After another painfully long offseason, the Hyundai A-League returns on October 5th with new players, new managers and, of course, a new club.
Last season’s Grand Final winners Brisbane Roar will again be the team to beat but they’ve had a major change at the top with Rado Vidosic replacing Ange Postecoglou at the helm. Postecoglou has headed south to try turn around the fortunes of Melbourne Victory.
It was very much a case of “out with the Gold, in with the new” as Gold Coast United were wound up and replaced by the Western Sydney Wanderers, who will now rival Sydney FC for support in the New South Wales capital. Sydney FC have looked after themselves quite well though with the acquisition of a certain Alessandro Del Piero to ensure that bums will be firmly on seats at the Sydney Football Stadium this season.
Not to be outdone, the Newcastle Jets have added their own internationally experienced striker in the form of ex-Aston Villa and Liverpool man Emile Heskey, while the A-League’s latest club, Western Sydney, has picked up Japanese international Shinji Ono as their inaugural marquee.
Perth Glory, who surprised many by making the Grand Final in 2012, and Wellington Phoenix will be strong contenders to play finals football, while the perennial bridesmaids from the Central Coast Mariners will be looking to finally end their big game hoodoo.
It’s shaping up to be another exciting season!
To say that 2011/12 was a disaster for Adelaide United would be an understatement as the club finished second from bottom, winning just five games. Coach John Kosmina faces a big battle to turn their fortunes around but, given their offseason activity, Adelaide supporters have just cause to be concerned as well.
A cloud hangs over the future of striker Sergio van Dijk with rumours linking him with a move to Indonesia, and if he goes it see the loss of a player who has scored 25 times for the club in the last two seasons. If van Dijk does move on then more pressure will fall on the shoulders of Bruce Djite to find the net, with new signings Marcelo Carrusca and Fábio Ferreira supplying the ammunition.
Goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic will again be required to have a big year, while more is expected of Socceroos international and playmaker Dario Vidosic who blew hot and cold after joining a year ago.
Key player: Dario Vidosic
Last season: 9th
The back to back A-League champions are unsurprisingly the team to beat this year, and have added some exciting players to their already excellent squad. Youngster Ben Halloran, who excelled with Gold Coast United, and South Korean Do Dong-Hyun will offer some options in an attack which already includes the prolific Besart Berisha, playmaker Thomas Broich and Brazilian Henrique.
The spine of the team is still strong with Matt Smith and Erik Paartalu key figures, but it remains to be seen how new boss Rado Vidosic goes about filling the very big shoes vacated by Ange Postecoglou.
In one of the most unusual moves of the offseason, goalkeeper Michael Theoklitos has changed his surname to ‘Theo’ by deed poll, saying:
Around the football traps, I’ve always been known as Michael Theo so I just thought, why not make it official?
Key player: Thomas Broich
Last season: 2nd, Grand Final winner
Central Coast Mariners
Central Coast topped the table at the end of the 2011/12 regualr season but fell to Glory in the finals series. Since then they have lost captain Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, K-League) and Mustafa Amini (returned to Borussia Dortmund) to go with mid-season departures Matt Simon and Rostyn Griffiths.
Thankfully they have managed to retain goalkeeper Mat Ryan who spent time on trial at both West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur in August. Scot Nick Montgomery has joined the club on a three year deal from Sheffield United, Mile Sterjovski brings European and international experience to the forward line, and centre half Zach Anderson comes in from Gold Coast United.
After so many disappointments, including three Grand Final defeats in seven seasons, the Mariners will be aiming to finally claim the competition’s top prize.
Key player: Mat Ryan
Last season : 1st
John Aloisi, he of the famous penalty that sealed Australia’s spot at the 2006 World Cup, has taken over as head coach and will be looking to improve on the club’s 6th place finish last time out. However, youngsters Eli Babalj (Red Star Belgrade) and Curtis Good (Newcastle United) will be difficult to replace.
Former Hull City and West Ham United man Richard Garcia is a solid signing though and brings plenty of experience, as does Dylan Mcallister who joins from Gold Coast United, but overall the squad is weaker this time around.
The most important player for Heart is still Mate Dugandzic who has the ability to win any game. Still only 22, the former Victory man netted seven times in 23 appearances last season and could easily hit double figures this time out.
Key player: Mate Dugandzic
Last season: 6th
It’s been another offseason of rebuilding for Melbourne Victory who are looking to turn themselves around after a miserable 2011/12 season firstly and then Jim Magilton. With the man who built Brisbane Roar’s dynasty, Ange Postecoglou at the helm, they will improve their league position by at least a few spots.
The signing of playmaker Marcos Flores offsets the loss of Carlos Hernandez, while Harry Kewell has also departed after an up and down year with the club. Veteran Archie Thompson will again lead the line, while Adama Traore is an exciting addition at left back from Gold Coast United, and Mauritius international Jonathan Bru has been added to the midfield options.
One area of concern is in goal, with Player of the Year Ante Covic joining Western Sydney, leaving the every dodgy Tando Velaphi and the inexperienced Lawrence Thomas to battle for a spot between the posts.
Key player: Marcos Flores
Last season: 8th
The Newcastle Jets have had a very busy offseason in terms of player turnover but overall come out of it a lot better off. The signing of Emile Heskey provides a battering ram with plenty of experience to compliment a crop of exciting youngsters which includes James Brown, Adam Taggart and Marko Jesic.
Scott Neville and Josh Mitchell, who like Taggart headed east from Perth Glory, will join Swiss under 20 international Dominik Ritter in a new look defence, while Brazilian attacking midfielder Bernardo Ribeiro has also signed on.
The club also moved to improve its goalkeeping stocks by bringing in 21 year old Mark Birighitti from Adelaide United to challenge Ben Kennedy for the number one shirt.
Key player: Emile Heskey
Last season: 7th
Perth Glory got most of its business done early following the heartbreaking Grand Final defeat to Brisbane Roar in April. Midfielder Nick Ward, who began his professional career at the club, has come back to Western Australia for a second spell after time in England as well as Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix.
Winger Adrian Zahra, now fully recovered from a horrendous Kevin Muscat tackle in 2010, Australian international Michael Thwaite, and full back Scott Jamieson have also joined.
With Danny Vukovic, Bas van den Brink, Jacob Burns, Liam Miller and Shane Smeltz already in place in key positions, Glory supporters will be hoping their side can go one better this time round.
Key player: Shane Smeltz
Last season: 3rd, losing Grand Finalist
Del Piero fever has been the talk of the country for a month now with the former Juventus star signing on for two seasons. Season ticket and shirt sales have gone through the roof on the back of the acquisition but performances on the pitch will need to be of a good standard to please an often impatient support.
New boss Ian Crook can call on the experience of Brett Emerton, as well as solid individuals such as defenders Pascal Bosschaart and Adam Griffiths to compliment exciting youngsters Terry Antonis, Dimitri Pertratos and on loan Panama international Yairo Yau.
The squad does lack depth and there is a worry about a lack of goals up front, but Del Piero’s creativity and overall influence should be enough to see them claim a finals spot once again.
Key player: Alessandro Del Piero
Last season: 5th
The Nix surprised a lot of people last year with their run to the finals, however Ricki Herbert has built a solid side and their defence deoesn’t give up many goals. Skipper Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund will again be at the heart of things back there, ably assisted by Manny Muscat and Tony Lochhead.
One of the best off season sigings is Jeremy Brockie who had a great year with the Jets last season and knows where the goal is. The Kiwi international should slot in nicely alongside Paul Ifill in an attack that will cause any side problems.
It wasn’t all good news however, and the loss of Chris Greenacre (retired to take up a coaching role at the club) and Tim Brown (retired to further his education) will hurt. Another finals spot will do very nicely, and they should get it on the back of their home results in particular.
Last season: 4th
Western Sydney Wanderers
Following the demise in recent seasons of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, the Foootball Federation of Australia (FFA) simply has to get things right with Western Sydney. They’ve certainly given it their all from the outtsetting, bankrolling the club and allowing them to bring in players such as marquee signing Shinji Ono and Michael Beauchamp who has 22 caps for the Socceroos.
Former Crystal Palace defender Tony Popovic has been given the club’s first head coaching role and will be looking to a blend of youth and experience to try establish Western Sydney in the A-League. Last season’s Melbourne Victory Player of the Year Ante Covic will be very capable between the sticks, while Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Shannon Cole, Tarek Elrich and Mark Bridge are all seasoned campaigners.
Overall though this season will be very much a learning curve for Wanderers and avoiding the wooden spoon will be an achievement.
Key player: Shinji Ono
Last season: N/A
How it all works
The eighth season of the Hyundai A-League sees the competition move to a new, more simple finals format. The top six sides from the regular, 33 game season will still progress but the finals will now be played over three weeks instead of four.
The format is as follows:
Week 1 – Elimination Finals
Elimination Final 1 – 3rd v 6th
Elimination Final 2 – 4th v 5
Week 2 – Semi Finals
1st v winner of EF 1
2nd v winner of EF 2
Week 3 – Grand Final
Winner SF 1 v Winner SF 2