surely such discrepancies must create tension.

I acknowledge that in the Premier League there is also a huge gulf between the big earners and the bit part players, but such is the largesse on offer there that even the relatively “low wage” earners are, in comparison to most people in England, paid a King’s Ransom.

Anyone who spends a couple of years on a Premier League club’s senior roster should really not have too many money worries for the rest of their life if they are sensible and invest it smartly, which is not the case for American players on basic wages, nor those in the A-League on the average wage of around $120,000 (median $100,000)  for what can be a pretty short career.

The stat in the Irish paper’s story that really caught my attention referred to former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard. Reporter Dave Hannigan wrote: “Steven Gerrard’s first Los Angeles Galaxy goal last weekend came against the San Jose Earthquakes whose entire squad earn almost $1.5million less than the $6.2m the former Liverpool captain is getting in Hollywood.”

So what you might say. Gerrard is a legend, the San Jose players are probably hacks and the former Anfield hero is entitled to get what he can in his twilight years in the semi-retirement home that is the MLS.

Fair enough if that’s how you see it.  But in my view this is not the sort of road, albeit on a diminished scale, that the A-League should be going down.

Although there is a clamour for it, paying superannuated stars huge money to make some marketing noise – particularly to help drive television ratings –  in our fledgling league doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, especially if they are well past their best and trading on their name only.

It’s a very tempting idea, and in theory it should bring all sorts of benefits. But the reality is that there tends to be a short-term wave of interest, then things drop off alarmingly, especially if they don’t perform to expectations.

I may be a bit old fashioned, but my feeling is that if the game is to grow it will be organically, with fans following teams because they develop an emotional connection. In the A-League, where clubs have little history or tradition, it may be that the best way to do this is to develop and bring home grown players through into the first team. There is a connection and a buy in that doesn’t often come with a mercenary marquee man who is here for a season then gone to pastures new – often to a higher paid post in Asia.

How many really highly paid marquee players have truly delivered value for money?

Alessandro Del Piero certainly got the A-League plenty of attention in that first season for his $3 million a year salary and it could be argued that his media profile alone warranted his package. And he was a good performer in that first year, even though his wage multiple compared to the rest of the squad was in Gerrard territory.

But he tailed off considerably in the second season, and once the sizzle had gone his media appeal fell. In addition there were plenty of stories of dressing room disruption in Sydney brought about by the Italian star’s different training regime and conditions.

Shinji Ono was a less heralded star who didn’t deliver much media profile, but had a greater impact on the pitch for Western Sydney Wanderers.

And aside from those two? Dwight Yorke in year one? Yes. Aside from those two?  Emile Heskey, Robbie Fowler, Pablo Contreras? None had the impact they might have had.  Juninho was a super talent, but too often injured.

By all means look for marquee players. But be careful what you wish for, do your due diligence, and don’t break the bank.

Better by far surely to find a hidden gem like Fahid Ben Khallfallah, Melbourne Victory’s star last season, for a fraction of the price. They often deliver more value, and are unlikely to bring dressing room disharmony.

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Bill Shorten shores up his position with strong ALP national conference win

Published polls suggest Shorten’s Labor has a real chance of being returned to the treasury benches at the next election. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Opposition Leader Bill Shorten votes against a move by Labor’s Left faction to ban boat turn-backs. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Labor MP Anthony Albanese votes to ban boat turn-backs. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

An emotional Tony Burke is comforted by colleagues after sharing stories from his time as immigration minister. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Bill Shorten prevails on boat turn-backsTanya Plibersek in ‘witness protection’ over boatsMeet Labor’s five rising young stars

In politics, nothing unites like the prospect of electoral success. So it is perhaps unsurprising that Labor’s notoriously rambunctious internal agitators have tamed themselves to a degree at the party’s 47th National Conference.

What should be considered surprising though is that electoral success for the ALP is imaginable at all. Just 22 months after being hounded from office by a betrayed and offended electorate, published polls suggest Shorten’s Labor has a real chance of being returned to the treasury benches at the next election.

Yet for the party’s leader perversely, the task has in some ways been getting harder rather than easier as the election year approaches. While his party holds a stable lead over the unpopular Abbott government, Shorten himself has been subject to a whispering campaign of late, accelerated by a growing chorus of outspoken critics, and reflected in steeply declining approval ratings among voters.

A common lament casts the former union boss as little more than an ambitious careerist lacking strength and devoid of any conviction.

For a vulnerable leader accused of lacking strength, policy questions to be dealt with at the conference presented particular problems for Shorten – and none more so than the moral puzzle of asylum seekers.

And the question of climate change also looked large, given its central role in Labor’s 2013 defeat.

The Labor leader took a risk by revealing his positions publicly before the conference. On asylum seeker policy, this involved adopting the most contentious and most reviled aspect of the Abbott government’s suite of tough-on-borders – that of turn-backs.

Yet Shorten’s argument was as sound as it was courageous. He concluded that stopping deaths at sea by stopping maritime attempts in unseaworthy boats via people smuggling, is the right policy setting.

Politically, the policy is correct also. Witness the government’s wafer-thin arguments against his pivot: that he doesn’t believe in it, that he’ll never do it, that Labor won’t let him. What else could they do, given he has just done what they have so often called on him to do.

On climate however, his approach was equally bold, but in the other direct as he doubled down promising a goal of 50 per cent renewable energy production by 2030.

Some have criticised this as lurching to the left. This is nonsense. You only need look at the widespread take-up of solar power to see how fundamentally “mainstream” renewable energy has become. That’s a fact the current government mysteriously ignores.

Shorten looks to have emerged from the test of conference, stronger, and more defined. But perhaps his greatest achievement has been to work in simple straight lines wrestling and modernising his party, and rendering himself more acceptable to voters in the process.

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Hugh Bowman’s winning double has him close to the Sydney title

All good: Hugh Bowman, celebrates winning race 5, the Bledisloe Cup Festival Handicap, at Canterbury racecourse riding Burnt Bridges.Hugh Bowman was the victim of Nash Rawiller’s devastating finish to the season two years ago to have a Sydney jockey’s premiership ripped for his grasp.
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But a stunning eight winners in 11days has Bowman set to have a come-from-behind win of his own and a third Sydney jockeys’ title.

It has been a great battle but Bowman has got the wins at the right end of the season to reel in James McDonald and Blake Shinn.

The champion jockey has ridden around the country this year and already has the most group 1 winners for the season with nine, but his late year surge seems to have the jockey title just about over.

Just don’t tell Bowman.

“I won’t be giving a salute before the post,” Bowman said. “I was well clear of Nash a couple of years ago and he got me. So I’m not counting my chickens.” He added later: “It was a good day today.”

Bowman walked into Canterbury with a 1-win advantage over his rivals and a double on Beyond Thankful and Burnt Bridges extended that before McDonald got Miniature home to make the led 2 wins heading to last meeting of the season at Canterbury on Wednesday.

There are only eight races left and one winner on Wednesday should be enough to secure the title for Bowman. He backed up four winners at Warwick Farm on Wednesday by again making the most of his chances. He gave Beyond Thankful a great ride to take out the staying contest and Chris Waller said the import could be another hope for the Wyong Cup. Bowman had a bit in hand on him and he will head to another Sydney staying race over 1800 metres before the Wyong Cup.

Burnt Bridges flew home to give Bowman his second winner and complete a winning double for Newcastle trainer Kris Lees.

“The barrier was a concern but I got the runs when I needed them and had the horse to take those runs when they came,” Bowman said.

The winning double gave Bowman the most winners at Canterbury for the season with 22, one in front of McDonald. Bowman had been the outsider of the trio after last Saturday but with one meeting left he is $1.15 favourite sitting on 94 wins.

McDonald, who returned from England early to fight out the title, will still have a chance to take out the title but will have to ride at least a winning treble on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure what I have but I’m just hoping,” McDonald said.

Shinn remains half a win in front of McDonald.

Meanwhile Damien Oliver has a two-win lead over Craig Williams heading to the final Victorian metropolitan meeting of the season at Geelong on Sunday.

Williams didn’t have a winner at Caulfield, while Oliver won on short-priced favourite Volcanic Ash.

“You just go about your business and see what happens at the end of the day,” Oliver said after Volcanic Ash’s win. “You don’t sort of worry too much about what’s at the end of the rainbow, you just see how it goes.”

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Ashes 2015: Australia to give Chris Rogers every chance to be fit for third Test at Edgbaston

Australian medical staff attend to Rogers, who retired hurt. Photo: Andrew CouldridgeDERBY: Australian opener Chris Rogers is being given every chance to recover from an ear injury in time for the third Ashes Test, rejoining the touring squad in the Midlands as they wound up a three-day practice match against Derbyshire.
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The 37-year-old had remained in London during the week having tests on a vestibular and balance issue that emerged in the form of a sudden dizzy spell during the fourth day of the second Test at Lord’s last Sunday.

After consulting a range of specialists Australian medicos ruled out concussion – Rogers had been struck behind the ear by a James Anderson delivery two days earlier – but they’ve been eager to ensure he is fully recovered from the problem that saw him slump to the ground at Lord’s before giving him the green light to play at Edgbaston.

“Chris continues to improve and has re-joined the team (at their hotel) in Nottingham last night,” Australian team doctor Peter Brukner said on Saturday. “He will continue to increase his level of activity over the next couple of days and will be closely monitored by team medical staff.”

Brukner indicated last Wednesday that Rogers would need to be back to 100 per cent before being made available for the third Test. If he is not Shaun Marsh, a century-maker in Australia’s tour games against Kent and Derbyshire, will replace him.

“From my point of view he needs to be free of all his symptoms, whether it’s fatigue or dizziness,” Brukner said last week. “And then he can go back to playing or to training. Obviously he has to get through some training sessions.

“That will be up to the coaches to decide but I imagine he’ll have to get through a couple of solid training sessions before he plays. That’s something we’ll have to sort out with the coaches before he plays.”

The Australians were due to make the short journey from Derby to Birmingham on Saturday night after the final day of play against Derbyshire.

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Scorpions v Cessnock: Scorpions make it three in a row

Scorpions’ win edges the team closer to the top of the ladder. Picture: Jonathan CarrollMACQUARIE coach Barrie Moore has adopted a simple approach to the second half of the Newcastle Rugby League season and it’s working.
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The Scorpions stormed past Cessnock 36-16 at Peacock Field on Saturday to make it three straight wins and move within striking distance of the top three.

Led up front by Blake Gallen and a band of enthusiastic local juniors, the Scorpions took a 16-10 advantage into half time and powered away after the break.

‘‘It was a very good win,’’ said Moore, who announced this week he was stepping down at the end of the season,

‘‘We have changed some things, simplified it, and it is working.

‘‘Jamie Watts is doing the conditioning and the boys are working hard.

‘‘Our fitness is probably the best it has been.

‘‘The last 10 minutes of the first half and certainly the last 10 minutes of the second half we came over the top of Cessnock.

‘‘And our defence is great.’’

Apart from Gallen, five-eighth Andy Sumner, playing his 100th first grade game, and centre Teason Faavi-Eli were strong.

Moore was particularly happy with the younger players in squad.

‘‘We had an 18 year old on the wing, hooker Jordan Noble is a 20 year old playing his second first grade game, Matt Jeffries has played five first grade games and is starting in the front row.

‘‘These guys are doing a job for me.

‘‘We had nine locals in first grade, that is huge.’’

The only downside was a serious knee injury to Faavi-Eli.

In other games on Saturday, premiers Western Suburbs had to work hard to topple a gritty Kurri Kurri 25-20 at Kurri Sportsground.

The Rosellas led 14-10 at half time.

At Cahill Oval, Lakes United were too strong for Maitland, winning 36-22.

South Newcastle host Central on Sunday.

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