Last season’s preview was inspired by The Streets but this time around as the A-League tells us ‘You’ve gotta have a team’ we have decided each team has ‘gotta have a song.’ The songs are not necessarily predictions but may contain causes for optimism or thoughts of impending doom for the season ahead.
ADELAIDE UNITED: Drake – Back to Back
Adelaide United have one example of A-League history which could support them winning the grand final again. Brisbane Roar are the only club to win back to back A-League grand finals 2011 and 2012 and two sides (the afore-mentioned Brisbane and Melbourne Victory) have made back-to-back grand finals. The Victory doing so in 2009 and 2010. In not a big sample size there is some cause for Adelaide fans thinking they can repeat their title triumph, or at least make the final game. Notably in the history of the NSL Perth, Wollongong Wolves, South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights all won back-to-back GFs in the period since 1994. The title winners have added Henrique who was Brisbane’s super-sub. He should act as a good replacement for Pablo Sanchez who left the club in the off-season. Kamau was given a chance to explore opportunities overseas and ended up with the Manchester City-backed Melbourne franchise. Whilst losing Kamau and Bruce Djite is a blow the exit of Craig Goodwin, who has already started well in Rotterdam, might be the most significant. Ben Garrucio, recruited from the Melbourne franchise, bombing down the wings from left back could cover some of the work Goodwin used to do, but the bar is set very high. This may mean Adelaide will have to be more clinical in front of goal if they are to remain the benchmark coupled with defender Jordan Elsey’s recent season-ending injury Adelaide has issues in defence but the addition of 25 year-old Sergi Guardiola, a goal-scorer from Spain’s second-tier, could be the key off-season move.
BRISBANE ROAR: Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
Brisbane Roar had no right to get within a game of the grand final last season, after significant upheaval before, and during their 2015-16 campaign. However, former Melbourne Heart mentor John Aloisi marshalled his team to perform above outside expectations, and only a pulsating 5-4 defeat in extra-time at the hands of the Wanderers in Sydney saw them miss the decider. Jamie McLaren’s double would normally win any other knockout game but it wasn’t to be for the Roar. With the Bakrie Group on their latest final warning about capitalising the club, a shrewd Aloisi has gone about trying to secure their financial future by recruiting a clutch of rising stars. Left back Connor O’Toole (who we profiled a few months ago), fellow defender Kye Rowles and former youth team star in Melbourne Joey Katebian all have the pathways and form to do well in the A-League, which can benefit Brisbane first up on the field and then, with any luck, financially later on if they get a move abroad. However, Aloisi will be hoping he doesn’t have to balance the books on on-sell percentages. The addition of Brett Holman will also be of great worth in developing attackers Brandon Borello, Katebian and McLaren.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS: Public Enemy – Harder Than You Think
No team in the competition has more to do to redeem their fans faith after their on-field performances in the last 12 months than the Mariners. January 30 was the last time they won a game, and UEFA Champions League winner Luis Garcia scored in that match. For their part, the Mariners have started the season by sacking coach Tony Walmsley after an FFA Cup defeat to state league opposition, then backed it up by throwing out old stories dressed up as new ones in the week before the season starts. There’s little doubt that it’s been a poor pre-season from club officials. It remains to be seen if the on-field performances will distract from the off-pitch shenanigans. New gaffer Paul Okon has struggled managing Australian youth team sides, and will rely on a trio of recruits from Sydney FC – Ivan Necevski, Jacques Faty and Mikael Taveres, plus former Phoenix frontman Blake Powell, to supply a comtent spine. With players like 19 year-old midfielder Liam Rose (now featuring in his third A-:League season) entering crucial stages of their development as footballers, Okon’s ability to coach youngsters will be judged pretty harshly here, if there;s little tangible evidence of improvement. In a league with no relegation Okon has room to move, but a return of three wins – or worse – could be as much a blow to Okon’s coaching career as the futures of his playing group. Mikael Taveres, plus former Phoenix frontman Blake Powell, to supply a competent spine. With players like 19 year-old midfielder Liam Rose (now featuring in his third A-League season) entering crucial stages in their development as footballers, Okon’s ability to coach youngsters will be judged pretty harshly here, if there’s little tangile evidence of improvement. In a league with no relegation Okon has room to move, but a return of only three wins – or worse -could be as much as a blow to Okon’s coaching career asthe future of his playing group.
MELBOURNE SHEEP COW WHALE SHIPS: David Bowie – Starman
Melbourne’s light blues have been busy in the off-season, with their recruitment a focal point of talk around the league. Joining the club in time to feature in the FFA Cup, the City Football Group-owned club was able to acquire a player who made his name as a youngster of a (now) National Premier League club, before going on to be an influential clubman playing overseas. Having once helped out a country of his family connection in international football, this player is widely respected everywhere he plays and his goals are celebrated with much fanfare. We are, of course, talking about the acquisition of former Wellington Phoenix utility, and Maltese international Manny Muscat. John van’t Schip’s team have also signed Socceroo Tim Cahill. History tells us goals won’t actually be their problem having netted 63 last campaign. Whilst the likelihood of that happening again is remote, they must shore up their defence and Danish recruit Mikael Jacobsen – who has ironically already scored in FFA Cup action – will play a key role at the back.
Prediction: 3rd (beaten grand finallists)
MELBOURNE VICTORY: Foo Fighters – Times Like These
Looking to return to their title-winning ways, Melbourne Victory welcomes back Marco Rojas as the Kiwi international returns from an underwhelming spell in Europe that was marred by injury and periodic loan moves. Still only 24, the Johnny Warren Medal winner from 2012/13 offers some level of replacement for his All-Whites teammate Kosta Barbarouses, who has headed back to Wellington. James Troisi is a great addition and Mitch Austin’s arrival means the Mariners are without arguably their best player from last season. Melbourne has also added significant depth out wide, typified by the fact Austin was replaced in a recent FFA Cup tie by Fahid Ben Khalfallah who was a first team regular last season. The recruitment of Alan Baro from Spain’s third tier raised some eyebrows pedigree-wise, but if he is able to at least get to a level of consistency similar to what Frenchman Matthieu Delpierre displayed, it will mean the Victory defence can match their attack in terms of expectation. The midfield is settled, and a fit Carl Valeri will be hugely beneficial.
Prediction: 1st (Grand Final winners)
NEWCASTLE JETS: Crowded House – Whispers and Moans
Newcastle Jets coach Scott Miller nearly had his first full pre-season in charge but was promptly sacked five weeks out from the start of the new competition. Despite missing the playoffs, Miller’s side improved greatly on their abject 2014/15 season last campaign but the pre-season tour to China – primarily a function to promote owner Martin Lee’s acquisition of the club – ended with three victories before the bust-up between Miller and assistant coach Luciano Trani came to light and both left the club within days of each other. New boss Mark Jones will need to ensure key additions Andrew Hoole (returning to the club from Sydney FC), Wayne Brown (once of Fulham’s academy) and Leningrad-born striker Aleksandr Kokko develop attacking combinations to add to the league-worst 28 goals they scored last season. Their backline needs to focus on not getting sent off. Yes, we’re looking at you, Nigel Boogaard. Hangovers from the ham-fisted manner in which the club was run during the Tinkler era were starting to be fixed under Miller; the club acquired their first set of GPS units, and no longer have to borrow them from the local university. It’s a shame Miller won’t get to see the fruits of his labour, and the locals will only take it so far that Jones is ‘one of their own’. Results must come, and the disquiet is already/still (delete as appropriate) brewing.
PERTH GLORY: Guns N’ Roses – Patience
Forgotten Socceroo Adam Taggart has been waiting for the chance to re-join Perth Glory after a wasted last two seasons when he was with a dysfunctional club in England (you must read this from The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor about one of his old bosses at Fulham) before a loan deal meant, despite having signed for Perth earlier this year, he’d exceeded FIFA limits on how many clubs a player can play with in a season. Got that. Elsewhere coach Kenny Lowe had an odd off-season recruiting-wise, thinking he had secured Socceroo Chris Herd in July before the 27 year-old reneged on the deal citing personal reasons (he has recently joined UK League One side Gillingham). The addition of Rostyn Griffiths, though, is a positive with the midfielder returning to the club after a stint at Dutch side Roda JC. At times during last year, Hungarian duo Gyorgy Sandor and Krisztian Vadocz were very effective, so their departure was somewhat of a surprise. Whilst one shouldn’t panic about pre-season results, Perth getting turned over 4-0 by Brisbane in late September should be mildly concerning. But the West Australians do still have reigning Johnny Warren medalist Diego Castro on the books.
SYDNEY FC: Motorhead – Ace of Spades
Last year’s under-achievers Sydney FC will look for a strong league and Cup run this season having mustered only a miserly eight wins in season 2015/16 having made the decider the season before. Coach Graham Arnold was swift once Sydney FC finished an unsuccessful season when they missed the playoffs by seven points with eight players out the door. Bernie Ibini returns with the former Mariner on-loan from Club Brugge (although he is yet to return to full fitness.) Brazilian Bobo is another in the category of Newcastle’s Morten Nordstrand having carved out a more than creditable career overseas, primarily in Turkey. His early work in the FFA Cup in their quarter final triumph shows the former Gremio forward has arrived in good form. Hard to say yet if he will reach the heights of a Besart Berisha, but hopefully Bobo doesn’t stomp on players like the hot-headed Melbourne forward has been wont to do. At the back Danny Vukovic’s return to Sydney for personal reasons gives Sydney the best depth between the sticks in the competition.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX: Shihad – Home Again
Two concerns for Wellington Phoenix will be the loss of Albert Riera, and what seems to be a very un-challenging pre-season schedule. Reliable midfielder Riera surprisingly retired having debuted in the A-League at the age of 29 and was a key cog in the Nix Machine. The Spaniard then promptly un-retired in mid-September electing to play for Auckland City in the Stirling Sports Premiership (NZ’s domestic competition.) Maybe the Nix could have offered him minimum wage to just play home games if he didn’t fancy the travel? Playing the Mariners twice in the pre-season after getting tipped out of the FFA Cup doesn’t exactly scream difficult in terms of tuning the team up for the rigours of the ten-team competition, but Ernie Merrick’s team did play a club side in Beijing. Kosta Barbarouses returns and brings former Victory teammate Gui Finkler with him, giving Wellington an impact at free kicks. The Phoenix have also contributed to National Premier Leagues in Australia, recruiting three players; Ryan Lowry (WA), Adam Parkhouse (NSW) and Jacob Tratt (NSW) – the most of any A-League club this off-season. Right back Tratt is likely to feature the most out of the trio.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: Scribe – Dreaming
Australia’s only Asian Champions League winner – the Western Sydney Wanderers – have recruited Japanese midfielder Jumpei Kusukami this season and aside from the obvious benefit of adding an experienced J-League club player to their squad, the Wanderers should be applauded for the move as it makes them the only A-League club with a (non-Australian) AFC player on their books on a full time deal recruited by the head coach*. It’s not good enough for the rest of the League, but well done to Tony Popovic. Elsewhere, the Red and Blacks (who will shuffle between three home venues this season due to the construction of the new Parramatta Stadium) have recruited Spanish defender Aritz Borda and Uruguyan holding midfielder Bruno Pinatares but will need to find their new Romeo Castelen to inspire the fans with every touch. That player could be returning forward Kerem Bulut, who scored five goals in nine games for the club before leaving to join Greek side Iraklis. Still only 24, Bulut has the ability to be top-goal scorer for not just the club, but also the league.
*South Korean Danny Choi has joined Adelaide but the 21 year-old (recently of Blacktown City) is only an injury replacement for Marcelo Carrusca, whilst Chinese winger Ma Leilei is really only at the Jets at the behest of owner Martin Lee. Leilei – the former Tianjin Teda player – doesn’t even have an entry on the squad pages of the club website.
Images via abc.net.au and smh.com.au