The importance of Vincenzo Grella

Vince Grella deserves a greater farewell than one where he limped off the pitch with a torn calf.

Alessandro Del Piero-s arrival in the A-League to play with Sydney FC remains the biggest signing to date for the domestic competition. Although much smaller in fanfare and media exposure, it can be argued that Melbourne Heart-s capture of Vince Grella was just as symbolic, but certainly in a different context.

Whereas Del Piero-s presence on Australian shores raised eyebrows worldwide and gave birth to new possibilities and opportunities for the local product, Grella-s decision to return home can be viewed as a shift in the way the A-League is perceived.

If there were ever an Australian player you-d bet your house on to never play in the A-League, it would-ve been Grella. In mixed zones after Socceroo matches, aging European-based players would always be asked if and when they-d try to return home. Some would be lukewarm or even enthusiastic about a potential return to their homeland in the twilight of their careers. Not Vinnie. He-d give it to you straight — there was no interest.

The vision was clear: once his playing days in Europe were over, he-d settle down for good in Italy with his family and enjoy ‘la bella vita- — no doubt with a block of parmesan cheese in hand.

It-s been reported that Grella, along with some other members of the Golden Generation, weren-t exactly thrilled at the level of respect shown towards national team players returning home, like John Aloisi for example, from fans and sectors of the media.

Persistence from Aloisi apparently went some way to changing that mindset. While Aloisi was busy twisting Grella-s arm in an attempt to convince him to play in the A-League, Heart officials showed the 33-year-old footage of Heart-s 2-1 derby win from the opening day of this season, which served a tasty sampler of what the A-League had become in its short eight-year history.

''That had some impact I think. The big crowd, the atmosphere, the fact that we won and the occasion was impressive,” Scott Munn was quoted saying after announcing the Grella coup.

His close relationship with Aloisi certainly played a key role, however one cannot help but think that if the quality of the A-League wasn-t there, along with the presence of Del Piero, we wouldn-t be talking about Vince Grella and the A-League in the same breath.

Grella-s immediate retirement from football is a sad and unfair blow for both football in this country and Grella personally. Certainly one of Australian football-s greatest servants is deserving of a send off more fitting than one from the sidelines with a torn calf muscle.

His toughness and tireless work were hallmarks of his game, but it was his distribution, tactical astuteness, leadership and disciplined positioning that defined the Socceroos hardman. And while many heap praise on the likes of Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell for their efforts at the 2006 World Cup, it was Grella who was the binding agent that kept the whole recipe intact. Unsung hero? You betcha…

Each of the big names that have played in the A-League have been motivated by different desires, be it legacies, money or giving something back. Grella-s decision, however, was purely a football choice.

He may only have played 28 minutes in the A-League, but Grella leaves an indelible footprint on the competition. Because for the A-League to have attracted a player of his caliber is indicative that it is indeed changing perceptions out there and is certainly on the right trajectory.