Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt will not feature in A-League Central Coast Mariners opening game away to Brisbane Roar on Sunday, as he is yet to lock down a contract.
However, he and Keisuke Honda remain the high profile poster boys as the competition aims to reverse dwindling ticket sales and tumbling TV ratings when it returns on Friday.
Football chiefs are hoping the arrival of big names like sprint star Bolt will perk up interest after a slump in recent years, while Melbourne Victory look a strong candidate to defend their title.
But his sheer presence has been enough to generate significant added interest in the competition and a club that finished bottom of the ladder last season.
The Mariners, who have lacked a genuine goal scorer in recent years, are hoping to fare better this time round. Along with Bolt, they have enticed Aston Villa striker Ross McCormack on a loan deal, who will partner Socceroos marksman Tommy Oar up front.
McCormack, a Scottish international who has also played for Rangers and Fulham, scored 14 goals in just 17 appearances for Melbourne City during a similar loan spell last season.
“I really want to be a part of something,” he said. “We need to get the Mariners back up the table, where they belong.”
Kevin Muscat’s Victory — four-time champions — are the team to beat after edging Newcastle Jets 1-0 to win the final last year.
Ominously they have recruited Japan’s former AC Milan striker Honda — one of the highest profile names in Asian football — to lead their line.
The talismanic 32-year-old had been a free agent since departing Mexican club Pachuca.
Swedish international Ola Toivonen, who like Honda played at the World Cup in Russia, has also been signed by Victory, who have a blockbuster derby clash against Melbourne City on Saturday.
“Winning is the objective, we’ll work out a way that is going to best suit us and in the Victory manner, I want it to be exciting, I want it to be attacking,” said Muscat.
Sydney FC, under new coach Steve Corica who took over after Graham Arnold left to become the new Socceroos boss, travel to Adelaide United for their season opener.
Their attacking stocks have been boosted by the arrival of former Bolton Wanderers centre-forward Adam Le Fondre, who takes the place of the prolific Bobo who netted 27 times in 28 games for the Sky Blues last season.
In other games, Wellington Phoenix host the Jets and Perth Glory take on Western Sydney Wanderers.