“It’s not recognized as a league that regularly produces elite footballers. So when you talk about the A-League it’s ‘Oh yeah, he scored 15 goals, 20 goals. He scored a hat-trick against the Mariners. [Foreign clubs are] like, ‘So what? Bruce, there are palm trees in the background, come on. He can do it against those defenders, but you’re talking about championship defenders here. If he can do it against them, a different discussion.
When Adelaide sold McGree, the A-League was in the throes of a pandemic-induced existential crisis, and the club needed cash. And it was decent money – outbound transfers from Australia rarely generate much more. The sale of Zejlko Kalac from Sydney United to Leicester City, for $1.7 million in 1995, is still the all-time record and a constant reminder that Australia is not getting enough from the booming transfer market in the world soccer.
FIFA released its Global Transfers Report last week, which reveals that there were 18,068 international transfers in men’s football last year with a total of $6.75 billion spent on transfer fees. But Australian clubs only received $1.53m in transfer revenue – a tiny slice of a huge pie.
The problem, said Djite, is that most foreign clubs simply don’t seek players in Australia and don’t trust them enough to spend big until they see them playing in better leagues.
For example, Birmingham never contacted Adelaide about McGree and were brought in to Charlotte’s side. Americans deserve credit for spotting a diamond in the rough and finding a way to maximize its value.
The lack of interest from European clubs came as a surprise to Djite given how well McGree had played, and speaks to the fact that Australian players have long been underestimated. That’s why he thinks A-League clubs would be better off focusing on maximizing sell clauses rather than outright transfers, at least for now, although Djite says Adelaide has ticked both boxes on this occasion.
“People have to understand that when you’re overseas and you’re talking about Aussie Rules footballers, nobody really gets excited. It’s just a fact,” he said.
“It’s not that they’re not good enough, but the league is not seen as a league that produces multi-million dollar players. There are a lot of players who have come out of the league who have not done as well as expected. Its place in the global football economy is not the same as that of Europe. It is a matter of reputation because our reputation globally, for to be frank, is not the best.
“You have to take that on board and say, ‘This kid is so good, I’m going to let you borrow him for a year and he’s going to show you how good he is – and by the way, when he does, you pay a premium.’ It’s a better approach, you’re more likely to succeed financially.
The only way to change the situation is to improve Australia’s world position in men’s football, and that is long and hard work. It will take more players like McGree proving themselves in overseas leagues, more strategic investment and decision-making by clubs in youth development, and more buzz around what the Socceroos are doing. .
Football Australia is trying to encourage Australian clubs to focus more on development by introducing a proposed domestic transfer system, which – in theory – should incentivize clubs at all levels to produce better players who more clubs, both at country than abroad, would be willing to pay more money.
Unfortunately, the dial has hardly moved in recent years. On the contrary, he may have backed off: Djite himself transferred from Adelaide United to Turkish club Gençlerbirliği for around $800,000 in 2008. Transfer fees skyrocketed around the world during this period, and yet, more than a decade later, McGree is only gone for a fraction more than the man who helped bring him to Boro.
“MLS are starting to get those kinds of offers. They’ve matured to a level way beyond the A-League, if we’re being honest,” Djite said.
“The A-League still has a lot of work to do on its reputation, and it comes down to the whole ecosystem, which is very immature here: how easily do the Socceroos qualify for World Cups, do they dominate Asia, where are those players playing?