The current A-League season has been one of the most exciting in recent memory, with new teams, new records and the emergence of new, young, home-grown talent all playing their role in exciting audiences in Australia and beyond.
The feel-good story of the season, however, has undoubtedly been the Leicester-esque turnaround of the Central Coast Mariners, who sit top of the ladder after finishing dead last in the previous season.
Now, their fairytale season looks to have taken another twist, with reports emerging from Australia in the last 24 hours that the Mariners could be set for a takeover, with at least two major parties in talks to purchase the club’s license.
The news was first broken by Dominic Bossi of the Sydney Morning Herald, who dropped the incredible news that Manchester United were in talks to takeover the cash strapped club, which was soon followed by a report from colleague Vince Rugari that the Red Devils faced competition from American pair Jordan Gardner and Brett Johnston, who had previously backed an A-League expansion bid in 2018.
Despite winning the league twice and winning the Grand Final in 2013, the Mariners have consistently struggled to compete financially and have become perennial basement dwellers in recent years, ending the season at the bottom of the ladder in four of the last five seasons. Owner Mike Charlesworth has made it clear that he wishes to sever all ties with the club, and had previously held unsuccessful talks with Singapore-based consortium First11 Capital.
While details of talks remain clouded in rumour and speculation, both reports suggest that any takeover bid could see the Mariners undergo a rebrand and be uprooted from their home in Gosport.
Gardner and Johnston, who are involved in a number of other clubs including Swansea City, Helsingor and most recently Ipswich Town, remain committed to funding an A-League return to the Gold Coast following their unsuccessful expansion bid back in 2018.
The Red Devils on the other hand are rumoured to be looking to rebrand the Mariners and move them some 50km down the coast to North Sydney or Brookvale, as they look to follow their cross-town rivals Manchester City in investing in the Australian game.
The Mariners have moved to distance themselves from the rumours, with CEO Shaun Mielekamp tweeting out that “meetings had happened with clubs all over the world” and that “speculations are nothing more than that” as the club remain focused on building on their surprise success on the field.
Whatever the outcome of these talks, any takeover, rebrand or move would have to be ratified by both Football Australia and the APL, who took over the running of the A-League ahead of last season.
A club of Manchester United’s stature showing an interest in investing in Australian football is massive, and the interest, attention and investment that they would bring to the A-League could truly be unprecedented.
However, it would be far more palatable if it came in the form of a new club or expansion bid, rather than at the expense of the Mariners. The Gosford side are founding members of the A-League, former champions and remain the sole major sports club on the Central Coast, and without them the league would be a poorer place.
The APL have regularly re-iterated their desire to make football the most popular sport in Australia, but any deal that sees one of the few clubs outside of the major hubs of Melbourne and Sydney absorbed in to these already over saturated markets would do more harm to this goal than good, even with a global powerhouse like United at the helm.