Almanac Soccer: War and Peace (and A-League)

As the tickertape is swept up off the surfaces by jobsworths at the G and the Olympic Stadium, footy players clog up Instagram with pictures of them in far flung parts of the world and those with Cornish backgrounds air their quilts the summer sports in Australia now come to the fore.

There is the cricket of course and in an Ashes season no less between two teams completely bereft of form and clean criminal records. The NBL is back with the Wildcats going for a three in a row yet the mainstream media outside of Perth will again ignore it. Then there is the A-League going around for its 12th rotation of the sporting sun and never have they had a more important season.

The state of the league and those who run it has been a little questionable of late. While it’s nowhere near the early 2000s mess that ended the then Soccer Australia the gap between the FFA and the those at a more grassroots level has never been wider since the 2005 rebirth. The Lowy family’s takeover and nurturing of the sport through three World Cups and a resurgent domestic league is to be admired but the continued micro management and control they have over the sport in general has now created this wedge that has spilled out in to the street. This gives anyone who sees the sport as a threat a chance to tsk and think here we go again, the default position of the average Aussie sports fan.

Added to this is the continued rebuilding of a Socceroos side struggling to make the World Cup and precarious financial state of the governing body means the sport faces its biggest challenge since the Howard Government stepped in to help. With all this going on the A-League continues to tread water. The long-term fans of the sport feel ever alienated by the FFA’s standoffish attitude and ignorance towards some of the traditional and quirky elements of a league competition that made them a fan in the first place. Meanwhile casual fans watch from time to time when not watching Optus Sport not caring for the most part and having google at the ready for any new club signing from outside of Australia or New Zealand’s borders.

There’s also the same 10 teams which people are bored with while some areas of the country scream out to be included. There’s also no breaks in the league when it’s an international weekend and a distinct lack of promotion which all have the league at a glass ceiling which needs to be smashed.

It won’t be this year but still it’ll be a tremendously even season on the pitch again this year as the league tries to continue to stay in the mind’s eye of fans at all levels.

 

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ADELAIDE UNITED went from Champions to cellar dwellars after losing the core of their magnificent title winning side from 2016. Their title winning coach Guillermo Amor left to return to take a job as youth coach for Barcelona (fair enough) in the offseason as the Reds again had to rebuild. Ever the innovators in the league, United have again decided to show the way getting in the German Marco Kurz. Kurz has managed in the Bundesliga but with a record that could be described as ‘Damien Drum-like’.

United thought out of the square bringing in Josep Gombau as coach in 2013 to spark a Spanish influx in to the league that has been a joy to watch. United going German is another step to the left so it’ll be intriguing to say the least. In with Kurz as coach come some ankle kicking plodders like Vince Lia but the foreign signings look very good including the creative Algerian international Karim Matmour and Munich midfielder Daniel Adlung. There’s also the Australian/Turkish dual citizen Ersan Gulum and Danish winger Absalonsen.

REASON(S) TO WATCH UNITED THIS SEASON – If their foreign imports gel then they will be a serious challenger playing some efficient football. They have a German coach too so if I know my stereotypes then any penalty shootout they are in in the cup or a final they will win. United’s strip is also the nicest in the league this year.

 

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BRISBANE ROAR could be in for their toughest season in a while. There’s something very Geelong about this side. They had a wonderful stint playing the most exciting football in the league winning multiple titles and upping the standard for the rest of the league. Now they find themselves to be a consistent finalist with never really having enough when it matters with a coach that divides opinion between restless fans.

John Aloisi has had the Roar play decent football and challenge but now with the mercurial Thomas Broich retired and the list growing ever older he has challenges. He hasn’t helped himself replacing departing players with more veterans like 38 year old Serie A journeyman Massimo Maccarone who joins Holman, McKay, North and former Victory winger Khalfallah who are all well in to their 30s with a small peppering of young talent. On the upside though he has brought in the French midfielder Eric Bautheac who played for high flying Lille in the French League 1 until last season and is still of a decent age.

There’s also the ongoing issues with the owners of the club ‘The Bakrie Group’ who put most Roar fans offside, apparently still owe billions worldwide and at one time have failed to pay players. This seems to galvanise this team though with tales of their demise being greatly exaggerated in previous years almost nicking top spot.

REASON(S) TO WATCH ROAR THIS SEASON – Once again the foreign imports will be important and if Thomas Kristensen can have an instant connection with Bautheac then look out. Another interesting thing to see is how far the press will protect Aloisi if things go south, especially with his mates on Fox Sports.

 

Central Coast FC Logo

The CENTRAL COAST MARINERS are the little engine that could once again. A shadow of the first half of the life of the A-League where they defied all they have been in struggle town for the past couple of years for various reasons. Some of those reasons include owner Michael Charlesworth putting the close knit community offside trying to move the club elsewhere along with the loss of the winning culture through player departures or changes in the backroom unravelling all the notable things they had achieved since 2005 including four grand finals in the firs teight seasons.

Paul Okon is in his second season as coach and steadying the ship though. Considering the circumstances eighth wasn’t a bad effort last season and will look to build on that albeit with another big turnover of players. Great white hope Danny De Silva is back in Australia after an aborted attempt at Europe, Josh Rose returns back from City along with the signing of some Dutch players but whether these cover the massive losses of players like Roy O’Donovan and Scott Galloway will have to be seen.

Don’t expect much from the Mariners but they will be hard to beat up on the Coast.

REASON(S) TO WATCH THE MARINERS THIS SEASON – The big inflatable sauce bottles at the harbor end of the pitch in Gosford of course. The Spainiard Asdrubal from La Liga should be something to see too with the fact he is not some has-been from the big European leagues and still at peak age.

 

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MELBOURNE CITY made all the noise this time last year with various signings (thanks to rule bending by the FFA) but again they meekly surrendered after failing to get any cohesion going with their talented squad. Think of them as GWS with the same amount of empty seats. To be beaten at home by Perth Glory in a final is nothing to be proud of trust me.

Tim Cahill made a glorious beginning to his time in the A-League with that cracking goal against Victory but his ego, Jarryd Hayne levels of self-promotion and backing by a sycophantic governing body and media had the tall poppy syndrome out in full effect against our Socceroo hero.

To quote Fraiser Crane, “Copernicus called and it turns out you’re not the centre of the universe.”

If anything though City have strengthened tenfold for this season. Along with former Man United ressies coach Warren Joyce taking over they have managed to bring in a Polish star, a consistent Dutchman, three former title winners with Adelaide and a decent left back while only losing a handful of talent. How they can afford it? Well, the FFA are not returning ones calls at the moment but I’m sure it’s all above board.

One blow for the side is the loss of captain and star striker Bruno Fornaroli who will miss the first half of the season. The fiery Latin is a massive asset for the league so his absence is a blow for more than City even if he does tell the crowd to ‘f*** off’ on the presentation dias after winning a trophy. Saying that though Aston Villa striker and Scotland international Ross McCormack will fill the void in the meantime, not a bad replacement.

This side just seems to not grab the hearts and minds of the footballing public like their crosstown rivals do. Being at that final last season in the Glory end, there was no connection between fan and club like I’d seen with other clubs in this league. It seemed like many were merely on a day trip there to see the stars. This problem will only continue if they fail to gel as a side on the pitch under the City name once again.

REASON(S) TO WATCH CITY THIS SEASON – The bevy of stars they have and especially when they line up against Victory and Sydney FC. The defensive duo of Danish international Jakobsen and the Dutch signing Schenkeveld will hard to top if they can stay on the pitch together for large periods of time. Kamau will also again be a joy to watch on the wing.

 

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MELBOURNE VICTORY and their muse Kevin Muscat would have been squeezing out tears of blood in the offseason after their (some would say deserved) loss to Sydney FC in the Grand Final last May. If there is ever a consistent theme in the A-League apart from overly negative press, baffling fixturing and alienating fans it’s the fact that Victory will again be a threat.

The best run club in the league by a mile and on the pitch they will welcome back Socceroos and midfield general Mark Milligan from the Middle East. Added to this is Rhys Williams from Perth, a returning Kosta Barbarouses after his year sabbatical in Wellington and a couple of experienced foreign players that shows they have also improved their squad much like their spoiled crosstown rivals. The loss of the speedy little Kiwi Marco Rojas is a blow but getting Kosta back will soften that blow providing plenty of chances for Berisha to put away.

They will definitely be top four, would not be surprised if they are top two and would be classed a disappointment if they do not make the GF again. Strong all over the pitch and one of the very few who can stop Sydney FC going back to back. Get down there and see the derby against City if you are a Melbournite.

REASON(S) TO WATCH VICTORY THIS SEASON – A front three of Kosta, Berisha and Troisi should be enough entertainment for your average fan. Then there is the potential of a Berisha brainsnap that makes Conor McGregor look like a mild mannered accountant.

 

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The NEWCASTLE JETS have seen better days much like their archrivals the Mariners. Former champions of the league, the past three seasons have been spent in the bottom three after Adam Taggart’s 16 goals helped them to seventh in 2014. The whole situation involving Nathan Tinkler’s ownership didn’t help (look at the Knights in the NRL too) and a succession of poor coaching choices and have left the team from original footballing heartland in the mire for far too long.

This season won’t be much different. After three coaches in three years the Jets went with two time Championship winning coach Ernie Merrick after his poor time at Wellington Phoenix. Has the standard of the league now passed him by since his last title in 2009? We may not find out as he won’t really have much of a squad to play with to prove this theory.

Irish striker Roy O’Donovan comes in along with the Petratos brothers but the rest of the signings are largely old men and youth players joining a team of plodders. Considering a Newcastle side has been in the league since the beginning of the NSL in 1977 it is a massive shame the side from the steel city is in such a rut but like the Mariners don’t expect much this season.

REASON(S) TO WATCH THE JETS THIS SEASON – O’Donovan will somehow find a new and more violent way to get a red card. An elbow to the face got him a holiday last year so he might up the ante this year to match his reputation, especially when he plays his old side Central Coast in the F3 Derby in Round One.

 

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PERTH GLORY will be as unpredictable as ever as well as being a cross to bear for their fans. Injuries in defence destroyed their chance of getting anywhere near the top two last season along with Rhys Williams’ petulant mid-season dummy spit and constant tinkering with the side by Kenny Lowe causing the usual angst after being considered a title threat at the start of the season.

A crisis free pre-season (at the time of writing) gives fans some hope this season. So does the fact their star man Diego Castro re-signed for another year bringing one his La Liga mates with him in Xavi Torres who will rule the midfield with an iron first. Then you have the nucleus of last year’s side kept on with only two losses from the first XI so you can dare say that Perth Glory are stable and rabble free for once. Having a seasoned CEO with administration experience at AFL and VPL level who has the club running normally and keeping club owner Tony Sage out of the press has also been a massive factor.

While the goals will come through the brilliant Castro, captain Keogh and Adam Taggart it is at the back where they need to keep injury free and sandbank after conceding so many goals last season. It also helps if Marc Warren, the Ruprecht of football players everywhere doesn’t play much.

A team to watch but they would have to have a hell of a lot of things going their way to knock off either Victory or Sydney FC this season to win their maiden A-League title.

REASON(S) TO WATCH THE GLORY THIS SEASON – Diego Castro will again be a joy to watch either at a game or on the TV. The Spanish winger has only Sydney FC’s Ninkovic with him as company as the best player in the league dazzling fans these past few years and will again be vital to Glory’s chances bring flair, leadership and professionalism. Being Glory with a history of salary cap breaches, nepotism, Tony Sage wig-outs and other such disasters it will reasonable to say something like that may happen again. Keep the popcorn ready to go.

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SYDNEY FC were by far the best team last season. After numerous coaches, CEOs and half baked players coming through to supposed glamour club of the league everything clicked in to place for Mr Personality Graham Arnold and his side. Arrogant, mouthy, brutally physical and an attacking threat the side had all the attributes last season only losing the FFA Cup Final and one game controversially in the league in the entire 2016/17 season. The worrying things for the Melbourne sides, Glory et al is the fact that they have not seemed to have weakened at all coming in to this season.

Former Socceroos Luke Wilkshire comes home from Russia and is very much in the see-ball-kick-player mold that Arnold likes. Then there is the Polish International Adrian Mierzejewski who is still at the top of his game and will link up with Johnny Warren medalist Milos Ninkovic. Even with Rhyan Grant injured and Danny Vukovic off to Belgium Sydney FC’s defence will again be hard to breach considering they conceded only 12 goals in 27 games in the league last season.

Chinks in the armour may come from the much-maligned Andrew Redmayne being in goal and giving contracts to the almost elderly Matt Simon and Dave Carney but it’ll take a heap of injuries or one hell of a team to knock off this strutting arrogant Sky Blue machine this season. They may even have some fickle Sydney-siders to along and watch them for once.

REASONS TO WATCH SYDNEY FC THIS SEASON – Ninkovic and Mierzejewski in the midfield will add some real flair and skill in the A-League rarely seen albeit for Ange’s Roar side and what Victory or Castro for Glory have produced at times. If Sydney FC also keep rolling on with the achievements this year Arnold’s arrogance levels will up at that of a heavyweight world champion; Mayweather V Arnold coming to Main Event next May.

 

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WELLINGTON PHOENIX begin again with a new emblem, new coach and another rebuilt squad this season. The Bosnian Darje Kalezic takes over after Merrick’s sacking halfway through last season and while his CV isn’t great (one second division Dutch title as coach) he will hopefully bring some new ideas to a side that were god awful to watch under Merrick.

They have lost long time keeper Glen Moss to Merrick’s Jets along with one of their few highlights of the past few seasons in Roly Bonevacia also moving across the ditch. Then there’s Kosta Barbarouses lasting a year before going back to Victory and Alex Rodriguez heading off to sunny Portugal. All huge losses for the side but they do get in injury prone but skillful Socceroo Dario Vidosic, the Iraqi veteran Ali Abbas and others that will at least make them more competitive than last year.

Saying that though it will be some hell of an effort to drag the Phoenix from the ashes that is that bottom three vortex of themselves, the Jets and the Mariners.

REASONS TO WATCH PHOENIX THIS SEASON – It’s a shame they’re not going back to New Plymouth again. That stadium with the volcano was quite beautiful. The rather biased commentators on the Sky NZ coverage of Phoenix home games will again be quite something. Serbian striker Andrija Kaluderovic may someone to watch if he fires.

 

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WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS were looking to be back as the big boys again after a horrible season but Tony Popovic’s sudden departure on the eve of the season complicates things. After rejecting many offers the Asian Champions League winning coach suddenly leaving for a Turkish side fighting relegation is a bit bemusing but the team will not be short of suitors.

A huge turnover of players saw Wanderers say goodbye to some veterans and duds while bringing in experienced veterans, fringe Socceroos like Josh Risdon and three Spanish players with a fine pedigree as Wanderers joined other A-League sides trying to find the next Castro.

Still, to me there’s something missing with this Wanderers side. The huge turnover of players and Popovic aside the loss of their fortress Parramatta Stadium derailed their season more than anything in 2016-17. Playing out of Spotless last season they won only two out of nine games at the venue with crowds down and playing at an oval shaped ground. Amazingly, there is something as depressing as a Giants home game at Spotless it seems.

This seems to be being gleaned over in the predictions this year, the Sydney press eager to Wanderers back to winning ways and sustaining their foothold in the West. With Popa gone it is all up in their air now.

REASONS TO WATCH WANDERERS THIS SEASON – The Spanish trio all have decent CVs so they may be something, especially the La Liga winger Alvaro Cejudo. How Hayden Foxe does as temporary coach will also be something to watch considering he was once arrested when playing at Portsmouth for urinating on a bar. Definitely one of the boys. Going on last year the banners made by the fans may also stray over in to something not so politically correct which will again no doubt be a slap on the wrist from the FFA, we mustn’t punish the golden boy.

 

 

 

 

 

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. This is an interesting read, Dennis. Sydney were incredible last season and deserved the championship. They look to be favourites again this season but I am really hoping my Victory can go one step further and take out the trophy this time around. Our addition of former players will strengthen the team big time but depth seems a little bit of a concern. Will be interesting to see how Glory go this season, so far things seem stable and promising. But it is the A-League and anything can happen.

  2. I just thought Sydney were a class above anyone else who visited Perth last season and they don’t seem to have weakened that much. Victory will be potent though with the exception for this weekend of course with the Socceroos playing at the same time. I’ve always thought Milligan has been the most consistent Socceroo of the past decade next to Cahill so will make a huge difference for Kev.

    There’s been some complaints about a lack of big names coming from OS but I think I’d rather some guy 27-30 from one of the top divisions who is a lesser light rather than a washed up former star.

  3. Tom Riordan says

    Good stuff, Dennis.

    Couldn’t agree more with your assessment of Marc Warren. The things he does on the pitch defy all defensive logic, and I have never seen him contribute positively to an attack. My mate’s old man is a Wellington tragic and he would applaud your evaluation of Vince Lia.

    I do hope that this season the members of that bottom three vortex can buck that concerning trend, but it does look like Sydney and MVFC will once again lead the way.

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