A-League: Spotlight shines on Euro superstars

Few people would have thought that the A-League could be able to maintain the presence in Australian sport as it did throughout the AFL and NRL finals series’ of last year. However the arrivals of both Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero and long-time English International Emile Heskey ensured that the A-League spent another off-season among the headlines around Australia and indeed the world. The induction of the Western Sydney Wanderers has put new life into one of Australian football’s real heartlands and is set to produce a rivalry akin to the Melbourne derby. The collapse of Gold Coast United means that their young talent now spreads right across the league, meaning that the fighting spirit shown by the Gold Coast at the end of last season will still be alive in most games in 2012-13.

Juventus and Italy’s all-time great Alessandro Del Piero decided to help what he calls ‘project Sydney’ by signing a $4 million 2-year deal with Sydney FC. The signing was completed after Del Piero knocked back offers from Liverpool and local club Sion to make the move away from the European spotlight. His arrival is sure to bring back the ‘Bling FC’ tag which was placed on Sydney during their first season when Dwight Yorke led them to the championship. The signing of Del Piero also gives Sydney a much needed boost in attack for the upcoming season. New manager Ian Crook’s decision to move on forwards Bruno Cazarine, Juho Makela and Mark Bridge meant that such a signing had to be made. Defensive off-season departures of Michael Beauchamp, Shannon Cole and Scott Jamieson have not been fully replaced and mental toughness could play a big part in turning 1 point into 3. The impact of Del Piero on the pitch obviously remains to be seen and while he will be good, he may not be as influential as some think. His fitness and skill level will be relatively similar to what it was at Juventus last season; however the other 10 players around him at Juventus play the game on a totally different level to what his Australian counterparts will. This means that he will have to do a lot more work around the field rather than receive it 25 yards out from goal and slide through passes for teammates. While expectations will be high, the points tally may not be for Sydney this season. If it all goes to plan then they could be there in April, but I’m still sceptical about their overall balance going forwards.

It’s probably fair to say that to some extent Del Piero’s signing opened the floodgates for big name signings in Australia. Soon after the announcement of his arrival there was almost immediately speculation about player movement regarding the A-League in the media. One was much maligned England international Emile Heskey. Newcastle Jets rose as the frontrunners to secure the bustling centre-forward’s signature and were able to successfully sign him as their marquee player for the upcoming season. It has been a big turnaround for the Jets, who had their licence temporarily revoked by owner Nathan Tinkler until wiser heads prevailed and the Jets were thankfully reinduced into the league. Manager Gary van Egmond was unable to hold onto defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley who made his way to the Western Sydney Wanderers as well as strikers Labinot Haliti and Jeremy Brockie. Former Gold Coast youngsters Joshua Brilliante, James Brown and Mitch Cooper will form part of a new-look Jets squad. While big things aren’t expected of them this year, don’t be surprised if the typical strong home crowds see Newcastle reach the finals.

Former Australian defenders Michael Beauchamp and Tony Popovic respectively will captain and manage the Western Sydney Wanderers in their inaugural season. With these two at the helm, it’s no surprise that the focus of their recruiting has been in defence with Beauchamp, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Tarek Elrich, Shannon Cole and Italian Iacopo La Rocca likely to form a good defence in front of 2011-12 Melbourne Victory player of the season Ante Covic. Mark Bridge, Tahj Minniecon and Labinot Haliti make up an unproven forward line while the recent signing of Japanese World Cup representative Shinji Ono will assist the midfield in their exploits. Expected to endure a relatively tough first season, the Wanderers will need time to click as a team and will most likely be in a battle to steer clear of the wooden spoon.

Both Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart have been largely hidden from the spotlight in the off-season without capturing the attention of the media through any big-name signings. The Victory has managed to replace King Carlos with Marcos Flores, who set the A-League and AFC Champions League alight with Adelaide United 2 seasons ago. They also managed to name two-time A-League and NSL winning manager Ange Postecoglou as manager of the club 2 days after he announced his resignation from Brisbane Roar. The attack has definitely been strengthened through signings of Australian youngster Theo Markelis, Brazilian Guilherme Finkler and Flores. Mark Milligan, Adama Traoré and Spase Dilevski are sure to add stability to the at times unstable Victory defence while central midfield still appears to be a weakness. James Jeggo, Marco Rojas, Diogo Ferreira and Julius Davies are all likely to get their chance to prove themselves at senior level throughout the season as the most promising youngsters at the club. A top 4 finish appears likely for the Victory in season 2012-13. Heart’s recruitment department have had a clear bias towards bringing in attacking players during their off-season. Australian International Richard Garcia, Dylan Macallister and former Dinamo Zagreb and Croatian Youth representative Josip Tadi? join David Williams, Mate Duganzic and Captain Fred in a potent final third of the pitch. However aside from reliable goalkeeper Clint Bolton, the midfield and defence look frail. Heart won’t be featuring much at the season’s end, looking to continue to promote Australian youth under club legend John Aloisi’s management.

Last year’s finalists Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory are sure to feature in the finals in season 2012-13 after strong off-seasons. Ange Postecoglou’s departure from Suncorp Stadium led the Roar to the appointment of Assistant Manager Rado Vidosic as they look to keep that winning brand of football intact. The Roar, however, been largely inactive in the transfer window with just two signings made to date. Most notably young winger Ben Halloran will be sporting the orange colours of the Roar this season while defender Mohamed Adnan will not, freeing up a final visa spot on their list and in their defence. Perth Glory will definitely look to build on their impressive performance last season and have no better opportunity to start on the right foot with a home game against Brisbane to kick off their season. Defensive signings Michael Thwaite and Scott Jamieson more than make up for the loss of Scott Neville and Josh Mitchell while Nick Ward and numerous International imports will help add to the depth of the squad for the distraction of the Asian Champions League campaign.

Central Coast Mariners are sure to compete well throughout the season with an ageing but promising squad looking to keep producing top 6 finishes. Adelaide United is still in the Asian Champions League and will want to emulate their 2008 campaign over the coming months. The A-League will prove to be once again a challenge for John Kosmina’s side that may be found out once the season drags on however a good start is likely to be a consequence of their ACL matches. Wellington Phoenix will again be difficult to beat at home and easier to beat away as they look to make the finals for their fourth season running. Glen Moss, Jeremy Brockie, Mirjan Pavlovic and Michael Boxall cover for the losses of Nick Ward, Daniel and Chris Greenacre who has stayed on at the club in a coaching capacity.

Table prediction

1st Perth Glory

2nd Melbourne Victory

3rd Brisbane Roar

4th Central Coast Mariners

5th Sydney FC

6th Newcastle Jets              

7th Wellington Phoenix

8th Adelaide United

9th Melbourne Heart

10th Western Sydney Wanderers

About Tom Riordan

Tom Riordan is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Swinburne University. He loves all sports, and plays for Brunswick Cricket Club. He supports the Western Bulldogs and can be found on weekends among half a dozen others in Q38 on the top level of the MCC.

Comments

  1. Dennis Gedling says:

    I’m calling it now, Jets will be in the top four at least. I admired the work GVE did with them first time around and I still think they’re the best side to win the ‘new’ league.

    Something also worth mentioning amonst all the ‘Ono! Heskey! Del Piero OMG!’ hyperbowl is the Argentine signings Adelaide United have brought in. They’re obviously trying to find the new Flores.

  2. Dennis I agree with you on the Jets completely. They have a really balanced squad with GVE at the helm as you mentioned and are focussing on youth more than in previous years. And unlike in recent times goalscoring shouldn’t be an issue for them with Heskey and Co. leading the line

  3. Jets will need to perform…Tinkler’s money can’t be relied upon…it is, however, a great sporting town.
    Who are the goalkeepers to watch this season?

  4. Watch for Ivan Necevski at Sydney who is set for his first at the club with the number one role. He’s been number two for years so it will be good to see if he can perform. Glen Moss will provide stiff competition for Mark Paston at the Phoenix while former Adelaide understudy Mark Birighitti makes the move to Newcastle to push Ben Kennedy all the way for a starting spot

  5. Nice preview Tom – thanks. Del Piero playing in the a-league is a nice story, but at 74 I think he’ll struggle in the Australian summer, particularly without the supporting cast he’s used to. Emile Heskey – meh (9 goals in 92 games for Villa). Ignoring the goldfish-like attention span of our mainstream media, Flores is surely the best signing made by any club. Ideally the likes of Tom Rogic, Bernie Ibini, Et Al will have huge years, attract the interest of Dutch/German clubs, push for a place on the bench at the world cup and displace some of the Emile Heskey’s currently filling national team shirts.

  6. And I thought the A-league had fallen on its sword with the negative events of last season… Tom you’ve shown there are plenty of reasons to be excited about how this season will unfold… Look forward to your insights..

  7. Dennis Gedling says:

    Yes the Jets can’t rely on Tinkler’s money but 10,000 members this season, not bad at all (but there must be a catch somewhere for that many people to sign up). Another team that have to watch themselves is Central Coast. Talking to some Mariners fans in Brisbane for the Grand Final in April they said that Graham Arnold just doesn’t have the players connecting with community around Gosford like they did up until he took over and thus has aliented the club a bit. Being involved with schools, fetes et all was a major factor in there initial popularity when they first started.

    I’m just glad the rematch is in Round 1 and we can then concentrate on the rest of the season after giving Berisha pelters. I haven’t had expectations on Glory to win the league in a long long time. Well, maybe when Fowler signed.

    Big Danny Vukovic is also one to watch Crio, lightly brushing that referee in the 2008 decider cost him his international career but he’s been immense for Glory. After the Grand Final last year I also realised he can scull a whole pint of XXXX Bitter.

  8. Tom and Dennis

    At short notice, I am lucky enough to be going tonight as an independant observer, wanting to soak up the atmosphere of a true derby. Despite the AFL being the first love, I have loved watching soccer on the TV, I think this will be about my second game in the flesh. I suppose like teh NRL, I followed teh Melbourne side when it was just teh Victory, but what to do now.

    Your advice then, who do I follow tonight? Do I go with the tried and true Victory or cheer for the underdog and newcomer.

    I need someone to cheer for

    Sean

  9. Dennis Gedling says:

    Sean first off it’s a shame it won’t be at AAMI Park rather than Etihad. AAMI is a much better place to watch the sport. Under Van Schip(sp) last season Heart played very nice football without much reward, hopefully they’ll continue to be entertaining under John Aloisi as they need to attract fans.

    Victory will move the ball better now too probably seeing as they’ve given the arse to a heap of creaking old players and they have the master of the Roar back to back title sides in Postcoglou coaching the side now. They claim to be from ‘South of the Yarra’ Heart so not sure what that means in the whole geographical sense of things. Go the underdog I say.

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