By VINCE RUGARI
The last time La Regista graced your screens, the A-League was in deep trouble.
One club had died, another was brought in on a gamble, those Russians were still coming, Clive Palmer's Football Australia still existed, the grand final was decided by a contentious penalty call that became a lightning rod for external discontent, and - as if to cap it all off - the Joe Marston medal was handed to the wrong bloody person. Remember all that?
Probably not, because the last few weeks have been among the most extraordinary in the A-League's short history, and have all-but wiped out all the problems we had before from our memories. Well, not really.
But if the arrival of the swooning, Bruce Springsteen-looking Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero made Australia collectively weak at the knees, then the one-two punch of Emile 'Handful' Heskey and the Michael Ballack to Wanderers chat was the closest thing to champagne and oysters the transfer market can offer.
Seriously, is this the league of Alejandro Salazar, of Steve McMahon and Steve McMahon Jr, where managers sit on plastic chairs and are allowed only four substitutes when there are perfectly good dugouts and squads gathering dust?
It is scarcely believable that the A-League could not only regain some face, but actually build genuine credibility so quickly.
Six months ago, fiscal responsibility was all the rage, and we were set for a season dominated by cut-price youngsters. Now it seems the clubs have acknowledged, finally, that you only get out what you put in. This is the power of star power.
And that is not to say that papering over the cracks is the way to go. But even if Ballack does not come - and if some of the rumours about him are true, maybe that is not such a bad thing - the game has a tremendous opportunity to turn this buzz into genuine, long-term development.
Let us hope David Gallop and the FFA can get it done.
Victory done up to the nine
False nines. They're all the rage - and, in true A-League style, we are jumping on the bandwagon maybe 18 months after they were originally cool.
After defecting from Brisbane Roar, it appears Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postecoglou is dipping further into his bag of tactical tricks and has pulled out the strikerless system, which is very much in vogue at present.
It appears as if Ange is going to throw the competition's leading goalscorer Archie Thompson on the wing and charge twinkle-toed South American pair Marcos Flores and Guilherme Finkler with the task of confounding defenders with their movement - which in the A-League, let us be honest, does not take too much.
In all seriousness, if this works with these players, it is going to be great to watch.
The idea is for Flores, who we assume will be the quasi-striker more often than not, to drop deep to collect the ball and help control the midfield.
In the process, he will drag centre-halves out of position and opening up space for the likes of Thompson, Marco Rojas and Theo Markelis to run into.
Works great in theory, but when it does not, this sort of possession-heavy, structure-light approach to the game can be excruciating to watch.
Are these players up to the task?
Do they have the passing ability and vision to get this done in a league known for its physicality?
Let us hope that Postecoglou is given the time and space he needs to transform a side that 12 months ago was a complete rabble.
Stange days remembered
Props to Perth Glory for acknowledging that Australian football existed prior to November 16, 2005. Former coach Bernd Stange will be the Glory's guest of honour for their opening-round clash against Brisbane Roar at Patersons Stadium, the venue where Perth fell to Wollongong in the 2000 National Soccer League grand final - still the best decider in Australian domestic football history.
After leaving the Glory, the charismatic German went on to coach the Oman, Iraq and Belarus national teams, and also took Cypriot side Apollon Limassol to their first title in 12 years.
Now he is back for a visit - his first in nine years - and fingers crossed that the Perth faithful come out in droves to see him.
Too often in this post-Aloisi's penalty world does Australian football forget its roots, and the Glory should be credited for moving to pay its respects to one of the club's greats.
It is high time FFA and the A-League followed suit.
Quote of the week
"I think we have to get things in perspective here. You have a look at [Besart] Berisha's stats prior to getting to the Brisbane Roar. You definitely wouldn't have thought that he was setting the world alight in the second division in Germany."
- Gary van Egmond
A welcome bit of common sense from Newcastle coach Gary van Egmond this week, amid the talk rejecting Emile Heskey, the club's new marquee man. Known better for his unnerving battering-ram style than his exquisite finishing, the former England international has had a mixed greeting by the A-League community.
Van Egmond makes a fair point too - and there are a lot of Heskey jokes just begging to be used, but it would be wise to hold off until Heskey actually gets in the country before writing him off.
Alessandro Del Piero Moment of the Week
News Limited's Rebecca Wilson; a foe to the game more often than not.
But not even she can resist the charms of the great Del Piero - even if, two weeks ago, she probably assumed Del Piero was some kind of obscure pasta dish than an actual person.
On Sky News Sportsline on Monday morning, she was gushing praise for Sydney's Italian superstar.
"I'm in love with Del Piero. I'd rather go and watch Sydney FC than see the Wallabies," she said. Ron Barassi, you're next.