With North Queensland Fury now gone from the A-League, and still no Western Sydney side in sight, the reduced number of clubs will find themselves playing late into the spring with the finals not due to start until April. This move, primarily to delay the campaign until after the other big football codes have played out their finals, has created a slightly disjointed feel to the season’s kick-off. However, the A-League will be stronger for this move, and the product, it is hoped, will be much more visible.
All of this should be a recipe for a resurgence in attendances. It remains to be seen whether star power can overcome the slick machine of Brisbane Roar who destroyed all-comers last time out with a passing team game that saw them win everything on offer, setting records as they did so.
Inside Futbol preview the 2011/12 A-League season:
It has never really quite clicked for Adelaide United since their impressive finish of second in 2009. That said, the side were hot on the heels of Brisbane Roar and the Central Coast Mariners last time out, finishing strongly. That was, however, many months ago now, and there is little sign of dramatic strengthening, not least up front where the proven goalscorer Sergio van Dijk currently has just Bruce Djite for out-and-out striking company. Coach Rini Coolen will be hoping his midfield can chip in with the goals to keep his team in the hunt for a finals berth.
Adelaide are certainly solid, with Eugene Galekovic likely to be masterful once again in goal and the giant Antony Golec brought in to bolster the back line, but there seems to be a lack of spark in a versatile and industrious midfield. Perhaps Socceroo Dario Vidosic and Zenon Caravella are the answer to filling the void left by Marcos Flores’ departure. Adelaide remain one injury away from a laboured season however.
Key arrivals: Dario Vidosic (Nurnberg), Bruce Djite (Gold Coast United), Jon McKain (Al-Nasr)
Key departures: Marcos Flores (Henan Jianye), Travis Dodd (Perth Glory), Lucas Pantelis (Wellington Phoenix), Matthew Leckie (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Losing the star who turned the Grand Final around – Matt McKay – is never easy, but coach Ange Postecoglou will know that last year’s success was never about one player. Even with a series of departures he should feel confident that his personnel will be challenging at trophy time, assuming he succeeds in getting them playing their sharp, attacking game once more. But, of course, there are a whole host of teams who will be keen to replicate, or better, Brisbane’s performances.
Signings Kofi Danning and Issey Nakajima-Farran should bring some thrust to the attack, the latter a Canadian international signed from the Danish Superliga. However, Postecoglou has not found a like-for-like replacement for McKay, in the sense of a midfield general whom the whole team can rally around. But no doubt the coach had just that in mind when he handed the captain’s armband to Englishman Matt Smith.
Key arrivals: Kofi Danning (Sydney FC), Besart Berisha (Arminia Bielefeld), Issey Nakajima-Farran (AC Horsens)
Key departures: Matt McKay (Rangers), Luke DeVere (Gyeongnam FC), Jean-Carlos Solorzano (Melbourne Victory), Kosta Barbarouses (Alania Vladikavkaz)
Central Coast Mariners
Having taken the Mariners to touching distance of a Grand Final victory last season, coach Graham Arnold will no doubt have taken stock this time out to identify what small margins saw the side lose out in the final. It is a bit more than just losing to the better team, the Mariners had a hand on the trophy and were undone. The suspicion, clearly, was a lack of maturity through the team. Fast forward six months and Central Coast have completed their pre-season without a defeat and look to have strengthened well.
Wily Patricio Perez may have left, but Stuart Musialik and Adriano Pellegrino are good signings that should help to provide a solid base of control around which the midfield can operate. This is a team that genuinely looks capable of pushing for the title, and with Mustafa Amini continuing in midfield, having being loaned back to the club from Borussia Dortmund, the starting eleven is clearly improved. But of course, the only improvement to make on a second place finish is first.
Key arrivals: Adriano Pellegrino (Perth Glory), Stuart Musialik (Sydney FC), Justin Pasfield (North Queensland Fury), Michael Baird (Perth Glory)
Key departures: Patricio Perez (Club Atletico All Boys)
Gold Coast United
The aura of a club in crisis looks to be growing on the Gold Coast. The side can ignore, for now, the ongoing crowd issues which reached embarrassing proportions last time out – that is a job for the marketing men to rectify. On the pitch is where the lack of numbers is looking most worrying however. Losing Jason Culina, Bruce Djite, Steve Pantelidis and Shane Smeltz in one window looks almost careless.
Two signings from Holland could pay dividends, and Gold Coast still look hard to beat with their first eleven on the pitch, but this will almost certainly be a season of transition for the competition’s second ranked Queensland team as youngsters look to make an impact. Indeed, during the transition the side could struggle. The Youth League champions for two years running, this is the perfect opportunity for Gold Coast’s starlets to step up and not least to try and get in among the goals. Good signs for the future could be the best that can be hoped for.
Key arrivals: Maceo Rigters (Willem II), Peter Jungschlager (De Graafschap)
Key departures: Jason Culina (Newcastle Jets), Bruce Djite, Zenon Caravella (both Adelaide United), Shane Smeltz (Perth Glory), Steve Pantelidis (Bintang Medan)
The biggest losses for Melbourne Heart come in the form of retirements as the team enter their second season, having established themselves last time out with an uninspiring, but respectable, eighth place finish. Ignoring grumbles about age, the loss of veterans like John Aloisi and Josip Skoko is bound to deplete coach John van’t Schip’s options. And, with an exciting rivalry with Melbourne Victory to keep alive, Heart will be hoping that luring Brazilian forward Fred back to the A-League will pay immediate dividends.
David Williams looks a fine signing as a wide front man and if young Brazilian Maycun can strike up a good partnership with countryman Fred, the team should have more quality, and more unpredictability, than last time out. There is no reason Melbourne Heart cannot make a good push for a finals berth with a bit of luck, but beyond that it is likely to be the derbies that will once again define the season for this emerging team.
Key arrivals: Fred (DC United), David Williams (North Queensland Fury)
Key departures: Josip Skoko (retired), Gerald Sibon (Heerenveen), John Aloisi (retired)
Melbourne Victory appear in prime position to put a dud year behind them and to reclaim their crown as the A-League’s premier footballing superpower. With a first eleven that other teams can only dream of and the biggest draw in the country in Harry Kewell, the only question mark is how coach Mehmet Durakovic will fare in his first season holding the reins. The search for a manager to replace Ernie Merrick dominated news around the club for so long that there was something ludicrous about choosing the caretaker manager. Perhaps this is a case of realising that there is no place like home.
Kewell’s signing will bring the crowds in, the crowds will cheer the team on, and the team, containing the former Liverpool star, Archie Thompson, Jean-Carlos Solorzano and Carlos Hernandez should be unstoppable. Of course, things are never that easy, but Victory will not struggle. There is quality throughout the team – anything less than a Grand Final finish will be a disappointment -, but the first post-Kevin Muscat season will not necessarily be plain sailing.
Key arrivals: Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Jean-Carlos Solorzano (Brisbane Roar), Tando Velaphi (Perth Glory), Marco Rojas (Wellington Phoenix)
Key departures: Robbie Kruse (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Kevin Muscat (retired), Marvin Angulo (CS Herediano)
After a season when the finances looked shaky until the community got behind them, Newcastle Jets will be looking to move forwards incrementally. This looked to be quite easy as coach Branko Culina managed to lure his son, Socceroo star Jason, to come control the midfield for him. The former PSV Eindhoven man is a player a team can be built around, but the midfielder suffered a terrible injury blow recently which means he could miss large chunks – if not the entirety – of the season. More emphasis therefore will fall upon starlet Ben Kantarovski.
The Jets seem to have improved across the pitch and will be hoping that Chris Payne can start delivering on his promise and that Tiago Calvano can find his feet having seen his career start to drift away in Germany. He and Byun Sund-Hwan, who was signed from Sydney, will bolster a defence that certainly shipped too many last time out. Newcastle can flatter to deceive; they need to be sharp at both ends if the Culina-Culina project will be judged a success.
Key arrivals: Jason Culina (Gold Coast United), Byun Sung-Hwan (Sydney FC), Tiago Calvano (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Key departures: Kaz Patafta (released), Sasho Petrovski (South Coast Wolves), Michael Bridges (retired)
This is a big season for Perth Glory. Having changed coach and lost their marquee player in Robbie Fowler it is up to new boss Ian Ferguson to show the club’s fans that it is worth coming back to the NIB Stadium. Certainly in Shane Smeltz, Ferguson has the striker the side need to get goals, but with such wholesale change it is almost inconceivable that Perth can pull a stunning title challenge out of the bag. Perhaps it would be better to just aim to be entertaining?
Liam Miller is a tidy signing, although a player who has been consistently on the decline since spells with Celtic and Manchester United. Eleven years after breaking into the Celtic first team, will Western Australia be the start of his resurgence? Hopefully the injury Miller suffered in his last run-out, a 2-2 draw with Sydney, is not too serious, but his team-mates have a vital role to play. A-League veterans like Chris Coyne, Evan Berger, Travis Dodd and Adam Hughes must surely better last year’s abysmal 10th place finish.
Key arrivals: Liam Miller (Hibernian), Shane Smeltz (Gold Coast United), Danny Vukovic (Wellington Phoenix), Travis Dodd (Adelaide United)
Key departures: Robbie Fowler (Muangthong United), Adriano Pellegrino (Central Coast Mariners), Tando Velaphi (Melborune Victory), Andy Todd (Oldham)
It is impossible to look at the signing of Brett Emerton in isolation. Melbourne Victory signed Kewell, and having been beaten to that signature Sydney went out and grabbed Emerton. Quite who got the better deal is hard to say. Assuming the pair both stay fit, Kewell has the pulling power, but Sydney, arguably, are the more improved side since midfield creativity and attacking thrust have looked absent, especially when Nick Carle has been sidelined. Emerton gives them new options.
The re-signing of Karel Kisel and Michael Beauchamp’s arrival make Sydney give an impression of a side on the up. A glance at Sydney’s departures hints though tempers optimism. Musialik was often pivotal for Sydney, Byun looked good attacking from deep, Stephan Keller was limited but reliable. A question mark hangs over whether it was the players or the tactics that were at fault last season. Coach Vitizeslav Lavicka will need to vindicate his beliefs with results this season to keep the fans, and the board, on side.
Key arrivals: Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Michael Beauchamp (Melbourne Heart)
Key departures: Stuart Musialik (Central Coast Mariners), Kofi Danning (Brisbane Roar), Byun Sung-Hwan (Newcastle Jets)
The Australian league’s anomaly team, Wellington sit across the Tasman Sea representing an entire nation in New Zealand. It is easy to feel the disconnect, but also to admire the side. Paul Ifill continues to look a quality performer and it would not be surprising to see the Phoenix reach the finals again for the third season running. In Dani Sanchez the New Zealanders have an exciting new signing who could make hearts flutter for all the right reasons and the new consortium that has taken ownership of the club are all about securing their long-term future.
Coach Ricki Herbert is highly rated, but his team still appears a little short of quality, certainly to reach the very top of the A-League standings. However, Wellington are a tough nut at home and only lost twice on their own pitch last season. Mid-table beckons, though whether that is upper or lower mid-table depends very much on how much Wellington’s rivals have improved.
Key arrivals: Tony Warner (Tranmere Rovers), Lucas Pantelis (Adelaide United), Dani Sanchez (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)
Key departures: Jade North (FC Tokyo), Marco Rojas (Melbourne Victory), Troy Hearfield (Central Coast Mariners)