A-League 1,000: The Suspension Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 17 of the A-League which runs from Friday night in Sydney to Sunday evening in Adelaide.

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Western Sydney Wanderers v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Friday – Pirtek Stadium

At AAMI Park three weeks ago John van’t Schip’s side won a controversial game 3-2 and the teams match-up again with the Wanderers looking to kick five points clear at the top. Melbourne’s wide players have been terrific in the last few weeks and the match up with the likes of Scott Jamieson from the Wanderers will be keenly anticipated. Nikolai Topor-Stanley is back from suspension for the visitors who did beat the second Victorian franchise 3-0 in round six when they scored three goals in the second half. Defender Jack Clisby is available for the Victorians after his sanction and with Socceroo Ivan Franjic comfortable for southerners this will be crucial away from home.
Big game for: Federico Piovaccari, the marquee import was not selected for the game in Gosford against the bottom-placed Mariners but he has been named here. If the Italian can’t be trusted to even make the bench against a side with two wins in 16 games why can he be trusted here? And if he does play and ‘fails’ that might reduce the ability to sell him?

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing more from Anthony Caceres. Putting aside the controversy of his move the former Mariners midfielder slotted in seamlessly to the left of a central midfield trio of with Aaron Mooy and Erik Paartalu in his club debut. He played a key role in the third goal which pretty much sunk Wellington just after the break.

Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – AMI Stadium

Going from having won the Fair Play Award last season the Nix are racking up cards at a record pace this season and that continued in their 3-1 defeat in Melbourne on Monday night whilst the visiting Mariners lost to the Wanderers but Luis Garcia had a solid display in his A-League debut. Various indiscretions mean skipper Andrew Durante and Vince Lia will miss this game but the Mariners will also have two more players suspended after their 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Wanderers with Nick Montgomery and Harry Ascroft joining Roy O’Donovan on the naughty step. Jake McGing could slot into Montgomery’s midfield role or move into the defensive line in light of Ascroft’s sanction or we could see Tomislav Uskok in defence.

Big game for: Central Coast starting eleven. Aside from the suspensions for Harry Ascroft and Nick Montgomery one would hope the Mariners keep the same eleven and don’t make many changes as compared to the five they made last weekend. Most of their transfer dealings should be done now and it’s time for a settled line-up.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: With defender Ben Sigmund a long-term injury absentee and the high-striking work of Roy Krishna hard to replace, despite the best efforts of Blake Powell, the midfield is the most experienced group for the Phoenix so they will require a big game here .

Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar, Saturday – Allianz Stadium

Brisbane haven’t beaten a top six team since round 12, a 3-1 win over Melbourne City, and were embarrassed by Adelaide on Friday night so they could be ripe for the picking however the Roar do get their Olyroo trio (Brandon Borello, James Donachie and Jamie Maclaren) back. Javier Hervas has been responsible for giving the ball away on key occasions recently for Brisbane so this may be something Sydney can target here. Playing their first game at Allianz Stadium this years the Sky Blues have a chance to continue on a winning run in the east having beaten the Jets and Mariners in their last two ‘home’ games at the Moore Park venue.

Big game for: Sydney FC’s imports. Graham Arnold has submitted his initial list for the Asian Champions League but won’t add his imports until next month. The next three games are key for Milos Dimitrijevic, Jacques Faty, Filip Holosko, Milos Ninkovic, and Mickael Tavares.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Brisbane’s goals. Brisbane haven’t scored from open play since Henrique netted in round 13 in a 2-1 triumph over Perth and the provider of the assist for that goal, Maclaren, returns here. Highlighting not just the scoring ability of Maclaren, 22, but his goal creation role.

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Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – nib Stadium

After a record-setting day in Newcastle Perth return home buoyed by more signings having added Shane Lowry (the Socceroo defender not the Irish golfer) and former Jet Adam Taggart – although the striker can’t play until next season. Kenny Lowe’s mean tore apart Newcastle down the right with Joshua Risdon leading the charge from their own half often at Hunter Stadium but one suggests it may be a harder proposition against a navy blue outfit who have gone two and a half games without conceding a goal. As Melbourne sprung on the counter at Etihad Stadium Sydney was solid and players like Nebojsa Marinkovic will need to remember their defensive duties here against a side who have beaten them in the FFA Cup this season. However it is worth remembering Perth beat Melbourne in the west 1-0 in December when Diego Castro tapped home with 16 minutes to go.

Big game for:  Perth’s depth. Late in the game at 5-1 up against the Jets coach Lowe was able to call on the service of 17-cap Socceroo Richard Garcia which was a depth their opponents didn’t have. That sort of experience and guile could be used to great benefit here. Annoyingly for Lowe though, Garcia did cop a yellow card in his 12 minutes on the field.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Jess Makarounas provided the ball which saw Matthew Jurman’s deflection give Melbourne the sole goal in the Big Blue on Tuesday and the Darwin-native was influential when he came on. It was another night of Kosta Barbarouses marauding down the flanks, even if his teammates didn’t always pass to him when he was in the best position, so Perth will need to be awake to the impact of both those players.

Adelaide United v Newcastle Jets, Sunday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium AAMI Park

Still up for sale heading to Adelaide, the scene of a heavy defeat last season, is probably the last place Scott Miller wants to be but off the Jets go. After Perth ran over them the Jets got some good news this week having recruited ex Danish international Morten Nordstrand to help add goals and experience but the 32 year-old, who has played all his career in his homeland, won’t be available so Newcastle will need Milos Trifunovic to keep run his run of goals going after two in the last fortnight. Sergio Cirio’s return gives Guillermo Amor a good headache for a side who have scored ten goals in their last three three games and are yet to taste defeat since round eight. Newcastle will be without Nigel Boogaard, because of his eighth career red card, which means the former Red will be playing scout against his old side for coach Miller but from the sideline and not the pitch.

Big game for: Stefan Mauk, Adelaide’s pursuit of the former Melbourne City midfielder became more important when it was confirmed on Wednesday that the dynamic Jimmy Jeggo had moved to FC Sturm Graz in Austria.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Eli Babalj score a hat-trick in a years’ time. On loan from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar the Adelaide forward has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and faces over nine months out. Only 23 years of age in addition to this ACL injury the striker has suffered other foot injuries and has also struggled to get game time in his career even when out on loan from AZ which, given the point of loans is to get game time, has really stalled his career. This injury makes it worse.

The betting bit – One serious one not:

1 plays 2 with Melbourne City at $3.50 and given the form they are in it’s hard to go past into a ‘Taggart Target’ banner at Perth on Saturday – but the locals could save that one for next season.

Record: 8/16

Profit: 3.05 units (ten units per investment)

Images via abc.net.au and goal.com.au

 

Banning headers: Why a decision in California matters to your sports club.

@hamishneal

They are banning headers! The world has gone mad! Those Americans, they are always suing someone.

These have been the three prevailing themes since it was announced in November 2015 that the United States Soccer Federation would ban headers for 10 year-old and under players plus place restrictions on heading for 11-13 year-olds. The announcement has come out of a lawsuit (which had multiple defendants, including Fifa) filed some time ago but had hit roadblocks. Until now.

Whilst ‘banning headers’ grabs the headlines the key elements of the lawsuit are actually around concussion assessment in junior sport, return to play protocols and ongoing care. Two cases in North America, that of 17 year-old Canadian rugby union player Rowan Stringer and high football player Zack Lystedt, 13, have been the catalyst for change in recent years in Canada and the USA respectively. Stringer’s death and Lystedt’s permanent disability (he spent two years in hospital after the initial injury in 2006) should be the drivers for nations, including Australia and New Zealand, which don’t legislate around this to do so – particularly at a junior and sub-elite level where the greater volume of sports occurs.

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CANADA AND THE USA – LEADING THE WAY

The resultant recommendations following the death of Stringer focus on compulsory awareness sessions for parents/junior participants, sharing of information between organisations and consistent return to play protocols.

The legislation in Stringer’s home state of Ontario, which reflects commonly accepted international guidelines, is close to adoption and represents a solid base for other countries to start from.

Similar measures are further advanced in the USA with Washington State in 2009 the first to pass legislation which has since been implemented in similar forms across the country. Essentially the law prohibits youth athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion from returning to play or practice without a licensed health-care provider’s approval. The Lystedt Law has many key points, including requirements for sporting bodies to adhere to the legislation or they risk not been able to access public facilities for which to play their sport.

In the case of Lystedt’s injury he was sent back into after sustaining a head injury and then collapsed upon leaving the match venue. Stringer wasn’t so lucky, a lack of follow-up adherence to return to play protocols and other factors saw Simpson play twice after sustaining a head injury. The 17 year-old died officially from second impact syndrome.

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NOVEMBER’S DECISION

Whilst poking fun at ‘ignorant Americans’ and their soccer mums is an easy target it’s worth noting where you are reading this that no legislation likely exists to legally support any possible action you may wish to take in the future.

It may surprise you to know, if you didn’t already that the Australian state of New South Wales is the third-most litigious jurisdiction in the world. With the USA states of Texas and California (where the initial lawsuit against the USSF originated) the top two so it is a throw-away line to assume American’s and their alleged propensity to sue means this is an issue only for the USA. It could easily happen in Australia or elsewhere. Given volunteers make up the vast majority of committees of grassroots sports exposure of these volunteers to possible legal action should have a high priority.

Even if you think legislation on this sort of thing is too much of a nanny state move think about the financial impacts concussion has on ongoing health costs in your community. New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation paid out around $1.55 million in a two-year period to 2013 on concussion related sporting incidents. Better education may not have helped in every scenario and the financial burden on public funds is not that much when you consider it helps people return to work etc in some cases but the $1.55 million figure doesn’t measure all of on-going support that may be needed down the track from health needs which may not have been readily apparent when the money was granted.

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CONCUSSION AND YOUR SPORTS CLUB

In the absence of legislation in Australia, New Zealand and other nations the appetite for change and development of community knowledge falls to the governing bodies of each sport but in response to the USSF move in November other national footballing bodies (including the FAFFA and NZF) have ruled out implementing similar strategies about banning headers. Many national federations don’t, or rarely, coach headers in their development sides in the younger age groups as it doesn’t fit with the accepted football curriculum around skill development however the details on the impact of concussion don’t just relate to heading so it’s a bit simplistic to say ‘our kids don’t do headers therefore concussion isn’t a problem.’ That reasoning assumes concussions in football would only come from headers which isn’t always the case. For instance a sharp blow to the shoulder could result in a concussion which might not be immediately apparent.

Whilst the coaching system might be in place and especially adhered to for academy/development junior players to not coach /undertake headers at a younger age group the real issue is around making information available to everyone. Including parents and those connected with ‘regular’ junior teams from early primary school to high school age. The sheer volume of games for regular kids played on any weekend far outweighs those that play in youth development team/squads. Hence the availability of that information to parents of participants is important.

Searching on the FA, FFA and NZF websites I was unable to *easily find the ‘return to play’ protocols for junior football – a key plank of Rowan’s Law. If community education is an important part of building knowledge this would be a starting point.

I more or less agree that law suits will likely occur in places like Australia, New Zealand and the UK however it can’t be ruled out hence ensuring minimum standards are in place is the best deterrent. It reduces legal exposure for volunteers, makes the standards more widely aware and makes all parties responsible for ensuring RTP aspects are carried out properly where appropriate.

In September last year I attended a workshop which provided details of concussion in sport and speaking to one of the fellow participants during one of the breaks they stated concussion, and related head/neck injuries, was the aspect of their role which worried them the most. The person in question was involved in elite level sport but works with junior teams. It’s noteworthy that someone in such a role feels this way and I’d be willing to think it’s the same for many parents.

The ‘she’ll be right attitude’ won’t cut it anymore. Law suits are unlikely but community knowledge and standards need to raise. Appropriate legislation at a federal level and better information at the grassroots is the best place to start

 

*Advanced searches found the guidelines for the FFA and the FA but the prominence of these documents/pages are not that high on the websites which they should be.

NB: Those looking for further details can look at Headsafe’s website. People based in Australia can attend their courses but others can use the resources such as their app.

Disclosure: I attended two Headsafe workshops in September on 2015 (one free and one extended course which I paid for) in both a professional and personal interest capacity. I have no financial interest in Headsafe. I find their resources very useful and think more people should know about them.

Images via vancouversun.com, tcbsnews.com and headsafe.com.au

A-League 1,000: The Garcia Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 16 of the A-League which runs from Friday to Monday evening and features the debut of UEFA Champions League winner Luis Garcia.

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Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United, Friday- Suncorp Stadium

After getting embarrassed on TV last Friday evening John Aloisi and the Roar return home to match up against Adelaide who won easily against the Mariners. Given the Central Coast are yet to win away from home this season the result should be put in context but in a game of missed penalties Adelaide will want to make sure they take any opportunities on offer here. Henrique and Matt McKay ended up the most advanced of Brisbane’s players during their 4-0 loss to Victory so it shows how much the Roar are missing Jamie McLaren and Brandon Borello (both are unlikely to be available as they return home after the Olyroos’ pool-stage exit of the AFC Olympic qualifying tournament.)

 

Big game for: Replacements. For the first time really this season the suspension bug has hit Adelaide with both Jimmy Jeggo and Michael Marrone suspended so it’s a big game for Gulliermo Amor’s fringe players. Especially with Cirio also absent due to a hamstring injury.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Brisbane variety. Whilst Matt McKay has great attacking ability at crosses and following up shots flung back out of the area if he is one of your more advanced players the rest of the side are doing something wrong.

 

Central Coast Mariners v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Central Coast Stadium

The recruitment of Luis Garcia is exciting for the Mariners who host the Wanderers coming off a Derby defeat. I’ve discussed the possible tactical use of Garcia, and other aspects of his signing, here. Tony Walmsley does get an extra attacking edge from the ex-Spanish international who is set to play in a ‘number ten’ role. Away from Garcia, the addition this week of Matthew Fletcher will help add depth to the striking ranks at the club given the suspension of Roy O’Donovan which still has some time to run, successful appeal or otherwise. The Wanderers had Mark Bridge, Romeo Castelen and Mitch Nichols run a lot through the middle of the Sydney FC midfield last weekend so the Mariners re-jigged line-up will need to be wise to that this weekend. However Sydney was happy to concede possession and let the Wanderers run at them. Given their new signing how will the Mariners change if at all?

 

Big game for: Focusing on defence. Attack is all well and good but when sides lose the ball they must respond. Storm Roux was made to work doubly-hard on Saturday when Fabio Ferreira was caught out occasionally. The Mariners must focus on defence immediately in those first few seconds when they lose possession.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how the Wanderers go in the last five minutes. In their last two fixtures the visitors have conceded in the 85th and 90th minute respectively so Tony Popovic will have cause for concern well and truly until after the final whistle has gone here if the game is close.

 

Newcastle Jets v Perth Glory, Sunday – Hunter Stadium

With worries about unwanted A-League records buried at the northern end of Hunter Stadium after a 3-1 triumph over the Phoenix the Jets stay at home to host a Perth side who were lively against Melbourne City in a 2-2 draw. With Michael Thwaite off to Chinese side Liaoning Whowin and an inexperienced defensive combination set for another run out Kenny Lowe’s side face an interesting game here. Andy Keogh’s return is positive but with the inexperienced Aryn Williams, 22, at the back it’s probably the last time Perth want to face a Newcastle side who now have their tails up. Ryan Kitto put in his best performance of his A-League career last weekend against a sub-par Wellington outfit.

 

Big game for: Perth’s discipline, for the second week running, a player was sent off with 20 year-old defender Jacob Collard marched for a daft second bookable offence.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Jets only negative last weekend was the loss of Ben Kantarovksi due to two bookable offences. Mitch Cooper came on later in the game and Cameron Watson would be a chance for a start. As we outlined last week Watson in particular needs a big end to the season.

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Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Wellington Phoenix, Monday – AAMI Park

In an odd quirk of the draw these two sides meet for the first time in the league this season but Melbourne City do have a 5-1 triumph to their credit from August when they secured an FFA Cup last 16 win. Aaron Mooy, Harry Novillo and Bruno Fornaroli all got on the scoresheet that night for the home side as did maligned marquee Robert Koren. For Wellington their only goal-scorer from that Wednesday night Roy Krishna is doubtful to feature much this season again, if at all, due to injury so it’s a hard fixture for the visitors who are two games into another three-game ‘road trip’ with their round 17 fixture to be played in Christchurch. Melbourne City’s embarrassment of riches mean they could hand a club debut to former Mariner Anthony Caceres and Stefan Mauk should be back from Olyroos duty in Qatar. Wellington’s Roly Bonevacia needs to get further forward to be effective in this game compared to last weekend.

 

Big game for: Youth. Melbourne City’s parent club are (in) famous for warehousing young English talent who could easily start elsewhere in the Premier League. Now that Manchester City’s Southern Hemisphere arm have ended up with Caceres ‘on loan’ how often will the 23 year-old start is key to his development. But at least he is a chance of starting after his recent exclusion from the main section of Mariners’ training he clearly needed a move somewhere.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how Ernie Merrick tweaks his tactics. After only one win away from home this season in league (v Perth in round two) Merrick will have options to arrest the slide with the return from suspension of Manny Muscat. Plus Louis Fenton is back and Tom Doyle, who put in a good shift off the bench last Sunday is available.

 

Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC, Tuesday – Etihad Stadium

After seven goals in an 81-minute span the Victory are well and truly out of their slump and with Sydney coming off a Derby win this fixture should top off five nights of A-League games nicely. Sydney were content to concede possession to the home side last weekend in a tactic which ended up yielding a win. Sydney’s wider players could look to expose the inexperience of Stefan Nigro, who debuted last weekend, and Dylan Murnane if they are retained.

 

Big game for: Melbourne’s set piece defence. After Shane Smeltz snuck home a winner for Sydney last weekend, the second of two set piece goals for the Sky Blues, and after conceding at a corner against the Mariners recently it will be a significant work on for Melbourne in this match.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Sydney’s strategy paid off in Parramatta but with Arnold potentially having Andrew Hoole and Brandon O’Neill back Sydney could change things up here. But maybe not if they go a goal up early.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Wellington just aren’t doing it up front at the moment, Melbourne City ($1.50) should win at home into Luis Garcia getting welcomed to the A-League with a Ben Williams refereeing controversy.

 

Record: 7/16

 

Profit: 1.95 units (ten units per investment)

Images via bendigoadvertiser.com.au and abc.net.au

 

The Coast’s marquee: The case for Luis Garcia

@hamishneal

Luis Garcia’s recruitment is one of the more bold signings in the history of the A-League and the fact he has joined the last-placed Central Coast Mariners, and not a big side, makes the scenario all the more intriguing.

 

Whilst many people have decried the fashion in which the announcement was made, during a match and including an in-game television interview with coach Tony Walmsley, I think the move is mostly positive.

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Central Coast Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth has constantly tried to shake things up at the club since taking control of the licence, from endeavouring to obtain the stadium management rights to this latest move. Charlesworth is trying to push the envelope with a club that most people view as having a natural ceiling (in terms of fandom and corporate support.) Whether this assertion is right or not isn’t for this column but Charlesworth is well aware of the value ‘smaller’ A-League franchises (even ones with long term licences) must show to be seen as viable, ongoing, residents of the A-League. Charlesworth recently said on the Yellow Army podcast “We know that (Football Federation Australia CEO) David Gallop’s history was never particularly favourable to the Central Coast in terms of his rugby league days and I don’t think that’s changed.”

 

The addition of Garcia shows a boldness even the monied Melbourne City franchise are yet to display. Remember the debacle of the David Villa ‘signing’ for the second Victorian club? At least the Mariners have worked with their sponsors, and with the help (presumably) of the transfer fee from the sale of Anthony Caceres, and been able to bring the ex-Barcelona and Liverpool attacker to the club for a few months as opposed to a few weeks.

 

The last time the Mariners made what was supposedly a stupid decision surrounding the team (or at least what the team wears) was the call to go with a palm tree-inspired jersey for this season. The announcement was made in August of 2015 and meet with criticism about the lack of tradition plus jibes as to what the images actually represented. However it had local breakfast commercial radio talking about the A-League, in August – which almost never happens. It made a club’s normally boring jersey announcement actually interesting for once. Fast forward to earlier this month and Charlesworth revealed the jersey is the highest-selling strip in the club’s history. How silly do palm trees look now?

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GARCIA ON THE PARK

From a playing perspective the Garcia signing has some concerns but I don’t see it as a key grading for the A-League. If he does well then so be it. As long as he isn’t atrocious then it’s at least a neutral result performance-wise for a team running last with only two wins in 15 games.

 

Should Garcia slot in on the left wing that would mean Michael Neill, 21, who recently scored his maiden A-League goal could make way. This is disappointing for the Sydney native who has been racked with injuries in his young career which included only playing eight games in season 2014/15 due to a season-ending foot injury.

 

The Mariners counter-attacking style means Garcia will have to work hard on the flank but will probably spend a fair bit of time trying to get the ball back. His support of Josh Rose at the back may be as important as his attacking prowess. It could work out well if Garcia plays 50-60 minutes before been replaced by Neill who could then dominate the scorched earth Garcia has created prior but it’s high risk. There is also a chance he sits in behind the forwards but with just 12 games remaining it will take some time for the former Spanish international to combine with his new teammates. Many of the them, such as striker Josh Bingham and Trent Buhagiar, have only just made their A-League debuts recently so that is problematic. No one wants a pre-season in-season but that is what Walmsley is stuck with to a degree.

 

Speaking to a former Indian Super League player over the weekend I was told Garcia was solid for his team (he was skipper for Atletico de Kolkata in the 2014 competition.) Interestingly the Catalonian won the competition’s Most Exciting Player award (a vague-sounding title that doesn’t necessarily denote the most influential player). The ISL, due to it’s brevity of only 14 regular season games and three more for sides who make the grand final, is hard to gauge. It’s also worth noting Garcia didn’t always start, he came off the bench in Kolkata’s 1-0 grand final win over Kerala Blasters, and that was about 13 months ago so the chances he plays 90 minutes in any game for the Mariners is doubtful – at least in the first month. Garcia was also able to play with former Liverpool teammates Josemi in India, a luxury he will not have at the Mariners with the players and league completely foreign to him. Prior to that stint in West Bengal he notched 21 goals in a 77-game spell playing in Mexico. What the Mariners would have given to recruit him before or just after that spell?

 

Garcia’s lack of game time could have an impact on midfielder Nick Montgomery, who often spends time sprinting over to cover teammates in the corners or on the edge of the area. If the former Sheffield United man spends more time tracking back to cover a not yet fit Garcia if he plays on the flanks Montgomery could have to be replaced earlier in games. This means the Mariners substitutes may have to be mainly midfield-based when Walmsley may prefer to throw on a defender, if they happen to be leading, or another attacker, should they be chasing the game.

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GARCIA OFF THE PARK

The Mariners have home matches remaining which include the Western Sydney Wanderers (last season the corresponding game drew a crowd of 14,691), Sydney FC (12,102), and Newcastle (10,443) amongst the sides to travel to Central Coast Stadium. These three teams drew the highest crowds to Gosford in season 2014/15. The chance that these fixtures will get a ‘Garcia bump’ are positive given the proximity of these side’s to Gosford and the large contingent on EPL fans in or near the greater Sydney metropolitan area. Commercially this is the best time of the season for the club to sign a player of Garcia’s ilk.

 

Given the Mariners are last, and can’t get relegated, the short term sacrifice for Neill (or whoever misses out) on game day balanced with the training experience the UEFA Champions League winner will offer his new teammates and the commercial value to the franchise it’s a pretty good recruitment. If there was promotion/relegation that would be a different matter as Garcia would surely not stick around for a second division and it would be 12 games wasted developing a player in that position which could potentially help the side bounce straight back up. But if the 37 year-old can do well and, who knows, even sign a deal next season it may also help the Mariners off-season recruitment.

 

THE VERDICT

 

Garcia is unlikely to be Dwight Yorke-level when the Manchester United star helped lead Sydney FC to the inaugural title, but he won’t be Mario Jardel-level at the Jets when the Porto legend appeared 11 times before he was cut loose halfway-through the Jets championship-winning season.

 

Here‘s to ‘Garcia 10’ palm tree jerseys dotted around Terrigal Beach and beyond.

Images via standard.co.uk, bbc.co.uk and and indianexpress.com

A-League 1,000: The Ideas Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 15 of the A-League which, like round 14, starts on Friday night with a game in Victoria and concludes with a game involving Wellington.

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Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar, Friday- AAMI Park

In a big game Besart Berisha is paid to deliver and he did in Geelong helping Melbourne escape with a draw. Melbourne’s slightly re-jigged side, with five players away on Olyroos duty, came back well and that should give them a huge boost against a Brisbane side who sorely missed their lead marksmen last weekend. The Roar will be annoyed they couldn’t nail even one goal against a hugely inexperienced Phoenix backline, excluding skipper Andrew Durante the defensive unit had nine A-League appearances between them. John Aloisi will hope he can ride his luck for the next month with Jamie Maclaren and Brandon Borello away.

 

Big game for: Leigh Broxham. With Nick Ansell’s return coming during the draw against Central Coast it means Broxham will likely move into his more customary midfield role to allow Ansell to play next to Matthieu Delpierre in defence – the title-winning defensive combination the Victorians had in 2014/15..

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Thomas Broich responding to big goals from another key import. The German stuck the woodwork in will want to be slightly more accurate here. With Melbourne also having Archie Thompson scoring Brisbane will want to take their chances here.

 

Adelaide United v Central Coast, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

Anthony who? They may not have won but the Mariners scoring three goals in 35 minutes of action is good news for the franchise were endured a torrid 2015 with the axing of a coach and only two wins in the A-League for this season – the second of those coming on New Year’s Eve. With some positive attack it was the set piece defending which let them down when Berisha scored. At times when they were up 3-0 and then 3-1 the Mariners lost their positivity and the substitutions Melbourne were able to make (see Thompson, Archie) were decisive. If the same eleven run out for the Mariners this weekend that will be a win in itself given the drama the club has endured this season. Adelaide saw off Perth and will look to kick clear in sixth spot here but their result is hard to gauge completely as it was 1-1 when Alex Grant was sent off for Perth so maybe the away win wasn’t that impressive for Guillermo Amor’s men. They will also be missing defender Jordan Elsey due to suspension.

 

Big game for: Continued variety. Marceola Carrusca, Sergio Cirio, Craig Goodwin and Michael Marrone. These are all the Adelaide players to score in the last three games for the Reds. Socceroo Bruce Djite is not amongst that quartet but in the last three games Adelaide have netted six goals and picked up seven points. Maybe it’s not all bad Djite isn’t banging them in consistently yet.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Who gets a start from the Mariners 2016 recruits? All three (Francisco Stella, Alastair Bray and Trent Buhargiar) came straight onto the bench so could come into calculations for a start in the coming weeks. Tom Heward-Belle, 18, has played well in goal but has conceded four goals in the two full games he has started. New back-up Bray is four years his senior and has played in the FFA Cup for Bentleigh Greens.

 

Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC, Saturday – Pirtek Stadium

Feeling wronged the Wanderers return home to Parramatta, the scene of New Year’s Day controversy, to host the Sydney Derby against Sydney who beat Newcastle last weekend at ANZ Stadium*. Graham Arnold’s side haven’t beaten a now top six team since they defeated the Wanderers 1-0 in round three when Milos Ninkovic netted two minutes from time. The Serbian is in good scoring form but the Wanderers have scoring threats all over the park and virtually a full team to pick from with Sydney still missing the influence of Olyroo Brandon O’Neill.

 

Big game for: Wanderers, with two more wins then Sydney this season and playing at home the Wanderers should win. If this was say Western Sydney v (insert random team) with the same record they’d be expected to get home here.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Sydney’s right and the Wanderers left wing battles. Seb Ryall was able to bomb forward relatively easily last weekend, although he was caught out ocassionally. The former Victory defender may need to be more circumspect with Scott Jamieson matching up against him in pretty good form.

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Perth Glory v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Saturday – nib Stadium

Andy Keogh failed to score on his return to Glory colours but gets another chance at home this weekend and the Irishman will be looking to repay the faith shown in him by the club. Perth squandered a few chances and with Michael Thwaite in doubt after missing the Adelaide game with a knee injury plus Alex Grant out after his red card last weekend it will mean constitute a reshuffle by Kenny Lowe. Further changes could be occurring as well if moves abroad for Thwaite, Anthony Golec and Josh Risdon materialise. If the second Victorian franchise after true title contenders they should win easily but football is never that easy. Harry Novillo started the season slowly and continues to improve, which kind of makes up for the missing marquee Robert Koren, and the Frenchman’s combination with Bruno Fornaroli continues to blossom.

 

Big game for: Fornaroli has been the talk of the A-League with labels of ‘best ever import’ now that the has topped the goal-scoring charts but he is still yet to win a title. Keogh at least has a, somewhat tainted, FFA Cup final appearance. Both are yet to win anything as such but Keogh’s form will improve in coming weeks. Big game for the both of them.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: John van’t Schip’s tactics. After tweaking his formation against the Wanderers will the Dutchman return to his normal set-up?

 

Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix, Sunday – Hunter Stadium

Wellington play the first of two games in a month or so in Newcastle on Sunday afternoon following a staunch defensive effort at home to hold out ladder-leaders Brisbane 0-0. Wellington get key midfielders Alex Rodriguez and Roly Bonevacia back. Previously I’ve been critical of Scott Miller in holding back his substitutes but the former Fulham staff member wasn’t afraid to make early changes when he inserted Mitch Cooper at the expense of Ryan Kitto at the break on Saturday in a game the Jets lost 2-0 to Sydney. Cooper won’t likely get a run here if Leonardo is free but the former Gold Coast midfielder has shown improvement in a career which has stuttered since Clive Palmer’s franchise was dumped from the A-League.

 

Big game for: Off-contract duo Ben Kantarovski and Cameron Watson. With the recruitment of Steven Ugarkovic Katarovski and Watson could be playing for a new deal. With fellow midfielder Ugarkovic away with the Olyroos the pair have a few more weeks to confirm their worth before they face further competition for spots. Watson, who was on the bench against Sydney, would be particularly worried.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Somewhat #captainobvious but the return of Bonevacia. Kicked off the park in Gosford and a late yellow card when the Dutchman finally got one back on his opponents meant the marquee man missed last weekend. His return is huge for the visitor’s.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

At 50/50 for the season but still in profit. After going againast Wellington last weekend, and getting burned, we renew our faith in the Phoenix at $2.60 to see off Newcastle into a “Three points and a new licence please” banner from the travelling Yellow Fever fans. (I might scrawl it in crayon on a bit of A3 cardboard if needed.)

 

Record: 7/14

 

Profit: $11.95 units (ten units per investment)

 

*NB: Last week we referenced the odd call to take Sydney’s home game to ANZ Stadium last weekend. Speaking on the Daily Football Show podcast on Tuesday Sydney FC CEO Tony Pignata noted it was the highest ticketed match outside of the Sydney Derby already played this season so it turned out to be a good call. Maybe more games at the Sydney Olympic Park venue on a consistent basis is a good idea? Victory? Derbies? Triple-headers? (eg. W-League and A-League Sydney v Newcastle plus Mariners v Phoenix) Time will tell. In the meantime well done Sydney on the move last weekend.
Images via outside90.com and theherald.com.au

Come Fly With Me. Saving the Nix in 2016

@hamishneal

C’mon

I wanna fly

Makes everything alright

Way up in the sky (Yea, yea)

Got to feel alive (hey)

Show me the place I wanna see

I’m gonna make my dreams reality

Oh take some time I don’t care what they say

Go reach for the start and take it on way

Jon Stevens – Fly

 

2016 hasn’t started as the year of the Phoenix on the field, with Ernie Merrick’s side only managing a draw on Sunday against Brisbane (albeit a gallant result given the players that were missing) and that came after a 3-1 New Year’s Eve defeat in Gosford. Off the pitch, the club’s future still remains up in the air, however a resolution should be known within weeks according to David Dome, CEO of the Wellington A-League club.

During an extensive chat on Radio Sport on Friday, Dome outlined the status of the licence negotiation, including some bizarre queries from Football Federation Australia, and outlined that he expects the saga to come to conclusion (one way or another) very soon.

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For those new to the topic, the Wellington Phoenix were not offered a ten-year licence in late 2015 and their current licence expires at the end of the 2015/16 season. The four-year deal the Welnix (Phoenix ownership group) were offered late last year in response goes against developing a sustainable, long-term business, and is not the same as all other A-League sides who are operating on 20-year licences. Since late October, Welnix have been locked in negotiations with the FFA but news of any rapprochement has been thin in the ground over the holiday season. Dome’s comments bought some clarity to the scenario but also offered up some bizarre negotiation tactics.

“It’s quite a complex negotiation,” stated Dome of the process, which is been led by Welnix chair Rob Morrison. “We are a long way further down the track then we were in December,” Dome noted of the two-month plus old saga.

As the FFA continue to list more demands, one of the more odd ones in the latest negotiation noted by Dome was a request for Welnix to put on charter flights for all Phoenix away games.

“Exorbitant, we can’t afford that sort of thing” was Dome’s response to the thought bubble, and it’s worth remembering that’s the idea he mentioned in the interview. What other half-baked ideas were suggested which Dome didn’t outline in his near hour-long segment?

It would be fiscally irresponsible for any A-League club, not just the Phoenix, to do that. Even if the concept didn’t run at a financial loss (which it almost certainly would), the process would take staff time away from core business operations and other more beneficial activities. In terms of return on investment, it would be low and fans who are keen enough to head to Australia already are more than capable of arranging holidays and other activities around away games as they see fit.

By way of comparison, North Queensland Cowboys fans paid AU$1,045 for seats on a chartered flight to the NRL Grand Final last year. Similar packages for their opponent’s, the Brisbane Broncos, cost between $800 and $1,200 depending upon what level of seat on the flight fans wanted. The margins on these were reduced to get fans to the games and for the purposes of goodwill. One would assume Welnix would have to do similar with this idea to get any traction on this concept. Given no professional side does this on a regular basis, it’s hard to fathom how A-League officials thought this was a sensible idea. Having worked in the NRL and knowing the New Zealand Warriors have only undertaken such initiatives during finals games during his tenure there, it is strange FFA CEO David Gallop would think this would work during a regular season of the A-League.

As a negotiating tactic, this sort of offer to bargain back to the position you actually want is common practice but this idea doesn’t seem sensible, it seems like a time-wasting tactic.

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Hearing concepts like the above continue to be a punch in the face to fans who only weeks earlier had been slugged $35 for a ticket in the away section and made to pay around $8 if they wanted to purchase warm beer sitting in an away section facing directly into the sun for much of the game.

As an exercise in customer service, hearing about charter flight comments only weeks after a very reputable possible expansion franchise in Canberra is dismissed only just after they hosted a Socceroos game continues to make one think what will the ‘kick the fans theme’ be next week. It’s worth noting the total population of Leicester means it wouldn’t be an A-League franchise. But expansion is not the core of this piece. If it’s not bans following due process what next?

Chartered flights aside, a key sticking point is the contribution the FFA sees itself as making to New Zealand Football (the NZ governing body), via their support of the Phoenix and the grant of AU$2.5 million each A-League gets from the Fox Sports broadcast deal.

“There is certainly tension between those two organisations,” Dome confirmed. “The FFA want more out of New Zealand Football… they want NZF to make a greater contribution to the Phoenix… and to the A-League.”

As I have pointed out previously, the Phoenix operate at a competitive disadvantage – can’t win the Asian Champions League, can’t stage FFA Cup home games etc – which offsets any perceived subsidy the FFA sees it is paying to grow the game in New Zealand. But supporting the game in other countries only runs as FFA policy when a World Cup is on the line as we have recalled previously. That this line continues to be peddled months down the track doesn’t paint A-League authorities in a good light.

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Dome conceded “without that (grant) money there would be no Phoenix.” However, that is also the case for other clubs including, for example, Central Coast Mariners, whose owner Mike Charlesworth admitted on the Yellow Army podcast early this month that the Mariners use approximately 90 per cent of the grant (the whole sum is meant to pay 100 per cent of the salary cap) with the other 10 per cent used to cover operational costs. Of the other nine A-League clubs, it’s worth remembering Newcastle, Adelaide, Brisbane, and the Mariners had superannuation issues recently. On time payment/superannuation issues were an issue with the previous Phoenix ownership under Terry Serepisos, but it’s not now. Paying players on time are the sort of financial issues which should be a higher priority for the A-League.

Stable franchises are barely in the majority in the A-League as the above point illustrates, and other clubs realise this in their support of the Phoenix. Dome reiterated that the Phoenix have ongoing support from the chairs and owners of the nine other A-League franchises. Speaking about the support from other clubs when the licence saga escalated, Dome commented “there is rarely disagreements between clubs” and that the Phoenix are “extremely well valued” by the clubs but not perhaps the FFA.

Among the other points Dome noted in the chat included that the Phoenix, without promoting from the FFA, said they would “absolutely love to have a women’s team in Australia.” Again, this is something not all A-League clubs do.

Dome’s specific comments about a resolution were hopeful with the Nix representative stating “all things been equal hopefully it will get done very soon” and “it’s not months away.” However, the final negation points whilst not been insurmountable are “not inconsequential.”

Whilst Dome’s remarks give some confidence to Phoenix fans, they don’t exactly represent an endorsement to go out a buy a ‘Nix shirt for your niece whose birthday is in June.

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A fair-minded person interpreting the charter flights idea would seem to indicate those with the decision-making power over the A-League are content to strangle the Welnix with financial demands they know the organisational can’t viably met. That doesn’t exude confidence that priorities are what they should be.

One thing is for sure – if the Nix are turfed out, I’ll be on a flight, charted or otherwise, for their final game, wherever that may be.

I wanna fly

Come on and fly

Makes everything alright

Way up in the sky (Yea, yea)

Got to feel alive (hey)

I wanna fly!

Images via stuff.co.nz and outside90.com

A-League 1,000: The Olyroos Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 14 of the A-League which starts in Geelong and finishes in Wellington but will be missing a host of Olyroo representatives.

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Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Victory, Friday- Central Coast Stadium 

After a controversial win, the Mariners will look to continue their resurgence but they will do so without Roy O’Donovan after the head-butt enthusiast got an eight-game ban for his ‘lean in’ on Manny Muscat after the Wellington defender flung a forearm at him and is now missing two weeks himself. With Anthony Caceres and Nick Fitzgerald looking to have played their last games for the Mariners, how the team continue to improve with new combinations will be key to how Tony Walmsley’s side go in Victoria. Jake McGing performed well in his defensive midfield role last Thursday, and he will be key in stopping any Victory raids. Melbourne are also facing plenty of team changes with five players called up for the Olyroos Rio 2016 Qualifying tournament, two of which (Jason Geria and Thomas Deng) started in the 1-0 triumph over Newcastle last weekend, but Gui Finkler is expected to return. Kevin Muscat must get more out of his wingers who have been disappointing in recent weeks.

 

Big game for: The Mariners key wingers. Fabio Ferreira and Mitch Austin caused problems for Wellington last time out, and the influence they have or otherwise against the Victory will go along way to seeing if they can go two from two.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing what happens in the coming weeks with Cacerers and Fitzgerald. The higher profile duo of the Mariners quintet banished to train on their own last week would be handy pick-ups for other sides but maybe not immediate starters. The ostracisation of Anthony Kalik is a worry for a player who was much heralded when signed as a 15 year-old to a three-year deal in August of 2013.

 

Sydney FC v Newcastle, Saturday – ANZ Stadium

Newcastle take their goalless run to Sydney Olympic Park after seeing Melbourne edge them at Hunter Stadium, when Fahid Ben Khalfallah netted with 19 minutes to go. Scott Miller has cash to spend in the transfer window and has an import spot free now, but who he can attract to side on a winless run like the Jets are is problematic. Sydney should probably have been ahead by a few and not down 1-0 at the break against Melbourne City after spurning a host of chances. However, Graham Arnold will be annoyed they didn’t get all three points after Shane Smeltz missed late on. As we noted last week, the Kiwi international needs goals if he wants more game time soon and he has the perfect chance over the coming weeks with Alex Brosque to miss more time. One player set to come back into the Sydney team is Ali Abbas. The Iraqi international will likely replace Alex Gersbach who, along-with Andrew Hoole and Brandon O’Neill, will be in Qatar with the Olyroos.

 

Big game for: David Carney. The former Sydney player is back for the Jets and his ability to conjure something from an innocuous-looking run will be useful for the visitor’s here especially if Leonardo does return as planned.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A decent crowd. In an odd decision, this game (along with a prior W-League fixture) is at ANZ Stadium for no real reason. In recent years, teams like the Wanderers have foregone the chance to use the venue for the continent’s biggest club game, but this oddly-placed round 14 game is hardly a marquee fixture. Will these two teams meet at Magic Park next time?

 

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – AAMI Park

Playmaker Aaron Mooy was a surprise absence against Sydney FC for John van’t Schip’s side, who also missed fellow Socceroos Ivan Franjic as well as Erik Paartalu, but they snuck away with a point in a game that whilst they did lead in, probably didn’t deserve to win. The Wanderer’s were held scoreless for the first time since round three in one of those games that falls into the ‘how did that finish 0-0?’ category, after a rollocking affair on Friday night against Adelaide. This time last year, the Wanderers were starting to work through their fixture pile-up but in a complete reversal of fortunes they don’t even have players featuring for the Olyroos, so are one of the few clubs this weekend at full strength. Melbourne on the other hand will be missing one of their most improved players in Stefan Mauk who is away with the Olyroos.

 

Big game for: Andrew Redmayne. The former Melbourne Heart ‘keeper has been arguably the most improved A-League player this season. His commitment to stop Bruce Djite early in the game against Adelaide displayed a level of confidence we rarely saw from him at his three previous A-League clubs. He may need to pull off something similar here to help the visitor’s get some points here.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Returning from injury. In a surprise move, Michael Zullo was injected into the game against Sydney, while van’t Schip made early tactical changes which saw A-League rookie Ali Eyigun replaced by the Socceroo. One would expect Zullo to probably start this weekend.

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Perth Glory v Adelaide United, Saturday – nib Stadium

Adelaide travel west after the exciting draw in Sydney against the Wanderers and have plenty of time to rest any niggles. The Reds could feel hard done by after missing out on a penalty shout last weekend in Parramatta, but they weren’t the only A-League side to have the call go the wrong way in the 18 yard-box in a rough round for the officials. Kenny Lowe’s side looked better at times, but still lack the ability to put together a strong 90 minutes, and Michael Thwaite has had to do a lot of work stopping opposition sides running through the middle. That said, Perth did have ten shots on target last weekend so it wasn’t all bad, and that was with only 30 per cent possession. Given striker Andy Keogh is set for his second coming in Perth this weekend after Guyon Fernandez got the chop if the Glory get ten chances in this game the Irishman might score two or three.

 

Big game for: Hagi Gligor. The goal-scorer who came on for a tired Thwaite showed a bit of spark and combined well with Diego Castro for his goal. Maybe he gets more than 20 minutes in the coming weeks.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how Perth respond down the flanks. Josh Risdon and Marc Warren didn’t make many forays forward last weekend in their 2-1 loss to Brisbane, and as a result their forwards were very compressed in attack limiting their chances.

 

 

Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – Westpac Stadium

Back at home, but without marquee playmaker Roly Bonevacia amongst others, the Phoenix are in desperate need of a win. After another multiple-goal loss, the defence needs to be shorn up for the locals, but the return of Albert Reira should help them going foward. However, Ernie Merrick is still missing Ben Sigmund and now has Muscat suspended. Wellington’s absences are somewhat offset by Brisbane missing Brandon Borello, James Donachie, and Jamie Maclaren on Olyroo duty, but their ‘was an import now an Aussie’ Henrique provides great impact and key Roar players like Thomas Broich and Corona are available, which could prove the difference here. Wellington will be fielding a very inexperienced line-up which isn’t idea given their recent form.

 

Big game for: Anyone else except Roy Krishna up front. With the Fijian injured twice in recent weeks, first a finger then an ankle, the Phoenix will need the likes of Blake Powell and other fringe players to step up and fill the scoring void.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how long Henrique can play. The slippery fish struggles to go 90 minutes, but will John Aloisi start him here due to the lack of attackers and see how long the 30 year-old goes, or does he elevate Jean Carlos Solorzano in place of Borello and/or Maclaren?

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

After going with Wellington we are going against them here. Brisbane cop the home side at a good time given their injuries and suspension. Even allowing for Brisbane’s missing Olyroos reps the $2.05 is appealing into a ‘Why does it always rain on me?’ banner at ANZ Stadium.

 

Record: 7/13

 

Profit: 21.95 units (ten units per investment

Images via theherald.com.au and smh.com.au