United they stand
The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.
United they stand
Playing against Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie in Australia. Perhaps a dream just months ago, but it will become a reality for a select few A-League players next year.
Monday's announcement from Football Federation Australia that Manchester United will bring their pre-season tour to Sydney to take on an A-League All-Stars side next July is both a boost for the growth of the game and an acknowledgement of how far it has come.
For United, of course, the exhibition will provide the traditional opportunity to engage with their worldwide fan base and commercial partners on this portion of the globe - as they have done regularly in Asia, North America and Africa in recent years. Indeed, it is not unusual for blue-chip English and European clubs to travel to the Antipodes in pre-season, but this is perhaps a key moment for Australia to form a pivotal part of that experience.
The A-League's profile has risen exponentially thanks to well-known stars Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono joining the competition in recent months, and it is off the back of this reputation that the league's potential can be realised. United's visit could prove the first of many similar sojourns from big clubs in the coming years.
The match also provides yet another element of motivation for A-League players. Those deemed worthy will have the opportunity to play against United, or represent Australia at the East Asian Cup - which also takes place in July - after Holger Osieck's men sealed qualification on Sunday night. If domestic glory was not enough of a carrot dangling in front of them, these opportunities surely must be.
It should therefore manifest as a shot in the arm for teams such as back-to-back champions Brisbane Roar, who slumped to their fifth defeat of the campaign with a 1-0 loss away to Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday.
A similar scenario lies in front of last season's beaten grand finalists Perth Glory. Their bright early season form seems a distant memory following two consecutive defeats, taking their winless streak to five matches.
Sydney remain at the bottom of a congested table, despite recording an impressive win in New Zealand over the Wellington Phoenix. Their high-profile players will know that the majority of their hard work still lies in front of them, particularly in next week's Sydney derby.
While prominent players such as Del Piero can expect inclusion, a vast number of squad spots surely remain vacant in the A-League All-Stars line-up. Who deserves selection? Which players will force their way into the All-Stars or the national team over the remainder of the season?
In a tight spot
Is this season's title a race in two?
Adelaide United and the Central Coast Mariners have separated themselves from what is an extraordinarily tight competition, with just six points between third place and last.
Both teams registered impressive wins over the weekend, taking turns at the summit of the A-League in the process.
For their part, Adelaide showed real class against an in-form Melbourne Victory outfit on Friday evening, notching a 4-2 triumph over their biggest rivals in front of a large and vociferous home crowd. The win was punctuated by some fine individual performances as Portuguese winger Fabio Farreira and Argentine Marcelo Carrusca sealed a wonderful display with stunning strikes. In fact, Carrusca's curling left-footed effort could be a contender for goal of the season.
Coach John Kosmina has found a number of gems this season, and their ability to innovate and create in the final third will likely determine their push toward the premiership trophy.
The Mariners, meanwhile, continue to motor along, this week overcoming local rivals the Newcastle Jets 2-0 in the F3 Derby. Graham Arnold's men showed too much commitment and organisation - even without arguably their three best players in Tom Rogic, Mile Sterjovski and Mat Ryan - for the Jets.
35-year-old striker Daniel McBreen is understandably gaining plaudits for his two-goal performance - taking his season tally to nine - but it is the defensive structure and the willingness of players to fill in holes which is the reason for the Mariners' consistency. The flexibility of their midfield allows fullbacks Josh Rose and Pedj Bojic to provide necessary width in attack, putting chances on a platter for McBreen and Bernie Ibini.
It is no surprise, then, that the league's two top performers rose above the pack in the most anticipated games of the weekend. Whether anyone can now join them in the title race remains to be seen.
In pursuit of Beckham
If David Beckham or his representatives watched Saturday's match between Melbourne Heart and Perth Glory, his preferred destination should he join the A-League may already be decided.
The two clubs have put forward strong offers to entice Beckham to Australia for what would be an initial 10-game stint with an option to stay longer. Indeed, the Glory's offer is financially more rewarding for the former England captain than his previous deal at Los Angeles Galaxy.
But, on Saturday's showing, it is going to take a lot more than money for the Glory to lure Beckham.
Arguably one of the fashion and culture capitals of the southern hemisphere, Melbourne appears a more natural fit for Beckham and his entourage anyway. He will continue to earn his millions through peddling clothes and fragrances long after he hangs up his football boots, and establishing his business interests in a city of Melbourne's culture would be a savvy move.
On the pitch, the Heart also showed their edge in a 1-0 victory over Perth. Youngster Golgol Mebrahtu bagged the winner with his first A-League goal with only moments to spare.
While the Heart's performance was at times laborious, they did enough to frustrate a lethargic Glory side. Therein lies Perth's problem in signing Beckham.
Like the rest of their squad, Beckham would be required to travel to the other side of the continent for every one of Perth's away matches during his stint. The Glory's poor record away from Western Australia is no coincidence, and it makes one wonder if a 37-year-old Beckham would be willing to put his body through that amount of travel. It seems unlikely.
It is reported the Heart's offer to Beckham is worth around AU$300,000 less than Perth's, but what he would stand to gain both on and off the pitch makes that pale into insignificance - particularly for a man of his wealth and experience.