Last season the A-League found itself in a morbid state.
Low crowds, poor management and promotion of the game from Football Federation Australia, a lack of star factor and numerous clubs on the brink of collapse saw the League’s stocks hit rock bottom.
The off season has seen a resurgence and excitement has been building for the season kick off this weekend…
The signings of Harry Kewell by Melbourne Victory and Brett Emerton by Sydney FC, are not only their respective clubs’ marquees, but the entire league’s. Both will boost not only home crowds, but attendance everywhere they visit during the season.
Earlier this week, the new season was launched under the well-entrenched, “We Are Football” slogan. Launching it at the conclusion of the AFL and NRL seasons was a nice touch. Kicking it all off with some mouth-watering ties in the coming weeks (the showcase being Melbourne Victory hosting Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium tomorrow night), will certainly help build momentum.
Here’s my look at all the teams and where I predict they will finish in the home and away season:
Wooden Spooners (10th) – Newcastle Jets
Blast away, Nathan….but there appear to be few diamonds in this rough
This season was supposed to signal the start of a new and exciting era for Jets fans…Gone is the unique gold playing strip and fan favourite, Ljubo Milicevic and in comes midfield maestro and Socceroo Jason Culina and new owner, mining magnate, Nathan Tinkler.
Tinkler’s Novocastrian experiment however, is going from bad to worse. First, the club lost Culina to a season ending knee injury and earlier this week, Manager, Branko Culina was sensationally sacked.
Where will the goals come from?! Whilst the Jets had the fourth best defence in the league last season, they only managed 29 goals – the third worst in the competition. The club lacks a predatory finisher. Losing Culina’s creativity compounds matters.
In order to avoid the wooden spoon, Tinkler will need to spend some of his billions and purchase the playmaker and/or striker the club desperately needs. The Jets are seeking to have Culina’s contract set aside. Assuming they are successful, they would, in theory, be able to bring in a new big name player. As it stands however, the only thing Jets fans can smile about is the reduced admission price policy implemented by “white knight”, Tinkler.
9th – Wellington Phoenix
New owners, same problems and not a new entity….There’ll be no rising from the ashes for the Phoenix
Unlike the Jets, the Kiwi club has a severe lack of funds. In fact, the club was only recently saved from the brink of collapse! Moreover, the Phoenix severely lacks squad depth. Ten players left the club in the off-season – five of which were starting players, yet the club only made six signings due to a limited budget. Currently operating three players under the minimum 20 player limit of the A-League, the Phoenix will clearly struggle if key players incur injuries.
Their traditional strength at home (the club only lost two matches last season when playing in front of their faithful Yellow Fever) will probably ensure they avoid the wooden spoon.
8th – Gold Coast United
The only certainty is uncertainty
Australia’s very own Real Madrid have made a positive impact (on the field, anyway) since their inception into the A-League, finishing third and fourth in their opening two seasons. With a host of big name departures (Shane Smeltz, Bruce Djite, Jason Culina, to name a few) set to be replaced by unknown foreigners and unproven youngsters, the upcoming season will provide the glitter club with their sternest test in their short history.
Despite numerous personnel changes, the defence is largely unchanged and will provide the foundation for success (the club had the third best defence in the league last season). Nevertheless, squad depth and lack of experience may prove the club’s undoing.
Colourful gaffer, Miron Bleiberg recently remarked that not even he knew where the club would finish at season’s end, such were the wholesale changes made…“either close to the top or bottom of the ladder!”.
The F-Word agrees with the latter.
7th – Perth Glory
Three hours behind…and three points from Glory
The Glory have recruited well in the off season and as such, there is great optimism for the year ahead. With an abundance of experienced A-League performers heading west (Shane Smeltz, Travis Dodd and Danny Vukovic), the Glory look strong. Throw in Brazilian attacking midfielder, Andrezinho and current Irish international and former Manchester United midfielder, Liam Miller, it is arguable the club has the best squad in the league “on paper”.
The problem is, Perth have recruited well in years gone by, but consistently failed to deliver! Moreover, notwithstanding the positive recruitment drive and heavy investment, the club has interestingly retained the services of coach, Ian Ferguson….it’s hard to see a coach who has lost half of his career games turn things around for the West Australians. The club will improve, but the F-word predicts they’ll narrowly miss out on making the finals.
6th – Melbourne Heart
A (heart) transplant was needed and they appear to have found some donors…the “pace”maker(s) could be the icing on the cake!
The Heart’s recruitment campaign in their debut season was flawed in many ways – too many ageing, slow and injury-prone players. This term has seen the club receive an injection of younger, fresher and more dynamic players.
David Williams, Maycon and Mate Dugandzic join to form attacking options alongside existing strikers Alex Terra and Jason Hoffman. Former Melbourne Victory creator, Fred returns to the A-League and will ensure the aforementioned strikers won’t go hungry (who can forget his 5 assists in the 6-0 rout over Adelaide United in the 2007 Grand Final?!).
With so many new donors, I mean faces, much will depend on whether the Heart pumps collectively.
The departure of Michael Beauchamp to Sydney FC and the possible transfer of Simon Colosimo to rivals, Melbourne Victory makes the team look quite weak at the back. Diagnosis? A further donor may be required.
One doubts the Heart will avoid visiting the ER this season, but the F Word believes it will pull through and sneak into the finals.
5th – Sydney FC
There are few “darlings” in this harbour, but quite a few“rocks”
New marquee signing, Brett Emerton may not bring back the bling, but stability he will. The experience Emerton, Karol Kisel and Nick Carle bring to the midfield along with rising star, Terry Antonis should see the Sky Blues control many games. Whilst the midfield trio will provide plenty of creativity and drive, Vitezslav Lavicka’s biggest headache will be finding a consistent goal scorer. Brazilian, Bruno Cazzarine was a useful asset last season but cannot be expected to do it all. Much will depend on whether Mark Bridge can steer clear of injuries and return to his Newcastle Jets form.
“The Cove” have no such worries in the backline. The additions of Jamie Coyne, Pascal Bosschaart and Socceroo Michael Beauchamp to a defence already consisting of Shannon Cole, Scott Jamieson and Sebastian Ryall should see the team leak few goals this season.
In short, the team looks like it has enough quality and experience to make the finals.
4th – Brisbane Roar
Beautiful one day, perfect the next
With their fast and fluent, pass and move style of play, The Roar revolutionised the game and took it to a new level in the 2010/11 season. Whilst the club had star performers across the pitch, much of the success was due to the ideas and ethos of coach Ange Postecoglou. Roar fans will be relieved Postecoglou steered clear of Melbourne Victory’s fluttering eyelids. As such, it is not inconceivable that the reigning champions continue their dominance and become the first team in A-League history to win back-to-back titles.
Notwithstanding this, the off season saw the team lose three highly influential players – inspirational captain Matt McKay and powerful goal scoring duo, Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano.
With several key players now absent, will the team be able to pick up from where it left off? Finals will be a formality, but Brisbane could be surpassed.
3rd – Central Coast Mariners
Calm seas never made a skilled Mariner….not!
The Mariners were within a whisker of taking the toilet seat home last season and the heartbreaking loss will surely serve as motivation to go one better this time around.
And there’s every chance they will…..
Whilst most teams in the A-League have seen more departures and arrivals than Heathrow airport, the Mariners have quietly retained their best players and added A-League experience. While Argentine Patricio Perez has departed, the club loaned back Mustafa Amini after his sale to Borussia Dortmund. Amini’s presence plugs that gap. Add to this the key signings of Adrian Pellegrino and Stuart Musialik and the retention of the A-League’s best defence (the Mariners conceded an enviable 31 goals in 30 league last season), the Mariners appear to have balance and mouth-watering depth to finally go all the way.
- The Mariners are in serious danger of losing their underdog tag!
- Coming up with a plan to beat Brisbane Roar (the Mariners failed to beat the Roar on 5 occasions last season!). They need not wait long as they will face their nemesis tomorrow night.
2nd – Melbourne Victory
A cauldron, Special K and a Flying Kiwi – a recipe for success
Melbourne Victory’s off season has been as heavily documented as the royal wedding. Whilst Victory may not have Pippa Middleton in their ranks, their fans have much to be aroused about…
- Over 18,000 members – Victory has the largest supporter base in the A-League and has consistently set membership and attendance records. AAMI Park (and to a lesser extent, Etihad Stadium) will be consistently sold out. This will create an intimidating atmosphere for visiting rival teams. Expect Victory to win a majority of their home games;
- Harry Kewell – enough said;
- Attack – Even prior to Kewell joining, Victory had an abundance of weapons of mass destruction. It is difficult to see how the team won’t be the league’s top scorers;
- Marco Rojas – the livewire Kiwi has been electrifying in pre-season; and
- Kevin Muscat – Special K’s retirement should ensure Victory end a majority of their games with 11 men.
The only concern Victory fans may have is a lack of depth in defence. The possible arrival of Colosimo from the Heart however, would shore things up.
1st – Adelaide United
Balanced, mature and full of depth. Just the way a good “Red” should be
The Reds have all the hallmarks to go all the way to clinching the minor premiership this year and it’s not hard to see why….
Coach, Rini Coolen has assembled a very balanced and adaptable squad with an emphasis on ball playing defenders and midfielders and a dynamic front third.
Accomplished Socceroo defender Jon McKain playing in front of the competition’s best goalkeeper, Eugene Galekovic gives Adelaide a strong spine. In the middle, Coolen has looked to create a more versatile, mobile midfield with the addition of Dario Vidosic and Zenon Caravella. Further up the field, the returning Bruce Djite and last season’s Golden Boat winner Sergio Van Dijk will take some stopping.
With so many new players on board, it may take the club a few games to hit top speed.
Pharlap was the same. Adelaide’s strong recruitment in the off-season sees them bound for a top two finish.