Arsenal's appearance in Sydney is everything Liverpool weren't

On tour: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (centre) with Western Sydney Wanders manager Tony Popovic, Sydney FC manager Graham Arnold and players. Picture: AAP Image/David Moir
On tour: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (centre) with Western Sydney Wanders manager Tony Popovic, Sydney FC manager Graham Arnold and players. Picture: AAP Image/David Moir

It took 33 minutes for Arsenal to prove they were everything Liverpool weren't.

Overlooking the Sydney Harbour, the leaders of Arsenal showed how an exhibition match can be conducted with decorum.

They brought gifts, their chief executive made an impromptu speech, their coach Arsene Wenger spoke as candidly as he could about the transfer rumours consuming world sport and all were flanked by three first-team regulars.

They arrived from London four hours earlier and were conducting formalities with world football's minnows, but there didn't seem to be a clock-watcher among any. 

Their first public appearance was the pinnacle moment of 18 months of promotion for their first tour of Australia in more than 40 years, one that brandished  the logos of Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC to an unprecedented audience.

It's a stark contrast to the most recent tour of a high-profile European club. In late May, Liverpool arrived on the morning of their match against Sydney FC.

Their fourth tour in as many years was hastily arranged, offered no public appearances, no community engagement with their first team, sent out long-retired players as their only promotion for a fly-in, fly-out, pay-day.

That they wheeled-out four former players for the match spoke in volumes about their approach to an event whose legacy is measured only in bank accounts. 

It was perhaps the lowest point of exhibition games in Australia that have long carried a heavy weight of cultural cringe for domestic football in this country.

The reality of the global football economy is that these tours are not so much unavoidable but a regular reality with the commercial benefits for the touring party, promoters and government.

But, as Arsenal have shown with theirs, these can still be conducted with respect. 

Their arrival in Sydney began with incredible fanfare at the airport as hundreds awaited their emergence from the international terminal at the airport.

Many stopped for photos, despite ordered to move quickly to avoid a gridlock at the start of peak hour in Mascot. Wenger's first news conference of the season was far from lip service, answering questions from two dozen journalists – many that had travelled from Fleet Street – about the club's transfer plans.

There's plenty of fortune in the timing for Arsenal's tour of Australia, in that few clubs are causing as many waves in the transfer market as north Londoners. 

It began with the club record $89million signing of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon and could be smashed by potential purchases of Monaco pair Thomas Lamar or Kylian Mbappe.

On these matters, Wenger was as open as he could be. "He's a player that we follow, yes, we look at but it's only speculation," Wenger said of Lamar.

The 18-year-old starlet of Monaco remains the main target of the Gunners and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Wenger made his strongest indication yet the club is looking to make another record signing during the European summer. 

"When he [Mbappe] gets up in the morning, he can chose where he wants to go," Wenger said. "He has a red carpet open for him. Look, I believe nobody can say he's not interested in a player of that kind of calibre because he's so aware and has immense quality for 18 years of age."

If there was one oversight from the travelling party it was that the moderator from London hadn't learnt the names of Graham Arnold, Tony Popovic, Sydney FC's David Carney or Wanderers marquee Oriel Riera. It didn't go down well with the Australians, but certainly not enough to deter Arnold from going on the charm offensive he reserves for visiting coaches from Europe.

"We feel like we're journalists here as well, we want to ask you questions," Arnold said to Wenger.

The marathon news conference will be followed by an open, free training session later this week, a surprise coaching clinic for kids and even small details such as bringing out the ground announcer from their home in North London to run the show in Olympic Park on Thursday and Saturday night. 

It won't stop the Wanderers and Sydney playing the role as the Washington Generals this week and the Australian clubs should still be offered better participation fees, but it's a significant step to setting the standard Australia should require from exhibition games. 


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