Australia’s ‘Special Relationship’ With The US Should Not Extend To Soccer

The Australia has long enjoyed a ‘special relationship’ with the United States.

This strategic alliance, made official in 1951 in the form of the ANZUS treaty, has been held up by subsequent Australian governments as something to be cherished, upheld at all costs.

In reality, the US has far closer ties with the UK (and Canada, for that matter) in regards to economic activity, trade and commerce, military operations and intelligence sharing than it does with little Australia. These, too, are referred to as “special” relationships.

Even as the US pivots toward Asia, the superpower will probably keep its relationship with Australia at arms length. They’ll continue to invoke the ANZUS treaty when necessary, just as it did in the aftermath of 9/11.

But that’s about it. As we saw recently, Hilary Clinton, who is gearing up for a 2016 presidential campaign, would rather spruik her book than meet with our Prime Minister.

Australia is a wanton whore when it comes to the US. When they need us, we’ll be there in a jiffy like a hooker on call; dressed provocatively in black stockings with a bit of red lippy on. No questions asked; ready and willing to be used and abused. Cheap and cheerful, that’s us.

A little bit of this and we're good to go
A little bit of this and we’re good to go

However, this special relationship is fine when viewed through a geopolitical lens. We get it. Australia is small and weak, while America is big and powerful. We are lucky to have the support of America, the world’s greatest power, I guess.

But when it comes to sport – and specifically soccer – there are absolutely no grounds for such a “special relationship.”

* * * * * *

This week we learnt that Chelsea’s Frank Lampard is reportedly coming to the A-League. Yes! Great news, we thought. What a coup for the freshly rebranded Melbourne City FC!

However, it appears Lampard will just play 10 games for Melbourne, then go on to play for New York in America’s Major League Soccer competition. The A-League stint will effectively play him into a bit of form before he waves goodbye and heads for the land of opportunity, liberty and freedom. It’s the equivalent of a World Cup warm-up game against a minnow on home soil – i.e. fucking useless.

Funnily enough, Melbourne City FC and New York FC are owned by the same bloke: Sheik Mansour. Mansour is the deputy PM of the United Arab Emirates. He’s also the owner of a private investment company that bought Manchester City back in 2008. He also has two wives (cue: sexist dad joke about how that means double the ‘nagging’, etc).

"Double the nagging, double the misery (chortle chortle)"
“Double the nagging, double the misery (chortle chortle)”

As it stands, Lampard and Spanish legend David Villa are both reportedly set to play a 10-game stint at Melbourne City FC before taking up posts at the new MLS club next season.

To use a horse-breeding analogy, Australia is the “teaser horse” to America’s stallion.

We should be disgusted by these developments – and at the A-League for allowing this loophole.

Now I have no problem with a rich foreign bloke owning a football club, or any sporting franchise, for that matter. I think Australian sport would be so much better if money wasn’t an issue for players.

Brainstorming an absurd analogy with TPA colleague Al McClintock
Brainstorming with TPA colleague Al McClintock

In the US and in Europe, billionaires rule sport. They have no real concern about running the franchise at a profit; instead, it is merely a vanity project for many. Something to brag about. And you know what? That’s OK. Rich owners are funny and mostly harmless, with the notable exception of Donald Sterling.

But the problem I have is that, in effect, Australia’s A-League teams are being used as feeder clubs for the MLS – a joke of a competition if ever there was one.

We are both young, aspirational New World countries where soccer is not our national sport. However, Australia – given our closer ties to England, and by association, continental Europe – shouldn’t be treated with such contempt. Australia’s football pedigree is greater than America’s.

The US has done well at this recent World Cup, having made the round of 16. Australia did not fare as well. We have entered a rebuilding era, like the Australian cricket team did in 2012. Ditto Canberra Raiders from 1998-present.

"Yuck"
“Yuck”

But soccer in America will not catch on like it will in Australia. This is just a brief infatuation. Social media has helped propel the US Men’s National Team into the spotlight – and Tim Howard’s heroics have inspired thousands of memes. But that’s all it will amount to.

Shit, the US hosted the World Cup in 1994. In the 1990s, no less. A wonderful chapter in time when the economy was booming and the country wasn’t balls deep in the Middle East.

And still the game didn’t catch on in the states. So why would we think that it will now? That Americans are suddenly ready to embrace soccer? Newsflash: they still don’t really give a fuck.

Conservative columnists are writing non-satirical articles about how any increased interest in soccer is evidence of a nation’s moral decay. A few breathless Grantland/New York Times articles won’t change the status quo.

* * * * * *

TPA senior editor Ben Shine wrote recently about how legendary Italian Alessandro del Piero paradoxically confirmed Australia’s status as a footballing backwater during his successful stint at Sydney FC.

A great ambassador
A great ambassador

Del Piero’s sublime foot skills and humble Old World personality did a lot for the game in Australia. He played for two full seasons and, according to Shine, served as an “unqualified success for Australian football.”

However, now that he’s gone, questions should be raised about the long-term health of the A-League.

In contrast, these flirtatious fly-in, fly-out 10-game contracts are not good for Australia. It will not help to develop the game – or the A-League itself – in the long term. It’s a short-term fix; a PR/marketing stunt that will deflect from the real grassroots issues surrounding Australian soccer.

This is Australia being used and abused by the states, yet again. We are the wanton whore who will drop her knickers for America at the first sight of interest.

We are better than this.

By Dave Edwards

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