Sun, May
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THE signing of Dwight Yorke to Sydney FC is already shaping as the smartest move by soccer officials in this town since they dropped the ethnic logos and medieval hatreds.

By signing the man who helped illuminate English football for the best part of 16 years, Sydney have snared a guy cooler and more charismatic than the Fonz.

Last week as he was giving me his life story surrounded by the glittering lights of Star City, Yorke told me that at 33, age had started to weary him.

"Im no slouch," he said, almost apologetically. "But age hits every single one of us and while I'm not slow, I'm certainly no Thierry Henry."

But he was certainly quick enough on Saturday night to put Sydney FC ahead in their pre-season opener against New Zealand at Aussie Stadium then show a little of the old magic for 73 minutes before coming off to a standing ovation from a crowd of 8713.

That was a pretty good turnout for a game of no real importance and an indication that football - the artistry formerly known as soccer - may at last be shaking off its tag as the poor cousin to Sydney's three dominant winter codes.

Without high-profile players to create interest most sport is little more than grown-ups playing games.

But in signing Yorke for $800,000 a season for two years, Sydney FC are guaranteed not only one of the best-known players in world football but also a man whose very presence has brought their sport more recognition in a few weeks than they've had for years.

Just standing around in the foyer at Star City, diamond earrings in both lugs, dazzling white tracksuit and back-to-front baseball cap, Yorke turns heads. And given his jet-set lifestyle, supercars and reputation as a smooth operator on the town, it's virtually a given he - and his sport - will rarely be out of the news in the two years to come.

Sydney coach Pierre Littbarski, a German World Cup winner, is as dour as Yorke is flash. And he's pragmatic. He was delighted with the club's top buy after their 3-1 win over the Kiwis.

As expected, the heavily marked Yorke was followed more closely than Ronnie Biggs, but Littbarski said it was a blessing in disguise because it gave the rest of Sydney's guns the chance to fire.

Littbarski was also happy with the fitness Yorke showed in his first match in Sydney's sky blue kit.

Last week Yorke told me that on his first day of training, he thought he'd jog at his own pace and gradually work his way into form. The intensity of the team took him by surprise.

"I thought I'd take it easy but I had to run hard with the other guys. The physical guys at the club took no mercy," he said. "I like to work behind the scene with my fitness. I'm a team player and I do everything that the team does but I do a lot of extra gym work as well - weight training and aerobic work.

And it paid off. When he eased home his penalty under diving Knights keeper Danny Milosevic, Yorke earned the kind of cheer he used to get when Man United won the treble in 1999.

It's early days yet and Yorke isn't getting carried away. After all he has been there, done that in the most watched competition in the world.

"I can't say yet what the standard of the A-League will be this season," he told me.

"I think we will have to give it time but there is certainly a lot of potential and there are some very exciting players taking part."

And by signing a striker who is still one of the biggest names in the sport 16 years after he arrived in England as a wide-eyed Seventh Day Adventist, Sydney FC have ensured they will make plenty of converts this year.