THE first thing that strikes you about Dwight Yorke is that he is not a big man. He is not the tall, muscular Mark Viduka-style striker. Slightly built, almost bordering on fragile, he looks like he is one scything tackle away from being broken in two.
Yet, this is the man on whose shoulders rests the fate of Australian soccer's brave attempt to reinvent itself. As marquee players go, Yorke is top of the list when it comes to highlighting what the powerbrokers behind the A-League are hoping their new competition is going to be about when it starts next Friday. Excitement, glam and glitz.
While the other seven clubs rejected the urge to throw money at a superstar player, Sydney FC officials recognised the need for something to set their team apart.
In capturing Yorke, reportedly for $800,000 - by far the largest salary handed to a club soccer player in Australia - Sydney FC sent out a clear message: follow or risk drowning in its wake.
But, more importantly, the signing was a coup for Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy and chief executive John O'Neill and their bid to revitalise soccer in this country.
Yorke gave them a promotional hook, a candidate for cover stories in glossy magazines, a likely news story in the sport section for his on-field exploits and in the entertainment pages for those off it.
But it will all do no good if the party-loving All Night Dwight fails to produce on the pitch.
Yorke has to prove he is value for that money. Failure to do so would send the wrong signal: that the A-league is a haven for washed-up players here for a holiday to earn some extra money for their retirement fund.
It could be good night Dwight and good-bye Australian club soccer for there is little doubt the game at this level is on its last chance to make an impact on the mainstream sport fans in this country.
Yorke has failed to deliver in three pre-season games for Sydney. One goal from the penalty spot is his sum total and coach Pierre Littbarski has admitted the striker is struggling to fit in at his new club.
But Yorke is not totally fit, having started four months behind his team-mates in training. And Sydney FC is still trying to structure its attack around the former Aston Villa and Manchester United star.
"Not only does Dwight have to fit into our team, but we also have to give him the right balls so he can do what he did before," said Littbarski, another big signing by the club that has been tagged "The Bling" because of its associations and seemingly bottomless pit of money.
Player agent Lou Sticca, who has had a long association with soccer in this country, is not worried that Yorke can live up to his billing.
"Dwight Yorke will be huge for the game, on and off the field, trust me," Sticca said.
"We need high-profile players for the A-League to succeed. Yes, Dwight is being paid a lot of money, more money than any other club soccer player here has seen. But he is worth it. He is value for money.
"He will return it tenfold. He will bring so much to the game, just like Guus Hiddink will bring to the national team and Terry Venables did with the Socceroos in the late 1990s.
"His presence will have huge benefits on and off the field. Look at the media attention he has grabbed already ... not many have done that, and he has hardly been in the country."
Sticca believes Yorke's presence and the hype he has generated will act as a magnet for other overseas players to try their luck in the A-League.
"He has had an effect already," Sticca said. "I believe there are at least two former big-name English Premier League players interested in coming."
Sticca predicted that while Yorke would be "a pain in the butt" for rival A-League clubs because of his goalscoring feats, he would also become their best friend.
"I'll make a bet now that when Dwight plays for Sydney against Perth, Melbourne, Queensland, Central Coast, Newcastle and New Zealand that those clubs will have their biggest home gate of the season," he said.
That will be a boost for the clubs, some of which have experienced deep financial problems even before a ball has been kicked.
With all eight clubs committed to funding themselves to the tune of close to $25million over the next five years, there is little room to manoeuvre.
While ignoring the chance to find a suitable marquee signing, most of the clubs have failed to use their entire $1.5 million salary cap allocation.
It is understandable that the clubs are wary of over-committing financially. The clubs have been virtually left out on a limb by the head body, with no income stream from sponsorship or pay-TV to go their way.
According to an insider connected with one of the eight clubs, "no franchise will turn a profit this year" in the A-League, which is largely the baby of O'Neill.
The source predicted that clubs like Sydney FC will need an average home gate of between 20,000 and 25,000 just to break square.
"There is no revenue stream back from the FFA," he said. "It is pay your own way through gate money, sponsors and a benefactor ... in a way, it is no different to the old league.
"I am really concerned about clubs that have high venue costs such as Sydney (which will play its home games at Aussie Stadium), Queensland Roar (Suncorp Stadium) and Melbourne Victory (Olympic Park).
"Even Newcastle Jets are on a level playing field with the Newcastle Knights rugby league club with the state government-run EnergyAustralia Stadium. The Jets will need between 12,000 and 15,000 average at home."
The source believes there will be "massive variances" in terms of financial losses for the clubs.
"Look, with any start up business, you have to expect losses," he said. "It is unusual to turn a profit from day one. I can see some clubs being at the extreme end with $1million to $2million losses while others will do well to contain the red ink to $500,000. It remains to be seen just how long they can maintain those sort of losses."
With lacklustre crowd turnouts for the World Club Championship qualifiers in May and the pre-season tournament, which is averaging just 4500 at games, there are legitimate concerns about attendances.
FFA chairman Frank Lowy, who believes the new competition can attract between 10,000 and 15,000 to games, was moved to make an impassioned plea recently for soccer fans to get behind the A-League following concerns that the traditional ethnic base, which has both helped and hindered the development of the code at club level, felt alienated and would boycott the competition.
Still, there is no doubting there is intense interest in the A-League. All clubs have reported requests for memberships are increasing and, in most cases, have exceeded expectations.
The FFA has tried to do its part, pouring close to $4million into an advertising campaign targeting the 18 to 25-year-old market.
Sydney FC is confident it can survive with club officials predicting more than 20,000 for its opening match against Melbourne Victory at Aussie Stadium tomorrow week.
That would be a promising start for the A-League and open the eyes of the mainstream sporting fans in this country. All it needs now is for Yorke to impose himself on the field and set the A-League alight with a hat-trick.