- Rest of World
|SoccerAnchor's 2011-12 A-League club-by-club season preview|
Since the inception of Australia’s new domestic competition in 2005, the A-League closed season has traditionally had little to publicise about, amid the media saturation that is depicted amongst the AFL and NRL. Although, version seven of the national competition appears to be unique, and this time, fans will encompass a wealth of motives to turn through the turnstiles come kick-off in season 2011/12.
The football community may still be pinching themselves at the recent captures of high-profile Socceroos’ stars – Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton – at Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC respectively. The former Liverpool stalwart has been portrayed as a Hollywood figure, being encircled upon his arrival at Tullamarine airport, while gifting the Victorian public, as well as the league with a profusion of media hype. While Emerton’s arrival has been a little more tamed, his prominence at Blackburn Rovers in the EPL speaks high volumes for his aptitude to perform on the pitch.
Whilst the demise of North Queensland Fury still burns deep for the people in the region of Townsville, the A-League has ostensibly been injected with a cheering remedy which the competition wholly desired.
The league has bided farewell to Reebok, and welcomed clubs to choose their own apparel, while the structure of the competition will see the league commence in October – following the conclusion of the AFL and NRL campaigns – in an effort to acquire free air-space, whilst creating a dynasty in the warmer months of the year.
Get ready, lock yourselves in, for what is anticipated to be the most exhilarating A-League campaign in the history of the Australian game.
The club situated in the city of churches has been renowned for its ongoing stability on and off the pitch. Adelaide United holds great pride in their performances, both domestically and in Asia – proceeding to the knockout stages twice from three attempts, while famously making the ACL Final in 2008 – and will seek to continue their winning form once again, under the rein of Rini Coolen, who will be in charge for his second season at the helm.
Finishing the home and away campaign in third position last season, the presence of creative midfielder Marcos Flores proved imperative in their run towards the finals. Since then, the Argentine has departed, in conjunction with former captain Travis Dodd. Although, in many respects the squad has been noticeably bolstered, with the inclusions of Socceroos’ duo – midfielder Dario Vidosic and defender Jon Mckain – the latter making an astounding impression, by being installed as the club’s new captain. The capture of the reliable Zenon Caravella from Gold Coast United will add extensive depth in the midfield.
While the Reds appear potent on the team-sheet, it still remains unclear how the club will manage without the artistic power of Flores. His attacking foray on opposition defences was beautiful to watch. If Adelaide can fill this hole, then there’s no reason why the United faithful won’t be satisfied with another fulfilling year.
A top four finish seems highly probable, with a realistic possibility of challenging for a top two placing. Vidosic’s form will play a fundamental component in the Reds’ outcome.
Brisbane Roar’s compelling campaign last season set the tone for Australian domestic football – setting new benchmarks for on-field standards. Their transformation from the A-League’s underachievers, to claiming the illustrious double – winning the premiership and championship – will be remembered fondly in years to come. Ange Postecoglou’s rise to the summit was brought upon in extraordinary circumstances. He transpired an innovative football philosophy, which involved a playing style unforseen on Australia’s domestic front. The Roar’s ability to play a high tempo game, encompassed with their capacity to retain possession and move the ball forward in a swiftly, yet coherent fashion saw the Brisbane outfit win over the football public.
Their only speed hump came in round six, when Melbourne Victory accounted of Postecoglou’s men – triumphing 3-0 – although their record undefeated streak of 28 games is still ongoing, surpassing APIA Leichhardt record of 22 games without defeat in the now defunct NSL.
Brisbane’s title winning campaign was built on potent team chemistry, working collectively as a force, as opposed to individual flare which is often witnessed at powerhouse clubs.
The exodus of key players will indisputably have an impact on the Roar’s attempt at going back-to-back. Their attacking crop of players have departed, Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano – the club’s top two scored last season with 12 and 11 goals respectively - inspirational leader Matt McKay has departed for Rangers, while defenders Luke DeVere and Milan Susak have also left.
The Roar have recruited former Sydney FC youngster Kofi Danning and Albanian international striker Besart Berisha to bolster their forward stocks. However, it’s evident that the defending champion is short of firepower.
The ‘Champions Curse’ has been an obstacle too large to conquer since the A-League’s initiation. Despite losing considerable personnel, Brisbane exemplified their nous to play effectively to a system, whereby the football ethos was the main constituent, as opposed to individual talent. Postecoglu will be seeking to implement this further, rightly knowing that his team will be the hunted.
Central Coast Mariners:
Every season, pundits, along with the football public habitually love to write off the Mariners’ title ambitions. However, to the Central Coast’s dismay, the outfit based in Gosford continually use their low expectations as a source of inspiration to achieve grand success.
The Mariners have ventured towards three Grand Finals, only to be beaten at the final hurdle on all three occasions – last season’s cruel loss to Brisbane saw them come within a whisker of claiming their first championship crown against the inflammable Roar outfit.
Former Socceroos boss Graham Arnold was a rather unknown quantity in the A-League, although he proved his worth last season, finishing in second position, only to be denied by a Brisbane outfit who have been portrayed as the best domestic side in Australian football history.
We saw the emergence of young goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, the red-haired afro sensation, Mustafa Amini – who deservingly won a contract with German giants Borussia Dortmund from 2012/13 – and a crop of other talented players.
Despite the loss of prominent, yet injury-plagued play-maker Patrico Perez, the Mariners have added depth and experience, and appear to be a better rounded squad. The inclusions of Stuart Musialik, Troy Heartfield, Adriano Pellegrino and Brad McDonald boast an impressive depth in talent.
With an impressive attacking mind-set in stock and a resolute defensive pattern – conceding a mere 31 goals in 30-league fixtures – should keep the Mariners in the hunt for a top four finish. Expectations are rife, following last season’s imposing foray, however the Mariners have the temperament to finish in the top four.
Gold Coast United:
What a difference two years can make in football. Billionaire Clive Palmer’s entry on the A-League scene saw the club in the limelight of Australian football - massive pay packets, personal jets, returning Socceroo in Jason Culina and a star-studded outfit. Since then, the team’s image has been diminished, due to an ounce of arrogance assembled by the United hierarchy, ongoing speculations about the club’s financial future, and notably a playing squad unrecognisable in contrast to their inaugural season.
Gold Coast’s chiasmatic coach, Miron Bleiberg has accumulated a squad of promoted National Youth League representatives and unfamiliar imports who for the time being are unknown quantities.
The exit door has been wide open, as a raft of players now plies their trade at rival A-League clubs. Inaugural captain Jason Culina, Kiwi goal-scoring sensation Shane Smeltz and young talent Bruce Djite, midfield stalwart Zenon Caravella and potent defensive stocks Bas van den Brink and Steve Pantelidis are among the casualties to depart the club.
The pulling power appears paltry at Gold Coast, with a profusion of untested players at the helm this season. To the club’s credit, promoting five NYL players is always a positive depiction of the outfits youth development regime – the NYL team has won back-to-back titles since its inclusion on the domestic front – and will seek to further progress in this department.
Bleiberg has talked up the new Dutch trio – defenders Paul Beekmans and Ante Rozic, while striker Maceo Rigters holds grand expectations - who he’s assembled on the Sunshine Coast, although their rise to fame is yet to be determined.
Off the pitch, the club is trying fervently to win back the support of its community, extinguishing the crowd cap, lowering ticket prices – as cheap as $5 for kids and $20 per adult – whilst engaging with the grassroots.
It would be foolish to write off the sunshine coast outfit of performing admirably throughout this campaign. Bleiberg is a well credential coach, who encompasses a coherent football brain, although significant losses to the playing squad may be a mountain too high to climb.
The red and white of Melbourne have been under the radar in this year’s extended closed season, with cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory hogging all the headlines – amid the hype of returning Socceroos star Harry Kewell.
Melbourne Heart will be ardent to improve on their inaugural A-League campaign, failing to participate in the finals series, finishing in eighth position. In his second season at the helm, Dutch coach John Van’t Schip has made his feeling known on what he expects from his troops, accepting nothing less than a spot in this year’s play-offs as the minimum requirement.
With the vision of playing a European brand of football, the Heart boss is passionate regarding his football philosophy – high level of ball retention, whilst looking to penetrate the opposition’s defence in the process – and has made a considerable amount of changes this year.
This season, the team will be much more mobile, with an exuberance of pace in the attacking third. Experience has been lost with the retirements of veterans John Aloisi, Gerald Sibon and Josip Skoko. Although, this should work in the club’s favour, despite losing a wealth of leadership on the park.
Former Victory phenomenon Fred, 32, has sensationally joined the city’s rival, which should amplify the enmity reeled between the two-Melbourne clubs.
Erstwhile North Queensland striker David Williams, is joined in the hot seat alongside Mate Dugandzic, who will figure attacking alternatives in a team which was starved for pace. They will unite alongside Alex Terra and Jason Hoffman, who will be wiser following their first season at the club.
Velocity will also be apparent with the signing of Brazilian Maycon, who is depicted as an energetic forward with a hunger to run at defenders.
Fred’s ability to nourish his attacking options with sublime passing may prove pivotal in Heart’s voyage towards success.
The backline is virtually a new set-up, with the departures of Dean Heffernan to Perth Glory and sometime Socceroos stopper Michael Beauchamp to Sydney FC. Speculation is rife that Simon Colosimo is on his way to Victory, after being stripped of the captaincy in favour of new recruit Fred.
The outfit is seemingly vulnerable in defence, especially if Colosimo is absent. Youngsters Brendan Hamill and new signing Curtis Good may play an important part this season; their inexperience won’t be an ideal situation.
There’s no doubt that Heart are playing second fiddle to Victory this season, their status, accompanied with playing stocks appear inferior. Although, their ambition to cultivate their fan base and play an attractive brand of football must be applauded. The squad is acutely better suited to their playing style this campaign, and should contend for a position in the finals.
What an off-season this outfit has contained. Melbourne Victory, rightly depicted as the A-League’s glamour club, has lived up to all the hype by signing Australia’s most decorated footballer Harry Kewell, further illustrating its image on the Australian domestic scene.
In a period of transition, the club has parted ways with dual championship coach Ernie Merrick, and replaced him with the club’s former youth coach Mehmet Durakovic, with club idol Kevin Muscat and Steve Mautone joining him as his assistants.
While there has been a total overhaul throughout the board, on the pitch the club couldn’t be in a more positive mind-set embarking on the new campaign. Kewell’s presence won’t be the only notable inclusion; Jean Carlos Solorzano enters the fold, following his 11-goal haul at Brisbane last season. While Isaka Cernak and electrifying New Zealand sensation Marco Rojas will incorporate much needed width and pace in the midfield.
Victory has the most outstanding attacking depth in the league, with an array of options in the final third. Carlos Hernandez, working in tandem with Kewell, Archie Thompson, Danny Allsopp and Solorzano are blessed with a wealth of attacking selections.
In many respects, it’s difficult to envisage how this Victory squad cannot challenge for the league’s top prize. A club which prides itself on being at the peak of the competition – appearing in three Grand Finals, whilst triumphing twice in the A-League’s six-year history- will desire to cement their position as the nation’s premier football club, on and off the pitch.
Whilst Victory has strengthened in most facets on the pitch, their backline is the only component that could be susceptible. The recent retirement of club captain Kevin Muscat is a loss from a leadership perspective, however their depth seems rather thin when analysing the defence. Simon Colosimo is reportedly in the process of terminating his contract at Heart, and eager to continue his career in the blue and white of Melbourne. Colosimo will be a welcome addition, with the newly promoted skipper Adrian Leijer and Roddy Vargas in the heart of defence.
Victory is buoyant and ready to cement their charge on another A-League title. After finishing in an uninspiring fifth position – by Victory’s standards - last season, the club will be ardent to reclaim their status within football folk law. Anything less than a top two finish will most probably be deemed as a failure from the Victory faithful.
Everything appeared bright and prosperous for the Newcastle Jets leading into the 2011/12 football season, although recent events will tell us otherwise.
Last season, billionaire mining magnet Nathan Tinkler took over the reins of the Hunter Valley club, with a vision of creating a dynasty within the Newcastle region – also taking control of the NRL affiliate Newcastle Knights. Subsequently, Tinkler changed the playing strip to be in line of the NRL club’s, in a proposal to engage the wider Newcastle community. Additionally, club memberships and ticket prices were cut to more affordable prices.
With a rather positive progression off the pitch, the Jets were well placed to begin the new A-League season in full-throttle. Although, this seems to be far from the case.
The father-son duo of Branko Culina and son Jason was set to create headlines throughout the A-League campaign; however this won’t be the case anymore. After departing Gold Coast to team up with his father, Jason hadn’t overcome his niggling knee injury and was recently ruled out for the entire season – a cruel blow for the Socceroo and notably for the Jets’ fans who were eager to see the midfield maestro in action.
If that wasn’t a hard enough pill to swallow, Branko Culina’s coaching contract was terminated by Tinkler just days before their opening game of the season. A coach who is renowned for having a well systematised, coherent game-plan won’t come to avail under his guidance.
If the Culina debacle wasn’t infiltrating enough for fans, the Jets will enter the new season with a withered forward-line. Captain and marquee Michael Bridges has retired, while his partner in crime Francis Jeffers has moved back to the UK. Veteran Sasho Petrovski’s contract wasn’t renewed, and is now plying his trade in the NSW state league, while promising striker Sean Rooney was surprisingly released.
With a tenuous return of 29 goals in 30 league fixtures last year, the influx of departed attacking players couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Jets. A high reliance will be set upon Jeremy Brockie, Chris Payne and Marko Jesic to tantalise opposition defences.
The departure of former Socceroos defender Ljubo Milicevic – who now plays for Croatian outfit Hajduk Split – is a blow to the team’s defensive stocks. Although, the inclusion of Brazilian Tiago Calvano and former Sydney FC championship player Byun Sung-Hwan will add some stability in the backline.
Overall, the Jets will have their work cut out. A full-time replacement coach is yet to be finalised – Jet’s youth coach Craig Deans has taken the role as interim boss - while the squad seems to lack that cutting edge in the final third, amid a flood of departures, and the recent injury to Culina. While scoring goals was patently difficult last season, this year may be a similar replication This Newcastle outfit will have a tumultuous assignment if they plan to feature in the top six.
Since the wonder days of the NSL, Perth Glory has seemingly been a shadow of their former self. The team based in Western Australia have never lived up to the hype since their transformation from the defunct former competition – only appearing in the A-League finals series once in its six-year history.
The man at the helm, Ian Ferguson has a fairly partly record as an A-League coach, losing 24 of his 48 games in charge of the North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory. To furnish further cynicism to the Glory faithful is Ferguson’s record in Perth. He has astoundingly tasted defeat on 13 occasions, from his 21-game stint as coach last season, and surprisingly kept his job in the box seat.
In a world where results are the cornerstone for success, it is almost mind-boggling that the Perth hierarchy have accepted mediocrity as part of their football blueprint. Many fans have little confidence in his football philosophy or his approach on game-day. There’s no doubt that Ferguson has an immense task ahead of himself if he is to win over the fans, and more importantly get Perth Glory back to the pinnacle of Australian football. If the tide doesn’t fall in his favour, a premature exit beckons for the former Rangers champion.
To be blatantly honest, Ferguson has no excuses for under-achieving this year. The influx of quality present in this Glory squad is arguably the best since the club began its A-League venture.
Attacking flair will be evident with New Zealand international Shane Smelz - who is well known for his scoring ability - as well as former Adelaide captain Travis Dodd and Liam Miller – an Irish international who’s plied his trade in the EPL and SPL. While some samba magic will be present with the acquisition of attacking midfielder Andrezinho.
Former Heart and Victory full-backs Dean Heffernan and Evan Berger will be seeking to resurrect their careers and should add some depth in the backline. While former Gold Coast defender Bas van den Brink is joined in conjunction with Chris Coyne. Meanwhile, a change in the guard at the back will see former Olyroo shot-stopper Danny Vukovic.
The club has lost former Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler, and although he performed to a respectable level, his loss has seen the club gain a richer source of attacking aptitude.
In many respects, it’s a make or break season for coach, playing group and staff. Fail in this campaign, and there won’t be a second chance. Following last season’s underwhelming efforts – a middling 27 goals in 30 matches, whilst conceding a whopping 54 goals was truly an accurate reflection of their semblance at the lower spectrum of the table – 10th to be exact.
Like many have done in the past, and been left with egg on their face, faith is being replenished in this Glory outfit. Maybe this rather star-studded team can surprise the odd pundit, or two.
The ‘Champions Curse’ is a term used to describe the faltering trends succeeding a team’s triumphs the proceeding year. In many ways, it’s the perfect analogy to explain Sydney FC’s abysmal campaign last season. After claiming a heart-stopping penalty-shootout feat over arch-rival Melbourne Victory to win their second championship crown, the Sky Blues went from kings of Australia, to cellar dwellers in the space of 12 months.
Struggling for consistency and poise in-front of goal, the then reining champion didn’t live up to expectations and finished in a humble ninth position. The team perceptibly couldn’t recuperate from the mass exit of influential players from their championship winning squad – Simon Colosimo, Steve Corica, John Aloisi, Clint Bolton and Karol Kisel – as the task was evidently too great, with little recruitment the following season.
The signature of Socceroos midfielder Brett Emerton is an enormous coup for the city of Sydney. His presence for the Sky Blues on and off the pitch will play an enormous part of cultivating the image of the once ‘Glamour Club’ of Australian football. Emerton may attract as much interest as national compatriot Harry Kewell, although his value on the pitch is just as supervene, and will be integral ingredient in Sydney’s march to the top six.
The defence has had a major reshuffle with the captures of Michael Beauchamp from Heart, Jamie Coyne from Perth and Pascal Bosschaart from Holland. While Matt Jurman, Stephan Keller and Byun Sung-Hwan all shown the exit door.
Kisel has returned – leaving the club following their second championship victory – and will look to bestow some stability back in the midfield. Youngsters Terry Antonis and Dimitri Petratos are anticipated to further develop, with big things expected from the duo this season. Nick Carle – who had an interrupted return to the A-League last season with several injury layoffs – looks refreshed and raring to combine with the prominent Emerton in the middle of the park.
While Sydney appears to have strengthened considerably in the midfield, up front may be the club’s achillis heel. Alex Brosque’s departure to Japan in January has proved to be a vast loss for the club. Finish striker Juho Makela, Brazilian Bruno Cazarine and former Newcastle forward Mark Bridge will all need to be on their toes this season, as a heavy reliance will be on their abilities to score goals, and plenty of them.
On the whole, the club has fortified in contrast to last season’s squad. Emerton will need to have a stellar season if the Sky Blues desire to finish anywhere near the top two mark. Goals are required to come from the midfield, as this strike force doesn’t resemble an outfit challenging for another title.
New Zealand football has been on a high the past two years. First it was a pulsating World Cup qualification play-off prevail over Bahrain, then appearing in the 2010 World Cup Finals, and on the domestic front two consecutive appearances in the A-League play-offs. It all seems sweet and joyful, right?
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2011/12 A-League season, and the circumstances are quite dissimilar. The closed season has been engulfed with financial instability, with players and coach Ricki Herbert reportedly owed $100,000 in unpaid wages. Terry Serepisos has lost his ownership of the club after being struck with $200 million of debts. Although, to the club’s relief, a group of local businessman have taken over as the Phoenix’s new owners.
To matters on the pitch, the club only signed their 20th player – the minimum number authorised in an A-League squad – on the eve of the season opener. Without a doubt, the turmoil that surrounded the club in the off-season played its part with player purchases.
The departure of young sensation Marco Rojas to Melbourne Victory is an astronomical loss for the Nix, while Troy Hearfield will continue his career at Central Coast Mariners.
Mirjan Pavlovic joins the Kiwi outfit from New South Wales Premier League side Sydney United, with big things expected from the 22-year-old. Meanwhile, Lucas Pantelis has joined the club from Adelaide United, although in a cruel blow, the midfielder injured his knee and has subsequently been ruled out for the entire season.
The Phoneix have always been a tough team to play on the road, ‘The Cake Tin’ has been portrayed as a fortress, where the club has heavily relied on their impressive home record to accumulate points, with a poor history away from home.
Despite a lack of depth in comparison to previous years, the team still possesses some quality acquisitions – Leo Bertos, Paul Ifill, Tim Brown, Daniel, Mirjan Pavlovic and Andrew Durante are some of the players who will be called upon to have big seasons.
The formula for Wellington is rather simple, maintain the winning form on home soil, but improve on their travels over the New Zealand border. Last season, Wellington only won away from home on two occasions – in Adelaide and Perth. If the Phoenix aspires to flirt with a finals showing, a string of potent performances in unfamiliar surroundings will be the key to unlocking a top six placing.