As some of the world’s biggest footballing names get set to head to Australia to help raise funds and awareness around bushfire recovery efforts, a concerted effort is taking place behind the scenes of #FootballForFires to ensure the event serves as a global spectacle.
In a charitable sector in which competition for eyeballs and wallets is a seemingly never-ending arms race of names and narrative, the charity fixture is certainly doing its best to stand out.
Participant David Trezeguet won a World Cup with France and played for the likes of Monaco and Juventus.
Dwight Yorke won three Premier League titles and a Champions League title with Manchester United, and Emile Heskey, capped 62 times by England, won an FA Cup with Liverpool.
Perhaps the biggest name confirmed to date, Didier Drogba won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and a Champions League title during a dominant eight years at Chelsea.
“I’ve sourced all the players from relationships I’ve built up over a couple of decades in this business,” chief #FootballForFires organiser Lou Sticca told The New Daily.
“And that sometimes is direct with the player, sometimes directly with their management, sometimes with football clubs and, in Didier Drogba’s case, it was a good old Aussie connection.”
Among other endeavours, Sticca works as a player agent, further extending his reach.
“My former player in Simon Colosimo, he’s got a senior position at FIFPro, along with another Australian in Andrew Orsatti.
“And those two gentlemen have been exceptionally helpful with connecting me with players I otherwise didn’t have a contact to get to.”
The presence of these international footballing luminaries is designed to attract what is hoped to be a crowd of 85,000 to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium to watch as two teams of icons take the field under the tutelage of Socceroos boss Graham Arnold and the legendary Guus Hiddink.
Although none of those taking part in the game are being paid, “Aussie Guus” – who led Australia to its drought-breaking 2006 World Cup berth – has taken matters a step further by insisting on forking out for his travel, accommodation and expenses.
The profits raised from the game are to be invested into a fund managed by the FFA devoted to rebuilding footballing infrastructure that has been devastated by the 2019-20 bushfire season.
According to organisers the proceeds from the match represent just one aspect of the fundraising and awareness aspects of the game, which is hinted at by the strategic recruitment of some of the less-mainstream names in the game.
Lê Công Vinh, while not jumping off the page to your average Australian football fan, is a legend in his homeland of Vietnam.
The 34-year-old racked up 83 caps and 51 goals for the Vietnamese national side over the course of his career, was three times named the recipient of the Vietnamese Golden Ball as his country’s best overall player, and is married to Vietnamese pop star Thuỷ Tiên.
Rüştü Reçber won more than 100 caps for the Turkish national side and played more than 300 games between the nation’s two biggest clubs Fenerbahce and Beşiktaş, and anyone that’s spent any time on football social media can tell you how widespread and fervent Turkish fans’ presence is.
Alecko Eskandarian, though he only earned a single cap for the United States, spent almost a decade playing in the MLS and now holds a position in player development with the competition’s head office.
Some may also remember him from a 2010 episode of Keeping Up with The Kardashians when Kris Jenner set him up on a blind date with Kim Kardashian.
These player’s presence as part of the May 23 fixture represents a deliberate strategy from organisers who have cast their net wide in order to attract global attention to the game – with domestic and international broadcast deals being negotiated.
It is envisioned that the diverse talent on offer will lead to a global surge in donations to an affiliated Red Cross appeal, shirt sales and awareness of Australia as a tourist destination.
“What we want to do, and what we want to show, is that the country is open for business,” Sticca said.
Sticca is keen to convince people that were thinking of coming here for a holiday that Australia is more than ready to receive them.
“They’re the kind of key messages that this event can help with. So, it’s more than just a game.”