A-Leagues draw up 'world-class' player wish list to battle declining fan interest

The A-Leagues have drawn up a list of 35 "world-class" players it will target in the offseason as they to bid to recover declining fan interest following the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a Western United function on Thursday, Australian Professional Leagues (APL) managing director Danny Townsend said that a list of star names, both men and women, have been listed as targets.

Townsend said they are looking for players to bring high profiles, rather than just on-field talent, and used Italy legend Alessandro Del Piero, who played for Sydney FC between 2012 and 2014, as an example.

The A-Leagues are recovering after fan interest waned this season in the face of fixture chaos and APL missteps, and Townsend said the introduction of marketable names is needed.

"Marquees are genuine world-class stars and our game needs them," he said.

"It gets criticised as being a bit of a sugar hit. Our game needs a sugar hit. So let's get lots of sugar into it into the offseason."

Under the APL's plans, targetted players would be recruited to the league on a contractual requirement that will serve ambassadorial roles as well as starring for their teams.

Clubs would be aided in securing players with funding gained from its private equity deal with Silver Lake and broadcasting deal with Viacom CBS.

Townsend said the APL will work with clubs to determine where new star signings would fit in their squads, although he said no team would have a player forced upon them.

That includes potential signings to the A-League Women competition, with the easing of international travel restrictions and the looming 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand cited as potential boosts towards recruiting for the Australian women's top flight.

"What we're doing strategically is that we've got 35 players on our list that we want to talk to," Townsend said.

"It's not as simple as saying we want you to go to Melbourne Victory or Sydney FC or Western Sydney Wanderers or Brisbane Roar.

"They need to sign up to our league and be a promotional vehicle for our league, and that's a project.

"When I speak to these players, there's some that aren't up to the project and there's some that want to lean in and be a part of it and have a legacy in professional football in this country, and they're the ones we need."

Though overseas stars have a long history in Australian football -- Manchester United icon George Best had a stint with the Brisbane Lions in the 1983 season -- big-name signings to the A-Leagues have had mixed fortunes.

Dwight Yorke's stint with Sydney FC at the birth of the A-League helped give the nascent competition much-needed momentum, while the arrival of Del Piero, Emile Heskey, and Shinjo Ono ahead of the 2012-13 season is widely heralded as being a key driver in the league's ascent in the past decade.

Conversely, figures such as William Gallas, Keisuke Honda and David Villa did not leave a long-term mark.

This season, Perth Glory attracted 18,000 people to its first home game after signing former England and Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge, but a groin injury meant that he made just five further appearances, almost all of which were as a substitute.

"I think we're in a position now as a league that we've got the foundations in place to take an advantage of a sugar hit," Townsend said.

"I think in the past we've had that sugar hit and we didn't have everything else in order to carry that forward. I think now we're well-placed for that.

"Particularly off the back of COVID-19, all the structural reforms we've had, the foundational deal we've done with 10 and our players through the PFA.

"We're now prepared to get some longevity out of that sugar hit."