COULD former Japan international Shinji Ono’s arrival in Australia to play for new A-League franchise Western Sydney Wanderers pave the way for other high-profile Asian veterans to finish their careers in Australia?
Nanjing Night Net

Call it the Del Piero effect, but there is no doubt, according to the man who engineered the deals to bring first Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero and then Ono here, that the Italian’s arrival has increased the visibility and legitimacy of the A-League for high-profile players looking for a different challenge to end their careers.

Melbourne-based player manager and agent Lou Sticca has been shifting players around the world, from Australia to Europe and Asia and the other way, for years and he says the A-League could become a much more viable destination for Asian players than it has been.

It might still be a while before the likes of South Korea’s Park Ji-Sung, who plays for Queens Park Rangers, might be prepared to call Australia home, but the idea that he or players of his ilk might now be more likely to consider finishing their time here is a significant marker in the competition’s development.

”I think that has to be the case,” said Sticca. ”As soon as the news broke that Del Piero was signing for Sydney, Ono’s people definitely became more interested. It has to help. Del Piero is a legend in Italy and he has huge following in Japan and all over the world, so him moving here, then a player like Emile Heskey with all that Premier League and England experience, it made Ono and others in Japan take more notice.”

Sticca brought Dwight Yorke to Sydney for the first season of the A-League and it is against him that the likes of Del Piero, Ono and Heskey should be benchmarked, he says. ”Dwight hadn’t been playing much for Birmingham when he came here, but he gave the whole league a lift in its first season and he stood up when it mattered in the big games,” Sticca said. ”He then went back and played at high level, including in a World Cup, so I would say he has been the most successful of the big-name marquee signings.”

Ono is not in the same league as Del Piero as a ”name” but he will at least bring Western Sydney some media oxygen in its first season after its established rival dominated the media landscape through the signing of Del Piero, which no one would have forecast a couple of months ago.

Ono is the second high-profile Japanese player to come here, as Sticca also brought former international Kazu Miura to play a guest stint for Sydney in the A-League’s first season.

Ono turned 33 last month so he is younger than Del Piero (37) and should provide Wanderers with not just experience but plenty of class in whatever position coach Tony Popovic chooses to use him. His versatility means he can operate as an attacking midfielder, holding midfielder or in wide areas.

The Japanese import has joined from Shimuzu S-Pulse, the club where Socceroo frontman and former Sydney striker Alex Brosque used to play until moving to the Middle East earlier this month. Sticca says there is another former Japan international on Shimuzu’s books, striker Naohiro Takahara, who might be interested in a move to this country.

He might already be known to keener Socceroo fans with a good memory, as it was his goal in the 2007 Asian Cup quarter-final that brought Japan level with Australia in a match that eventually finished all square after extra time, Japan winning in a penalty shootout.

”We are not really able to compete on financial terms with clubs from other countries for these sort of players, but the secret is being able to offer a good salary but also get them interested in other things about the competition or Australia,” says Sticca, who suggests Del Piero’s interest in helping develop the sport in a market he knew little about was one of the reasons he was initially interested in discussing a move to Australia.

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