Following the longest pre-season in world football, A-League version 10 is in readiness for kick off! Will Brisbane Roar manage to lift the Champions trophy aloft for the 4th time in 5 years? Can Arab money buy Melbourne City (formerly Melbourne Heart) their first title or will it be a case of third time lucky for Western Sydney following consecutive Grand Final defeats? I give you the lowdown on the transfer dealings of each side and take a stab at where they will finish come season’s end.
Last season: 6th
Manager: Josep Gombau
Preferred formation/s: 4-3-3, 3-4-3
IN – Jimmy Jeggo (From Melbourne Victory), Dylan McGowan (From Heart of Midlothian), Pablo Sanchez Alberto (From Lugo)
OUT – Jake Barker-Daish (Released), Daniel Bowles (Released), Jon McKain (Released), Jacob Melling (Signed with Melbourne City), Jeronimo Neumann (Released), Michael Zullo (Loan Expiry)
Team Summary: Spanish manager, Josep Gombau, said from day 1 of his tenure that it will take at least a season before he could fully integrate his Barcelona-esque style on his team. There were definite signs of the ‘tiki-taka’ in the Reds’ play last season but it was often slow and easy to combat. Josep hopes that by installing former Barcelona and Spain legend, Guillermo Amor, as technical director, it will bring their game to an entirely new level with quicker ball movement and intelligent running off the ball.
Conclusion: Gombau has made some astute signings in the off-season including fellow compatriot, Pablo Sanchez, who will add experience and guile to the front third. Jeggo and McGowan are young, promising Aussie prospects for whom will add a youthful vibrancy to what is an ageing side.
Predicted finish: 1st
Last Season: 1st & Grand Final Winners
Manager: Mike Mulvey
Preferred formation/s: 4-3-3
IN – Daniel Bowles (From Adelaide United), Mensur Kurtisi (From FK Shkendija), Adam Sarota (On loan from FC Utrecht), Jamie Young (From Hayes & Yeading United)
OUT – Besart Berisha (Signed with Melbourne Victory), Diogo Ferreira (Signed with Perth Glory), Ivan Franjic (Signed with Torpedo Moscow)
Team summary: It’s the end of an era for the 3-time A-League Champions as the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, Besart Berisha, has departed south to Melbourne Victory. Mike Mulvey has hinted that his side will be more fluid in attack this season with front players interchanging positions constantly to counter the loss of their main marksman. The departure of one of the league’s premier wing-backs, Ivan Franjic, is equally damaging as his forays forward and deliveries from the right were a feature of Brisbane’s title winning sides.
Conclusion: Mike Mulvey faces by far his toughest test since taking over from now Soccerroos gaffer, Ange Postecoglou, in February of 2013. One wonders whether new striker, Mensur Kurtisi, or perhaps Jean Carlos Solorzano can fill part of the massive void left by Besart Berisha. It would be a considerable feat if Mulvey was able to solve this conundrum and go back to back. I doubt it though.
Predicted finish: 5th
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
Last Season: 3rd
Manager: Phil Moss
Preferred formation/s: 4-2-3-1
IN – Malick Mane (On loan from IFK Goteborg), Matthew Nash (From Bonnyrigg White Eagles), Richard Vernes (On loan from Budapest Honved)
OUT – Marcos Flores (Signed with Newcastle Jets), Bernie Ibini (Loan Expiry), Adam Kwasnik (Retired), Michael McGlinchey (Released), Justin Pasfield (Released), Marcel Seip (Released), Mile Sterjovski (Retired)
Team summary: Phil Moss will do well to repeat his team’s performance of last season without some key performers who have now departed for pastures new. All Whites international, Michael McGlinchey, has decided to return to his homeland after his long, drawn out transfer to Wellington Phoenix finally cut through the red tape. Other notable departures include Ibini, Sterjovski and Flores – all attacking players.
Conclusion: Moss will hope that his off-season signings from Europe can hit the ground running. A lot of responsibility will fall on the broad shoulders of loanee, Malick Mane, who is likely to lead the line for the Mariners this season. Young Hungarian midfielder, Richard Vernes, is a like for like replacement for the departed Michael McGlinchey. The Mariners have proven in the past that you write them off at your own peril and perhaps they can sneak into the top 6. The big question mark lies as to whether they have the goals in them to make a run for the title.
Predicted finish: 8th
Last Season: 10th (last)
Manager: John Van’t Schip
Preferred formation/s: 4-3-3
IN – James Brown (From Newcastle Jets), Connor Chapman (From Newcastle Jets), Damien Duff (From Fulham FC), Robert Koren (From Hull City), Marc Marino (From Australian Institute of Sport), Jacob Melling (From Adelaide United), Aaron Mooy (From Western Sydney Wanderers), Erik Paartalu (From Muangthong United), Paulo Retre (From Melbourne City Youth), David Villa (Guest Stint/Loan from New York City FC)
OUT – Aziz Behich (Loan Expiry), Orlando Engelaar (Released), Patrick Gerhardt (Released), Harry Kewell (Retired), Sam Mitchinson (Released), David Vrankovic (Released), Jeremy Walker (Released)
Team summary: No club, perhaps in A-League history, has gone through such a large transformation in such a short space of time. Melbourne City, the old Melbourne Heart, has an opportunity to start anew following the influx of oil money from the Arab consortium that owns Premier League club, Manchester City. Everything from the squad depth down to the training methods and facilities have been improved so it will be interesting to see just how far John Van’t Schip can take last season’s cellar dwellers.
Conclusion: Unlike last term when Van’t Schip took over from John Aloisi midway through the season, the City gaffer has had a full pre-season to implement his style and methods. No shortage of quality has been brought into the squad with the acquisition of Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer, David Villa (on a 10-game guest stint), as well as former Premier League stars Damien Duff and Robert Koren, among others. On paper, no side in the A-League has a better attacking unit but the defence looks somewhat neglected. Irrespective of this, I expect Melbourne City’s firepower to propel them into the finals.
Predicted finish: 3rd
Last Season: 4th
Manager: Kevin Muscat
Preferred formation/s: 4-2-3-1
IN – Fahid Ben Khalfallah (From Troyes), Besart Berisha (From Brisbane Roar), Matthieu Delpierre (From FC Utrecht), Daniel Georgievski (From Steaua Bucharest), Carl Valeri (From Ternana)
OUT – Pablo Contreras (Retired), Jimmy Jeggo (Signed with Adelaide United), Tom Rogic (Loan Expiry), Francesco Stella (Released), Adama Traore (Released), James Troisi (Loan Expiry)
Team summary: In what is widely considered the most demanding managerial job in Australian football, Kevin Muscat will be under no illusions as to what is expected of him this season. After taking over the reins from Ange Postecoglou three games into the 13-14 season, he managed to guide his side to fourth despite their obvious failings in defence. This term, he will be expected to go all the way to the Grand Final. In the off-season, Muscat has gone a long way in addressing his squad’s defensive instabilities by drafting in experienced French centre-back, Matthieu Delpierre, as well as Macedonian left-back, Daniel Georgievski – the latter having played Europa League football with Romanian side Steaua Bucharest. Defensive midfielder and Socceroo, Carl Valeri, has also come to the club and he will partner the re-signed Mark Milligan just in front of the back 4. Last but not least, the most potent striker in the land, Besart Berisha, has arrived from Brisbane Roar and will provide a real sharp edge at the pointy end of the pitch.
Conclusion: Muscat’s relationship with Besart Berisha will go a long way in deciding Melbourne Victory’s fortunes this season as they are both combustible characters. Muscat’s man-management skills will be tested to the max in order to keep peace in the Victory camp. Just how will Delpierre and Georgievski fair in the A-League? Early signs in pre-season are not promising – looks like they will need some time to adjust. The latter has especially large boots to fill, deputizing for who was easily the most gifted full-back in the league, Adama Traore.
Predicted finish: 4th
Last Season: 7th
Manager: Phil Stubbins
Preferred formation/s: 4-2-3-1
IN – Josh Barresi (From Western Sydney Wanderers), Billy Celeski (Liaoning Whowin), Marcos Flores (From Central Coast Mariners), Sam Gallagher (From Hanoi T&T), Adrian Madaschi (From Jeju United), Edson Montano (From Barcelona Sporting Club), Jeronimo Neumann (From Adelaide United), Jonny Steele (From New York Red Bulls), Allan Welsh (From Croydon Kings (SA))
OUT – Michael Bridges (Retired), Josh Brillante (Signed with Fiorentina), James Brown (Released), Nathan Burns (Loan Expiry), Connor Chapman (Released), Joe Gibbs (Released), Emile Heskey (Released), Josh Mitchell (Released), Adam Taggart (Signed with Fulham FC), Nick Ward (Injury replacement expired), Ruben Zadkovich (Signed with Perth Glory)
Team summary: Former Adelaide United assistant, Phil Stubbins, has been entrusted with taking the club forward following a tumultuous campaign, on and off the field. Stubbins will hope he can last longer than his predecessor, Gary Van Egmond, who was shown the door after just 15 games into the 13-14 season. With owner and mining magnate Nathan Tinkler wanting to sell the club, a cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over the Newcastle Jets.
Conclusion: Phil Stubbins will do well to go at least one better than last season and make the finals, especially with the distractions in and around the club. In the transfer market, he has taken a gamble on a number of proven but injury-plagued stars – namely Billy Celeski, Marco Flores, Adrian Madaschi and Jeronimo Neumann. The importance of keeping the aforementioned fit and healthy cannot be overstated. Johnny Steele, from MLS club New York Red Bulls, is an interesting signing and will provide plenty of energy and drive down the left wing. I have a bad feeling about the Jets this season. I expect another disappointing campaign, on the pitch at least.
Predicted finish: 10th
Last Season: 8th
Manager: Kenny Lowe
Preferred formation/s: 4-4-2
IN – Dino Djulbic (From Al Wadha), Diogo Ferreira (From Brisbane Roar), Richard Garcia (From Minnesota United (NASL)), Youssouf Hersi (From Western Sydney Wanderers), Andy Keogh (From Millwall), Mitch Nichols (On loan from Cerezo Osaka), Jordan Thurtell (From Australian Institute of Sport), Danny Vukovic (From Vegalta Sendai), Ruben Zadkovich (From Newcastle Jets)
OUT – Jacob Burns (Retired), Travis Dodd (Released), Ryan Edwards (Loan Expiry), William Gallas (Released), Ndumba Makeche (Released), Steven McGarry (Released), Darvydas Sernas (Loan Expiry), Shane Smeltz (Signed with Sydney FC), Adrian Zahra (Released)
Team summary: After been given the managerial role on an interim basis following the sacking of Alistair Edwards, Kenny Lowe’s 4 wins from 17 was enough to convince the powers that be that he was the right man for the job. Credit where credit’s due, Lowe has done well to get rid of most of the ‘dead wood’ in the off-season with a long list of 30-somethings shown the proverbial door. Coming in, standout signings include ex-Western Sydney winger Youssouf Hersi, Republic of Ireland international Andy Keogh, former Newcastle Jets captain, Ruben Zadkovich. and ex and current Socceroos in Richard Garcia and Mitch Nichols, respectively.
Conclusion: On paper, Perth Glory should at least better last season’s finish of 8th. There’s a lot of proven quality in the side. Personally, Kenny Lowe’s credentials as manager are questionable. Just how far Perth can go this season will depend on how Lowe sets them up and if he can convince his players to buy into his ideas. Goals were hard to come by for the Glory in 13-14 with an average of just over one a game, the worst in the league. I feel they have done enough to rectify this problem. Bar any injuries to key players I expect Perth to give many a team a headache or two, especially at NIB Stadium.
Predicted finish: 7th
Last Season: 5th
Manager: Graham Arnold
Preferred formation/s: 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2
IN – Alex Brosque (From Al Ain), Alex Gersbach (From Australian Institute of Sport), Bernie Ibini (On loan from Shanghai East Asia), Marc Janko (From Trabzonspor), Shane Smeltz (From Perth Glory)
OUT – Joel Chianese (Signed with Sydney United (NPL NSW)), Alessandro Del Piero (Released), Ranko Despotovic (Released), Richard Garcia (Signed with Minnesota United (NASL)), Mitchell Mallia (Signed with Blacktown City (NPL NSW)), Terry McFlynn (Retired), Blake Powell (Signed with APIA Leichhardt (NPL NSW)), Matt Thompson (Signed with Marconi Stallions (NPL NSW)), Marc Warren (Signed with APIA Leichhardt (NPL NSW))
Team summary: Following an unsuccessful stint with J-League club Vegalta Sendai, former Mariners boss Graham Arnold is back home to steer the wayward Sky Blues on the right course – that’s the plan anyway. In the last few seasons, under the stewardship of Frank Farina and the arrival of Alessandro Del Piero, Sydney FC has been akin to a media circus rather than a football club. ADP was fantastic for bringing worldwide exposure to the A-League and getting bums on seats but from a pure football perspective, the team suffered greatly on the pitch. With ADP jetting out to play in the Indian Premier League and Farina given the chop, Sydney FC can now concentrate on all matters football.
Conclusion: Arnold has made some shrewd signings in the transfer window – led by current Austria captain, Marc Janko, a major coup for an A-League club. Old favourite, Alex Brosque returns to the club after stints in Japan and the UAE while Ibini and Smeltz are other notable acquisitions. Looking at their squad, they do have the quality to beat any side in the competition on their day. They look a little thin in the defensive department and perhaps lack a bit of pace in the central areas (with Petkovic and Ognenovski) but I expect them to comfortably finish in the top 6. If Arnold can work his magic in the January transfer window and boost his defensive ranks, then a strong title challenge is not beyond them.
Predicted finish: 6th
Last Season: 9th
Manager: Ernie Merrick
Preferred formation/s: 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1
IN – Roly Bonevacia (From Roda JC Kerkade), Nathan Burns (From Incheon United), Tom Doyle (From Team Wellington), Alejandro Gorrin (From Sunderland U21), Michael McGlinchey (From Central Coast Mariners)
OUT – Luke Adams (Released), Leo Bertos (Released), Carlos Hernandez (Released), Stein Huysegems (Released), Shaun Timmins (Short-term contract expiry)
Team summary: Wellington finished a disappointing second from bottom last season but it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the side across the ditch. The Phoenix played some really attractive football at times but were beset by injuries to key men, namely Albert Riera and Paul Ifill (with the latter no longer at the club). This paved the way for several Kiwi youngsters to make their mark and Ernie Merrick will be looking for the likes of Tyler Boyd, Matt Ridenton, and Jason Hicks to really kick on this season. Ernie will look to play a more cultured style of play this season, hence the signing of one of the premium midfielders in the competition in Michael McGlinchey. He is joined by a plethora of young talent from all corners of the globe in addition to Aussie forward, Nathan Burns, who was at Newcastle Jets last season.
Conclusion: It’s a case of out with the old and in with the new (and young) at Wellington with just 4 players aged 30 or above. Looking at the squad, there is a lot of raw, young talent there. I am particularly interested in watching Spanish duo, Albert Riera and Alex Gorrin strut their stuff in midfield. Riera was one of the league’s standout midfielders in his debut season while Alex Gorrin, former Sunderland U21 captain, was apparently on the fringes of the senior Premier League squad. A lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of striker, Jeremy Brockie. He was extremely disappointing last season but I will give him the benefit of the doubt after an interrupted pre-season last year, following his loan spell to FC Toronto.
Predicted finish: 9th
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
Last Season: 2nd and Grand Final Runners-Up
Manager: Tony Popovic
Preferred formation/s: 4-2-3-1
IN – Seyi Adeleke (From Lazio), Dean Bouzanis (From Carlisle United), Romeo Castelen (From RKC Waalwijk), Antony Golec (From Asian Champions League squad), Brendan Hamill (From Seongnam FC), Vitor Saba (From Brescia)
OUT – Josh Barresi (Signed with Newcastle Jets), Michael Beauchamp (Released), Adam D’Apuzzo (Released), Dean Heffernan (Retired), Youssouf Hersi (Signed with Perth Glory), Tahj Minniecon (Released), Aaron Mooy (Signed with Melbourne City), Jerome Polenz (Released), Shinji Ono (Released), Jerrad Tyson (Released)
Team summary: The Wanderers will look to go one better this season following Grand Final heartbreak on consecutive occasions – not bad for a franchise that has only been in existence since 2012. What is all the more remarkable is that they are only the second A-League club ever to reach an Asian Champions League final, following Adelaide United’s feat in 2008. Western Sydney will play Saudi outfit, Al Hilal, over 2 legs (home and away) to determine the champions of Asia. Tony Popovic should take great credit for building such a successful side from scratch. His managerial nous will be called upon again this season as the Wanderers are in somewhat of a transitional phase with so many key players leaving the club.
Conclusion: No less than 5 players from last season’s starting XI have departed the club for one reason or another. The backbone of the team is still there – as has been most evident in the ACL with their excellent defensive displays. Western Sydney remain a very difficult team to break down. RBB favourite, Shinji Ono, has returned to his native Japan while Youssouf Hersi and Aaron Mooy have signed for fellow A-League clubs Perth Glory and Melbourne City, respectively. Along with veteran Dutch winger, Romeo Castelen, and versatile Nigerian defender, Seyi Adeleke (on loan from Lazio), a lot is expected of Brazilian marquee signing, Vitor Saba. Vitor has been brought in from Serie B club, Brescia, as a direct replacement for Ono. The early signs are that Saba will be a real hit this season and not just for his impressive beard. Perhaps it will be a case of third time lucky for the red and black!
Predicted finish: 2nd