EDITORIAL: The Karmichael Hunt saga gave Sydney FC a glimpse into their future last week.
Hours before Sydney's preseason launch, Hunt announced his code switch from rugby league to AFL and reduced the football club's event to a none-story. Even rolling out their Hollywood fan wasn't enough. Sydney received no coverage in the city dailies the following morning, it was all about Hunt, the AFL and their threat on rugby league.
And this was about a player from Queensland switching codes. When the AFL decide it's time to ramp up the publicity for their Western Sydney franchise, the local media will not know what's hit them - and the A-League club, if it maintains it's 'below the radar' approach, will suffer more than most.
The business of sport in Melbourne is competitive - and ruthless. The AFL doesn't tip-toe into foreign markets. They roll in at full throttle, flush with cash and the confidence of convincing hearts and minds their game is the greatest. The Hunt story typified their approach: it was bold, brash, take-no-prisoners stuff. It's what is waiting for Sydney FC week-after-week when the AFL get serious about their Western franchise. Does Sydney FC, in it's current shape, have the bottle to compete?
If you asked me with the original administration in charge, the answer would be a resounding 'yes'. They delivered crowds, media space and box-office names. They ditched speaking to the soccer clique in the city for establishing relationships with the big commercial TV and radio stations. Littbarski, Yorke and Butcher were regulars on the front and back pages of the biggest dailies - the club was rock n' roll in football form.
But now? Who speaks for Sydney? Who is their face? Is there anyone - or anything - at the club which could have grabbed some of the attention away from the Hunt story last week?
These aren't questions to be pondered as we already know the answer.
While they're receiving slaps on the back from the soccer media clique for 'getting back to grassroots' and shaking off the 'glamour club' mantle, the AFL are preparing to move in with the attitude of embracing anything and everything that will get their club and their game onto the front and backpages of the press and leading the news bulletins on TV and radio. Who do you think Sydney's ever competitive sponsorship market are going to be drawn to?
Over 20,000 saw Melbourne Victory face Fulham last month and 30,000-plus attended Brisbane Roar's game with Celtic. Sydney? They won praise from the usual suspects for playing a bunch of friendlies against semi-pro locals. Where is the competitive spirit inside the front office that demands Sydney should be the go-to club for international fixtures?
After five years of sniping, the Sydney media have the club they deserve. It's all about staying below the radar for the current administration and being satisfied with the praise of local soccer pundits whose audience consist of family and friends. I'm sure it feels warm and safe.
But as the Hunt story proved last week, a big competitor is gathering force on the horizon and Sydney FC, in it's present guise, risks being swept away.