If you're Liverpool FC, one of the most iconic brands in world football - especially among the 40-plus generation - why wouldn't you keep coming back to Australia to squeeze the lemon. The question is how much juice is there left to squeeze?
European clubs have been coming to Australia for 90 years - Bohemians Prague getting the ball rolling in 1927. Probably 80 per cent of the tours have failed in a commercial and footballing sense. But the other 20 per cent, the ones that hit the sweet spot, generate money. Big money. And let's not kid ourselves - or take any stock of the PR-spin gushing from the visiting sides. Money is what this process is all about.
So Liverpool are doing what any self-respecting business would do. In fact it's a cornerstone of the EPL mantra. The cashed-up EPL has pole position in the race to dominate the global football market, so that means juicing the lemon for all it's worth. Right now, it seems to be working a treat.
Next week's friendly against Sydney FC at Homebush will pull around 70,000 fans, and bring thousands of interstate and international visitors - the reason why state governments fall over themselves to use our money to underwrite these ventures. So where's the harm done? We'll get to that eventually.
In the meantime, let's do some sums. This will be Liverpool's fourth game in Australia in the past four years. The club gets a guarantee from promoters (private/stadiums and state governments) and then controls most of the remaining revenue. So far, the Reds have filled the MCG, Suncorp Stadium and Adelaide Oval. That totals about 200,000 fans, paying premium rates. Famously, in 2013, the Reds sold $1million worth of merchandise in 48 hours. All up, while the figures are under wraps, Liverpool have conservatively pulled about $18 million out of the Australian market for three games so far against A-League sides. What have Melbourne Victory, Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United got for turning up to provide the opposition? Perhaps about $700,000 between them. Chump change.
None of this is surprising, or unethical. It's just business. Australia is by no means alone in being exploited. The US remains the land of milk and honey, while China, UAE, Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Africa are some of the other pit stops. But at the first whiff of a headwind, watch what happens.
The International Champions Cup series was going to transform the football landscape in Australia when it landed here in 2015. It was a promising start. Cristiano Ronaldo came with Real Madrid, and stretched his hamstrings in front of 80,746 for the first game against Roma, and then 99,382 for game two against Manchester City. In the excited wash-up, a four-year deal with the ICC was agreed with the Victorian government.
Last year, the ICC delivered Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. Attendances for the three games just about equalled one Ronaldo appearance from the year before. Suddenly the deal was off. Four years became two. This year the ICC will head to Singapore instead. Who knows whether they'll be back. Who cares?
Over the past decade - since the A-League started to make a name for itself abroad - for every Liverpool, or Real Madrid, or Manchester United, there's been the likes of Fulham, Blackburn Rovers, Rangers, Everton, Villarreal, Celtic, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Malaga. Australia might be a cash cow on one level, but only for certain clubs at certain times. History should have taught us that.
Next Wednesday night could be a line-in-the-sand moment for Liverpool. A game scheduled at relatively short notice means Jurgen Klopp has exhumed four retired players - Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Steve McManaman - to flesh out a squad that will have completed the EPL season against Middlesbrough just 48 hours earlier. Yes, that's the same 45-year- old McManaman who last played professionally in 2005. Are they having a laugh?
I guess that depends on what the fans think. They've been gluttons for punishment to date. Which, ultimately, is the crux of the issue. The one nobody - notably FFA - cares to address. Or in the grab for cash, are too scared to address. The issue of legacy.
Technically, FFA has the authority to refuse to sanction any game played in this country. It's an option - under pressure from vested interests and in the self-interest of its own six-figure sanction fee - it has never exercised. In the process, what it has done, and continues to do, is damage the authenticity of our own game.
If you believe the Eurosnob mentality is one of the great handicaps of developing the A-League, then you get it. Over the last decade, yet another generation has become indoctrinated. The overseas product is better, sexier and more glamorous. For every Milos Ninkovic shirt sold at Homebush next week, there'll be a thousand Philippe Coutinho's. The Sky Blues will get some reflected glory, but that's about it.
It's not that there should be no tours. It's that there should be the right ones, at the right time, under the right arrangements. One country stands out in taking a stand. Japan. Sooner or later, emerging countries who have genuine aspirations for their own competitions, will have a decision to make. Maybe market forces will do it for them. It's hard to say. But what can be said is that the Japanese are the smart ones, as usual. They'll win in the end.
The story Liverpool only here for the cash and it's stifling our game first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.