28 December 2005

A Hectic Break

While Sydney has been galavanting about Japan during their impressive Club World Championship run, they and the other seven A-League clubs have made several interesting moves over the 'inactive' summer break. Here's a quick summary of how each team has fared over the past few weeks:

Adelaide United - No doubt confident that they have almost clinched a final two spot, Adelaide has quietly gone about its nose-to-the-ground style of work, training hard and maintaining a low profile. Angelo Costanzo and Robert Bajic may have had a bit of a tiff on the training ground, but niggling incidents like that have been occuring all year at Hindmarsh. Besides, perhaps moments likes those all just part of John Kosmina'a mind games. Looking further down the track, Adelaide's final game of the regular season against Sydney shapes up as a grand final preview.

Central Coast Mariners - While looking forward to the return of Tom Pondeljak and Paul O'Grady, the Mariners have definitely lost Nick Mrdja for the rest of the season. In the face of adversity, the way they've held their team together over the past few matches has been extremely admirable. It makes sense to think that things can only improve from here. Word is that ex-Leeds United starlet Jamie McMaster is about to sign on a short-term contract with the club, along with teenager Brad Porter. McMaster has youth international experience with England to his name and talent to burn. If he attunes to Lawrie McKinna's preferred set-up, he's a fantastic capture.

Melbourne Victory - Everyone at Victory HQ thinks they're good enough for a top four finish, but with their unhealthy recent record, the loss due to suspension of apologetic captain Kevin Muscat for the next three matches, injury to Carl Recchia during a trial match versus a select Victoria XI, continual pressure on coach Ernie Merrick, displeasure among supporters, speculation about the future of Archie Thompson's contract and various other matters it seems that their confidence has been superceded by delusion. About the only positive news was the unexpected turn out of the full squad at the putatively 'voluntary' Boxing Day camp. A measure of Melbourne's commitment, desperation or both? A new injury replacement signing for Recchia is expected to be announced soon - someone from the Victorian Premier League, you'd have to think.

New Zealand Knights - The situation the Knights administrators have gotten themselves into is truly astonishing. Discussing the club's lack of performance, the harsh comments from their new shirt sponsor JUST marketing spoke volumes about the political economy of football, NZ Knights style. Meanwhile, Danny Hay and Simon Yeo have joined Ronnie Bull and departed the ailing club, both clearly wanting to get as far away from Auckland as possible. Yeo returned to his old League Two side Lincoln, while Hay has indicated he'd like a move back to one of his old stomping grounds too: Perth Glory. Don't be surprised if more names join the exit list over the coming weeks. The bigger questions are who Adshead and co. intend to bring into the club next year, and more importantly what organisational, managerial and tactical strategies will they adopt in order to bring the club back from the disaster zone?

Newcastle United Jets - Extending key midfielder Richard Johnson's contract and fending off the advances from Busan for Nick Carle have been largest on the agenda for the Jets during the break. Like Adelaide, Newcastle have benefited from modest exposure due to their small market, and look to have a decent chance at the title on current form. The experience of big name veterans like Ned Zelic, Ante Milicic, Vaughan Coveny and Johnson is quite an edge for the Jets, who are more than capable of pulling off a few surprises in February's finals.

Perth Glory - It's always frantic and a little messy when a coach is sacked, no less so at Glory after Steve McMahon was given the boot as soon as the break commenced. New interim coach Alan Vest and his player-assistant Damian Mori have kept the team focused on the bigger picture, namely making the A-League's final four. The departure of Matt Horsley has been offest with the signing of David Micevski, a left-footed midfielder from the local state league. Daniel Vasilevski, Milan Jovanic and Steve McMahon Jr were all told their services were no longer required, with each tabled for release at the end of the season. Sweeping changes, then, over in the west, with early hints suggesting that Mori may well take over the full managerial reins next year. We'll also see if Stuart Young gets a more prolonged run than the few minutes the previous manager gave him all season.

Queensland Roar - It's all about Reinaldo. With no firm idea how good he can be, what position he might play nor how much time he'll spend on the field over the coming weeks, it's startling just how much pressure has been put on the Brazilian youngster since his arrival just a few weeks ago. Perhaps it's a way of taking the heat off Alex Brosque, who it seems is still undecided where his future lies, with Queensland or Sydney (contrary to numerous reports that Sydney has already signed him, with the transfer window already closed no less). Looking into my crystal ball I actually see Royce Brownlie popping up with the much needed goals for the Roar, but they'll probably be all too little, all too late.

Sydney FC - The conquerors of Al Ahly return from Japan on a substantial high, even though they failed in their mission to meet Liverpool in the semi-finals of the CWC. With a lot of help from the top shelf performances of Dwight Yorke, Clint Bolton, David Carney, Sasho Petrovski, and Mark Milligan, Sydney were fine ambassadors for our fledgling league, although we shouldn't forget that they represented Oceania, not Australia or the A-League! Kazuyoshi Mirua and Alex Salazar didn't return from Japan, leaving Pierre Littbarski with 18 players in the squad, including backup goalkeeper Justin Pasfield and Australian U-17 defender Wade Oostendorp who haven't touched a ball in the competition (John Buonavoglia is on the books but ineligible to play.) Sydney may have to come to terms with over-confidence issues and find a way to penetrate on the left flank if they're to topple Adelaide, Newcastle and the other threats to the championship that many seem to think is already theirs.

21 December 2005

Sydney Gets Brosque

The Australian reports that Queensland Roar's Alex Brosque has come to an agreement to sign with Sydney FC at the end of the season.

If true it's good personal news for Brosque, who due to Sydney's strength up front will surely be encouraged to move to a wider position on the left wing rather than remain out of position as a striker. It only fuels this speculation that Pierre Littbarski has to date been quite adamant about playing David Carney on the right side of midfield rather than the left, where he is more naturally suited.

Given the restriction of the salary cap it is likely that someone will have to make way for Brosque. For a while now, rumours have been flying around about the departure of unfit co-captain David Zdrilic if Brosque were to arrive. It will be interesting to see how this develops: the Knights are one team with a pressing need for a decent target man, while Queensland's desperation for a proven goal scorer will only increase once Brosque heads south.

In other transfer-related news, the Knights have declared their interest in the K-League. I'm all for high quality Korean players joining the A-League, but quite rightly this new admission from the New Zealand executives is likely to catch the ire of those who imagine the Knights as a vehicle for supporting home-brewed talent. The recent stellar (comparatively speaking) emergence of Jeremy's Brockie and Christie has been one of the few annotations in the plus column during the Knights' woeful inaugural season. Probably half or more of the circa 2,000 supporters still dutifully attending the home matches in Auckland are there specifically to see how their fellow countrymen fare against the largely Australian contingents of the away teams. Nationalism has no place in my worldview, but even I would be happy to concede to pressure from the fans and release a statement or two about the club's scouting activites surrounding around the local game. The Knights have employed scouts to keep an eye on the New Zealand domestic competition, right?


UPDATE (Dec 22): The World Game indicates that Brosque may have already joined Sydney for the remainder of the season, which would certainly boost their championship aspirations. If true, this is especially good news for Sydney when you consider that Dwight Yorke is likely to be unavailable for part of the finals series due to international commitments with Trinidad and Tobago.

16 December 2005

Lack of Stars Does Not Imply Darkness

There's been some concern about player unavailability for Australia's forthcoming Asian Cup campaign, which is set to kick off on February 22 next year - a non-FIFA international date. Seeded fourth, Australia could feasibly draw Japan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, all previous World Cup qualifiers. (Somehow I think we will manage to avoid Japan, one of our World Cup 2006 opponents in Group F.)

If it comes down to the crunch, Australia will have to assemble a team from (a) players based in lower-tier leagues overseas who manage to negotiate an international match release from their respective clubs, and (b) A-League teams not participating in the domestic finals series, which conflicts with the first Asian Cup tie.

The first category is difficult to speculate about. For example, Leicester's backup goalkeeper Paul Henderson may be able to gain a release, while starting eleven teammate Patrick Kisnorbo may be denied. Clubs nearer the top of the table will probably be less willing to allow their Australian players an international exit, especially if the match is played in East Asia as opposed to the Middle East. In any case, Graham Arnold may need to apply the pressure to certain club managers in order to force the issue on behalf of Australia, and that is sure to be interesting!

In the second category, we can safely include players from the languishing Knights, then probably also those from the the Roar, Victory and ... my guess is the Mariners.

In my opinion, we can bring together a pretty decent squad from these two broad categories. Purely for the sake of alleviating needless concern about the state of the national squad and its chances versus Asian opposition in February, here is a potential lineup for the match:

F: Paul Agostino - Archie Thompson
M: Alex Brosque - Paul Okon - Tom Pondeljak - Jacob Burns
D: Mark Byrnes - Michael Beauchamp - Chris Coyne - Paul Reid
GK: Danny Milosevic

Bench: Adam Griffiths, Chad Gibson, Adrian Leijer, Carl Valeri, Mark Robertson, Kaz Patafta, John Hutchinson, Joel Porter, Brett Holman, David Williams, Jess van Strattan

Not a bad effort. For an outfit like this, the best sides in Asia may still present extreme difficulty, so obviously we'd like to avoid drawing or running into them in the first round if possible. (Teams like Japan and South Korea will also be without their European-based stars, however.) Against a minnow football nation like Chinese Taipei, though, we will surely be in very safe hands even with a 'C-grade' team, which I am loathe to call any lineup featuring the likes of Thompson, Brosque and Pondeljak! If anything, the biggest problem will be finding a left fullback, with Sydney FC flyer Alvin Ceccoli certain to feature in the A-League finals. Aside from Byrnes, no better than a stopgap solution, perhaps the consistent but relatively unheralded Dean Heffernan may find himself in prime position for one of the most fortunate national call-ups of all time! (On evidence of the World Youth Championship, anything is a better solution than Trent McClenahan, currently with the MK Dons.)

12 December 2005

Chivalry is Dead

If the rumours are true, New Zealand Knights striker Simon Yeo is heading back to Football League Two in the UK. Yeo has been linked with a January move to his previous club Lincoln City or Oxford United, presumably on a free transfer deal following a mutually agreed upon termination of his contract with the Knights.

It's hard to judge if this would be bad news for the Knights or not. Yeo has been one of the better forwards at the team but that isn't saying a lot. Importantly, his departure would free a spot on the roster for a new recruit next season. We have to assume his wages are quite substantial, so freeing them would also be good for the club. Question marks about the recruitment strategies of the Knights persist, however. At this moment, there is no guarantee that a decent player will be signed to replace Yeo. The Knights have not released any statements regarding their prospective player clients for next year, meaning that they are once again asking for the faith of the FFA, the press and the fans, all of whom have had their confidence in the management of the club stretched to oblivion. It's too much, I feel, for the Knights administrator to continue their merry 'trust us, we'll get it right' attitude. I would like to see a great deal more transparency evoked, starting with answers to questions about the length of current player contracts (*), their wage bills, and proposed strategies (beyond the dartboard method) for signing quality individuals for next season.

To make matter worse, once rumours about Yeo's departure surfaced they were quickly followed by comments from Knights CEO Steve O'Hara to the effect that captain Danny Hay is not welcome back at the club!

I am a supporter of a New Zealand team in the compeititon, but given that doubt is rife in Auckland at a time when the Australian continent is right behind Oceania's A-League representative at the Club World Championship, all I can say is that the Knights have created their own miserable mess, a situation that is fast becoming an entirely negative and pathetic state of affairs.

* Update - contract lengths have in fact been disclosed to the New Zealand Herald. Players with loyality and/or performance problems are highlighted in red:

Three-year deals: Darren Bazeley, Danny Hay, Danny Milosevic, Simon Yeo

Two-year deals: Ronnie Bull, Sean Devine, Neil Emblen, Steve Fitzsimmons, Noah Hickey, Joshua Rose, Frank van Eijs

One-year deals: Jeremy Brockie, Zenon Caravella, Ben Collett, Naoki Imaya, Josh Maguire, Glen Moss, John Tambouras, Cole Tinkler, Xiaobin Zhang

I take it Jeremy Christie and Kris Bright have appeared on injury replacement contracts.

8 December 2005

McMahon Gets the Boot

Perth Glory and vilified coach Steve McMahon have parted ways. McMahon's son, defensive midfielder Steve Jr is expected to hang around until the end of the year, but he may find it difficult to keep his current place on the fringe of first-team selection and apparently he will not be receiving a contract extension. In addition to the unrest this news is likely to cause among players and staff, the inbound coach will also need to cope with the departure of insiprational defender Matt Horsley and a persistent calf injury to left-sided fullback Scott Miller. All of this means that the task of making the final four remains tough, especially with an improving Mariners outfit so close in the overall standings. One player sure to be refreshed by the exit of McMahon is Daniel Vasilevski; the midfielder hasn't been in the manager's plans all season and is yet to kick a ball in the competition. In individual cases like Vasilevski's you've got to wonder if the 20-player roster limit isn't so restrictive after all! Of course, what they indicate are problems in the recruitment strategies of the club's. Vasilevski, like Sydney's Alejandro Salazar, may simply not be good enough.

McMahon is likely to be replaced by Glory assistant Alan Vest until the end of the season, although one tongue-in-cheek Glory fan has already suggested another candidate: Paul Gascoigne!

7 December 2005

Beware the Purple Monster

In their first game at the Club World Championship in Japan next week, Oceania's representative Sydney FC will face Costa Rican CONCACAF champion Deportivo Saprissa (aka The Purple Monster), an accomplished team that features half-a-dozen World Cup bound national team players on their roster. Ronald Gomez, Walter Centeno, Alonso Solis and co. are likely to cause immense headaches for Sydney coach Pierre Littbarski and his team as they attempt to reach the semi-finals and a showdown with UEFA champions Liverpool.

If they happen to lose to the Purple Monster, Sydney will then face either CAF's Al Ahly from Egpyt or the AFC's Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia in a game to decide 5th place. A match-up with the latter would be quite exciting since it would offer us a glimpse of what's to come when we finally enter the Asian Champions League in 2007.

There's really not much pressure on Sydney to perform at the CWC, given that they're a new club competing on a world stage with some of the giants of the game. Obviously it would be terrific to advance to the Liverpool showdown, but in reality the Costa Ricans are going to be very tough to beat. The recent Japanese language and culture lessons might help the boys accustom to local practices, but it's the fascinating systematics of Central American football that they will have to get used to in a timely fashion if they are to progress.

Here is the Sydney FC squad for the tournament.


Clint Bolton - one of the best in the domestic game

Justin Pasfield - Bolton's backup

Mitchell Blowes - just for the experience


Iain Fyfe - on the verge of national squad selection

Alvin Ceccoli - industrious left fullback who likes to get forward

Mark Milligan - promising right fullback with the world at his feet

Jacob Timpano - young central defender with a cool head

Mark Rudan - experienced centre half and occasional striker

Matthew Bingley - utility defender/midfilder, been around forever

Wade Oostendorp - teenager last seen at the U-17 World Youth Cup


David Carney - livewire switching flanker with all the skills

Steve Corica - creative attacking midfielder with J-League experience

Terry McFlynn - determined anchor man from Northern Ireland

Ufuk Talay - the kid returns (from the Turkish league)

Andrew Packer - right-sided player with excellent range

Robbie Middleby - left-sided roamer out of favour with Littbarski

Ruben Zadkovich - strapping U-20's athelete seeking longer contract

Dustin Wells - another attacking midfielder with plenty to prove


Dwight Yorke - don't be surprised if he starts in central midfield!

Kazuyoshi Miura - just as sharp on the field as off, not bad for 38

Sasho Petrovski - gifted and aggressive striker with a touch of flair

David Zdrilic - a star diminished by injuries and a lack of fitness

John Buonavoglia - dynamic spark off the bench for a tiring attack

Alejandro Salazar - returning to the US after the CWC

6 December 2005

Mrdja Out

Contrary to my expectations below, Central Coast Mariner's striker Nick Mrdja is definitely out for the rest of the A-League's short inaugural season.

It was all looking so good for Mrdja, who scored a pair of hat-tricks in the pre-season. C'est la vie.

Round Fifteen Report

The good got better as Adelaide and Sydney strecthed out their lead at the top of the table. Newcastle were stunned by the Reds, who banged in two late goals for another amazing come-from-behind victory. Melbourne, whose recent form is quite terrible, were royally thumped by a rampaging Sydney, who now look forward to the Club World Championship in Japan. There was excellence all over the park for Sydney, who on the basis of this, their most recent performance, might just be capable of beating CONCACAF's Deportivo Saprissa to set up a semi-final showdown with UEFA champion Liverpool. Centre-half Jacob Timpano is a potential exclusion from the match, however, due to a groin strain suffered in the first-half, which - incredibly - wasn't inflicted by Victory's 'killa' Kevin Muscat. It would be nice to see how Timpano stacks up on the world stage against Ronald Gomez and co. but if he isn't ready to go, Sydney has all the experience of Mark Rudan on the bench (or they could possibly promote Andrew Packer and move Mark Milligan to the middle, where he filled in reasonably well on the weekend).

Perth Glory's final hopes were almost severely dented by the Mariners, who took a rapid 2-0 lead in their match, which saw the Glory fight back to salvage a 2-2 draw in Matt Horlsey's final professional game. Glory fans may well have been hoping for a loss since if the side fails to make the top four it will be so much easier for the club to rid itself of coach Steve McMahon. I'm no fan of McMahon, but this might be taking things a little too far! If the team can gel and come up with the results to put itself in the hunt for the finals, then surely the coach is at least doing a respectable job, if only barely! For the Mariners, meanwhile, things are starting to look brighter. Tom Pondeljak and Nick Mrdja are scheduled for possible returns early after the December lay off, and while they've been away the team has been putting together some decent results. They looked too good for Glory early on, and but for a defensive communication error they may well have hung on and taken full points. It's probably going to be a race between these two teams for the fourth and final spot, between the momentary brilliance of the Glory and the athleticism of the Mariners. I know who my imaginary money's on, but I'm not telling.

As for the dregs ... Victory and Queensland Roar have joined the Knights in a bottom three that seems decidedly fixed to me at this stage in the competition. Roar's struggles started much earlier in the season when they failed to put a string of results together, and it should be mentioned that they've failed to gain any points from their matches against top shelf opponents Adelaide and Sydney. They've imported a Brazilian who could be great, or could equally be yet another disappointment in their front line. Alex Brosque, Seo Hyuk-soo and Tom Willis have been marvelous individual performers for the Roar, but Miron Bleiberg's lack of a cohesive gameplan from week-to-week has seen the talented squad flounder at critical moments.

If any team can catch the front runners it's Melbourne, but with question marks over the future of Archie Thompson, the failure of the club's foray into the transfer market as the deadline approached last week and the apparent absence of width in the midfield (especially on the left) it's going to be tremendously difficult. A home win over Perth in the first game back is absolutely vital, which means at least that the attendance at Olympic Park should be massive. Unfortunately, Victory has a nasty run of four consecutive away matches to contend with straight afterwards before a final home game against the Knights. That, in all likelihood, will be a dead rubber.

Oh, the Knights, the Knights, what can one say? Their performance last week was nothing special yet they managed to carve out a draw with Queensland. Let's hope they can put some more points on the board, if for no other sake than prosperity. I for one would like the world to think our league is a whole lot closer than it stands at present. Mobile underdog Jeremy Brockie has had a talismanic effect on the squad the past few weeks and he well deserves praise from the fans. But it's the 'big name' players who have to step up and earn their keep if the Knights are going to develop some respectability around the league. Hay, Bazeley and Emblen (remember him?) are reputedly the self-appointed anti-management unit responsible for stoking unrest in the squad, and they're also among the three highest paid players in the team. Emblen has been injured, Hay has gone AWOL and while Bazeley has been consistent he has rarely shone. Frankly, these three experienced heads haven't responded at all to the pressure that has been thrust upon them in the Knights season of misery. I think they need to regroup and ask themselves again: To damn or be damned?

Best of Round Fifteen:

Player: Carl Veart (pictured) - despite a missed penalty exemplified Adelaide's fightback with his determination and sharp play up the field; having a real throwback of a season

U-20 Player: Jeremy Brockie - another diehard performance from the dreadlocked utility man

Coach: Pierre Littbarski - getting his troops pumped and firing on all cylinders before the Club World Championships

Match: Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory

Referee: Matthew Breeze

Goal: Royce Brownlie - Sydney had the spectacular goals but Brownlie's delicate touch on his diving glancing header had to be perfect, and it was

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

John Hutchinson - Sasho Petrovski
David Carney - Carl Veart - Dwight Yorke - Hiroyuki Ishida
Alvin Ceccoli - Ned Zelic - John Tambouras - Jade North
Danny Milosevic

Subs: Angelo Costanzo, Travis Dodd, Alex Brosque, Jason Petkovic

3 December 2005

Nicky and the Magnificent Nineteen?

With news this week that the K-League's Busan I'Park are about to table a transfer offer for Nick Carle, questions concerning the A-League's restrictive $1.5 million salary cap have again been raised. Carle has been quoted saying that money does indeed matter, hinting that he's likely to accept an offer rumoured to be around a quarter of a million dollars, which is about twice what he currently draws at Newcastle.

In a barely veiled rebuke, Remo Nogarotto, football director of the Jets, slammed the potential offer from Busan and the K-League. In Nogarotto's books, the K-League may have the money but as a 'second-tier' league it doesn't have the pedigree nor the football quality to provide a decent home for our best players. His proposed solution to the dilemma is quite interesting: The FFA, he believes, should independently rank the top 20 players in the league and allow the wages of these individuals to be topped-up beyond the limitations of the salary cap.

Several problems with this scheme immediately surface. Are only Australian players involved in the rankings? If so, is it an unfair instrument to wield against clubs seeking expensive foreign players to sign under the cap? How will the objectivity of the rankings be guaranteed? Who will do the picking and what factors will they bring into consideration? For instance, will there be ways to subvert the mechanism to protect players with transfer potential (e.g. relatively young players like Carle) rather than use it to offer talented but generally unsaleable players (Damian Mori, Carl Veart) a higher salary? Will players in the latter category feel unjustly served if they cannot have their wages increased, while some young whipper-snapper like Carle or David Carney strikes it lucky? Also, will there be a way to surmount the static nature of a ranking system? Given that salary contract renewals occur just once a year at best, surely that time-frame is too large for the dynamic incorporation of any half-way accurate rankings. Before the season, for example, who would have thought that Alan Picken would emerge as one of the best defenders in the country? Furthermore, isn't it somewhat arbitrary to include 20 players? If such an idea was ever to go ahead, the FFA would probably want to ensure that there is an even dispersal of ranked players among the eight clubs, regardless of absolute accuracy. Sixteen or 24 players seems a far more serviceable figure to me.

Nogarotto's concept is a good one that should be examined in more depth, but it does avoid a couple of issues that are worth noting. Firstly, we must presume that Carle wants to manufacture a move overseas. He's a great player that deserves a spot on the world stage. If the A-League is not quite at the point where it remains attractive to elite players, then the onus is on the FFA to develop it further. The players themselves should not feel obliged to stay. Rather, that would be a natural step once the league has accomplished some international stature. Secondly, in order to offset the loss of Carle, the Jets simply have to ask a large transfer fee for him and stick to their guns. There is no need to whinge about our economic disparity with other leagues when the ball is in our court. Busan might offer $400,000 for Carle. Is that enough? Given Nogarotto's outburst, it doesn't seem so. Then why not just say no? If the Jets buckle to a small offer or fail to negotiate better terms, I don't see how they can blame anyone but themselves.

We have to realise that our domestic clubs already exist in a competitive global environment with their international rivals. The FFA may step in here or there to amend things and help out in small ways, but it's really each club's responsibility to raise money, manage contracts and promote their entertaining product to a regional, national and growing international audience as they see fit. Any failures along the way have to be taken on the chin and should not always be attributed to the governing apparatus. Here's a couple of questions that warrant some thought: if the salary cap were abandoned today, could Newcastle even afford Carle's higher wage request? Would other players (Jade North, Richard Johnson, Matt Thompson?) demand substantial increases commensurate with Carle's? Does the club have sufficient sponsors and advertising to cover these extra costs? Are the proceeds of the league's TV rights with Foxtel expected to grow over the next few years? Or will ticket prices be raised, with fans paying the ultimate price for the pleasure of experiencing a decent football league in this country?

30 November 2005

Karl Dodd Bound for Romania

Queensland Roar's Karl Dodd has become the first A-League player to walk away from the domestic game in favour of a European club competition.

Romanian second-tier Divizia B Serie II side Universitatea Craiova has secured the services of the defender on a four and a half year contract. Dodd will join fellow Australians Daniel Clitnovici and Josh Mitchell at the club, which currently lies top of the table after conceding just 5 goals in 15 matches and looks set for a move back into the top flight Divizia A next year.

Readers of Romanian may be interested the Universitatea Craiova's
of the transfer on their official web site. Meanwhile, professional football in Romania can be tracked on the brilliant web site Romanian Soccer.

Dodd and Roar came to a mutual contract termination agreement, implying that Roar have not benefited from a transfer fee. Earlier in the week, it was announced that Roar had signed 20-year old striker Reinaldo Elias De Costa from Brazil and released right-sided defender Todd Gava. Now it seems Gava will be reinstated, with Dodd making way for a possible new signing among three options: Reinaldo, ex-NSL forward Con Boutsianis or Stephen Weah, cousin of superstar George Weah, who has been playing in Indonesia. Roar has been exceptional at generating a publicity storm around the new players they've drafted into the team (the Korean duo that was infamously once a trio, Osvaldo Carro, Chad Gibson and to a lesser extent Spase Dilevski), but they're still finding it as tough as anyone when it comes to making an impression on the park where it counts.

It was interesting to hear also this week that hardly utilised American forward Alejandro Salazar has likewise agreed to a mutual termination agreement with Sydney FC ... six weeks ago! What this means for Sydney is a little unclear at the moment. They have been obliged to draft in three new players for the Club World Championship (midfielders Dustin Wells and U-20 international Ruben Zadkovich along with goalkeeper Mitchell Blowes) but it remains to be seen if any of those three have, or will be, signed in the long-term.

The rub? Even in our sleepy little league at the bottom of the world, club's have been quite busy indeed in the closing days before the end of Novemeber transfer deadline.

29 November 2005

Knights Display Unity

As they bowed their heads in memory of George Best before last weekend's kickoff, you have to wonder what else was going through the minds of the Knights' latest starting eleven. Something must have collectively clicked into place, because the team finally put in a good performance, out-shooting though failing to outscore Melbourne in their tight 3-2 loss. In their earlier (and only) victory over the Mariners in round three, the Knights were punished in terms of attempts at goal (25-8) and attempts on target (10-2) but somehow came out on top where it counts, winning 2-0. Against Melbourne, the Knights sometimes dominated play and actually launched more shots on goal (23-16) and more on target (12-10) than their cross-Tasman rivals.

Are things starting to turn around? Unfortunately, the loss of captain and defensive lynchpin Danny Hay due to an internal squabble during the week was probably instrumental in the loss. Given Victory's own woes at the moment, it was a perfect chance for the Knights to steal a win. Their resurgence in the face of so much adversity was great to see, but the lack of a pay off on the scoreboard for all that positive effort was very disappointing. Not once this year have the Knights managed to salvage a draw, which to me seems to speak volumes about the lack of spirit, determination and character in the change room. The late emergence of locals such as Jeremy Brockie, Kris Bright, Jeremy Christie and Cole Tinkler has given the Knights some temerity, but since these younger heads still require guidance on the pitch the departure of Hay at such a critical moment is deeply unfortunate.

When a squad utterly fails to make an impression in a competition, usually it's the manager who puts up their hand and takes a fall on behalf of the team. But coach John Adshead, who took New Zealand to their only World Cup in 1982, is nothing short of a legend in his homeland. It could well be Leeds cast-off Hay, then, who makes a less than graceful exit from the club. I for one won't be all that surprised if he's not back in the regular lineup after the long break in December.

28 November 2005

Round Fourteen Report

Braces were the order of the round, as Alex Brosque, Richard Kitzbichler, Fernando Rech and Kazuyoshi Miura all scored twice in top shelf performances for their respective teams. The high quality of the finishing stood out, with Rech's pair quite exceptional - much to the delight of an almost capacity crowd at Adelaide's Hindmarsh Stadium.

Having sat on top of the ladder for so long and seen off Sydney in a thrilling 3-2 victory, the Reds must surely now be favourites for the title. Somehow, they've kept managing to find game-winning goals throughout the season and it was no exception on the weekend as Rech's long range speculator evaded the grasp of a diving Clint Bolton. For the visitors, Dwight Yorke was magnificent. His surging run between two Adelaide midfielders that set up Kazuyoshi Miura's first goal demonstrated the difference in class between EPL stardom and the middle kingdom of the A-League.

Queensland finally found the back of the net, but had to contend with sharing the points after another late equaliser, this time courtesy of the league's most prolific wingback, Dean Heffernan. The Mariners are doing it tough at the moment but still coming away with vital points. The return of key players after the break might just help them squeeze into the top four.

Perth's recent good fortune dried up at home to Newcastle who have become another big championship contender in the past few weeks. The arrival of Vaughan Coveny has added strength and experience to their already vibrant front line. Central defender Alan Picken has been one of the league's great success stories, rising from obscurity to partner the likes of Ned Zelic and Jade North in a quality back end. All were terrific on the weekend cancelling out the dangerous Mori/Despotovski partnership. When the not-so-dynamic duo are closely marked by quality defensive units like Newcastle's, the Glory midfield needs to pick up the slack and fire some quality shots on goal.

Inspired by its big guns, Melbourne did just enough to outpace the desperate Knights in Auckland, with fewer than 2,000 people interested in the show. Is that enough action through the turnstiles to pay for club's weekly salary bill? Doubtful...

Best of Round Fourteen:

Player: Dwight Yorke (pictured) - outclassed everyone including multiple scorers Rech and Miura

U-20 Player: Jeremy Brockie - rising to the occasion in a new position on the left for the Knights who just have to love the commitment and spark he gives them

Coach: Richard Money - signing Coveny during the week and bamboozling Steve McMahon's Glory on the tough road tip to the other side of the country

Match: Adelaide United vs Sydney FC

Referee: Mark Shield

Goal: Fernando Rech - his first goal, a cracking shot off the crossbar followed up with a pinpoint header into an unguarded corner of the net

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Alex Brosque - Fernando Rech
Jeremy Brockie - Dwight Yorke - Billy Celeski - Richard Kitzbichler
Aaron Goulding - Andrew Clark - Alan Picken - Jade North
Danny Milosevic

Subs: Mateo Corbo, Matt McKay, Vaughan Coveny, Liam Reddy

25 November 2005

National Development Squad

News arrived earlier this week that the FFA might introduce a national team development squad to keep A-League players fresh between the end of the season and the start of the FIFA World Cup 2006.

The idea is to keep those players with World Cup aspirations involved with the league rather than have them wander off to Europe on short term loans when the transfer window opens early next year. It also aims to give those players a chance to remain fit and impress Guus Hiddink through friendly matches with A-League, state league and visiting international club teams.

The thought is most welcome to the likes of Simon Colosimo and Jade North, fringe national team players who will need every chance they can get to seize a spot on the plane to Germany. It also offers a great (and final) chance to discarded veterans like Kevin Muscat and Ned Zelic, as well as to younger hopefuls like Mark Milligan and Nick Ward. Without such a program in place, these players might find it very difficult to appear on Hiddink's long-range radar when the time arrives to select the final twenty-two players for the World Cup squad.

So, bravo to the FFA for identifying the problem early and coming up with a decent (though probably not decisive) strategy. It should be noted that players outside the A-League are seriously at a disadvantage under the proposed development scheme. Part-timers, lower-leaguers and other unheralded 'Aussies Abroad' will have to rely on positive performances for their respective club teams (and hope someone is watching), while non-A-Leaguers at home would probably need to mount a full scale nationwide publicity campaign to stand any chance of capturing the attention of the national team administrators! I'm sure that over the course of the next few months we'll hear a lot about the fringe players both old (Paul Okon?) and new (David Williams?) as each and every one of them throws down the gauntlet in some shape or form. Perhaps some of them will feature in a future post on this topic.

The question for fans and armchair observers is who would be picked in such a development squad? I'm sure many of you have already reached for pencil & paper and drafted up a provisional team of your own. Here's mine.

I've selected twenty-two players from the A-League in order to approximately shadow the full national team. Archie Thompson is likely to feature in Guus' plans and also the most likely to leave for a European team in January (if anyone wants him, and wants to regularly play him), so I haven't included him here. In assembling this hypothetical squad, I've aimed for a blend of experience and youth. Experienced players probably make the best one-for-one replacements in the case of injuries to important regulars, while the younger players deserve a chance to make a name for themselves and of course they apply pressure to make sure everyone else stays on their toes. So without further ado:


Clint Bolton (Syndey FC)
Tom Willis (Queensland Roar)

Bolton is the surest of the more experienced 'keepers in the league. Daniel Beltrame is highly erratic, Jason Petkovic's form fluctuates from high to low every few weeks while John Crawley is currently injured and has pretty much lose his place to Danny Vukovic. If, in reality, we needed a replacement goalkeeper for Germany it'd have to be John Filan, Ante Covic or Michael Petkovic, with Brad Jones, Frank Juric and Bolton outside shots.

For the backup spot I went for Willis over Vukovic, Liam Reddy, Eugene Galekovic, Milosevic and the rest of the younger mob. Willis has anchored the Roar's exceptional defensive record by putting in consistent displays all season. Unless he can correct his kicking, however, he'll never make an appearance for Australia.


Kevin Muscat (Melbourne Victory)
Ned Zelic (Newcastle United Jets)
Jade North (Newcastle United Jets)
Michael Beauchamp (Central Coast Mariners)
Iain Fyfe (Sydney FC)
Chad Gibson (Queensland Roar)
Mark Milligan (Sydney FC)
Spase Dilevski (Queensland Roar)
Jacob Timpano (Sydney FC)
Adrian Leijer (Melbourne Victory)
Mark Byrnes (Melbourne Victory)
Alex Wilkinson (Central Coast Mariners)
David Tarka (Perth Glory)

This group emphasises Hiddink's preference for strength down the center. With our aging defence a real problem (dare I suggest that Tony Vidmar might not even make the finals) it's necessary to provide the coach with plenty of options. So this is a large group, and one that I couldn't bring myself to diminish.

Muscat and Zelic have put their hands up and expressed their desire to resume a national team career. Each has plenty to offer, but perhaps more in terms of a development scenario such as this one rather than out on the pitch in Germany. Beauchamp and Fyfe have already experienced a camp under Guus; he knows what they're about and will be keeping an eye on them throughout the rest of the season. Beauchamp is a rugged and at times lethal defender who it's nice to imagine wrecking carnage on someone like Lukas Podolski. His chances must be very good. There's also a spot for his Mariners teammate Alex Wilkinson, who is exceptionally steady but does little to stamp his authority on a match. Fyfe has come good in the past couple of weeks now that he's teamed up with Jacob Timpano, who has always shown great promise throughout his short career.

Gibson has made a great impression on the league, from the pre-season advertising campaign to marshalling the Roar defence with aplomb. He's probably a touch old now for a real shot at a permanent call-up, but as such he offers an intriguing middle-ground between the has-beens and the young-guns. He's also a top athelete, which as we all know Guus admires above all else. For his age, Byrnes is very experienced and he's suited to the extreme mobility of Dutch-style football, but he needs to find some form. Irritatingly not he is not the player that once commanded the backline of our greatest ever U-17s. Meanwhile, Leijer has quietly snuck up on Byrnes and stolen his position in the central defensive hierarchy at Melbourne. He has been magnificent to date and if he continues to improve he certainly looks like a mainstay in the future. Finally, someone from left-field is Perth Glory's David Tarka. He has all the potential and hopefully we'll get to see him before the end of the campaign (he's in the Glory squad at last for this weekend).

North, Milligan and Dilevski provide the wingback depth. While he's been on the fringe of the national set-up for some time, North has been nothing more than a quiet achiever so far this season and will probably need to do something more to warrant serious consideration. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Milligan's. Even though he's yet to play a game this year due to injury, I'm sure he'll make a big impression with the time remaining. Like Byrnes, Dilevski is already quite experienced with an Olympics campaign and a stint overseas under his belt. Unfortunately, all three are right-sided players. The left side of defence is a weakness in terms of Australian players in the local competition. Alvin Ceccoli and Scott Miller are probably too old to be of much use to this squad, while Dean Heffernan, Adam Van Dommele and Simon Storey probably lack the talent. This explains why I haven't included any practicing left-sided players in the group, although Byrnes, Muscat and perhaps Dilevski can play there if necessary. Thankfully the national set-up still includes Stan Lazaridis as backup to Scott Chipperfield, with Shane Cansdell-Sheriff from AGF Aarhus as another candidate for the position.

Why no Michael Valkanis? Without a doubt he's been one of the best defenders in the league, but unlike Muscat and Zelic he hasn't been thoroughly tested at a high international level so the inclusion of another veteran just seemed counter productive.


Simon Colosimo (Perth Glory)
Steve Corica (Sydney FC)
Angelo Costanzo (Adelaide United)
Nick Carle (Newcastle United Jets)
David Carney (Sydney FC)
Nick Ward (Perth Glory)

A pair of holding players top this list, which is relatively small given the current abundance of talent in midfield for the national squad. Colosimo and Costanzo are adept backups for Vince Grella. While his form hasn't been super, Colosimo is another player right on the verge of national selection, with his adaptability across the backend a big advantage. Costanzo also offers yet another option defensively. The last couple of games he's slotted into the central defence and looked as comfortable as always. The third experienced midfielder in the mix is Steve Corica. Although he's getting on a bit, he's still got the legs and remains a gifted creator. Like the veteran defenders, he's still got a lot to offer in terms of inspiring the younger brigade. At 35 now, Carl Veart's form in midfield for Adelaide is something to behold. He wouldn't be out of place here, but there's no realistic chance he'll make a dynamic return to international football. Similarly, teammate Ross Aloisi and Newcastle's Richard Johnson are beyond their peak.

Carle, Carney and Ward are the pick of the lively attacking midfielders in the competition. Carle's unique gifts require some harnessing, but all the potential for greatness is there. Carney's ability to play on either flank is a virtue, but unless purhsed further forward he may find it difficult adapting to the defensive responsibilities required by Hiddink's wide players. Ward is a bit of a bolter. A top shelf athelete, he impressed at the World Youth Championships earlier this year even though playing out of position. Melbourne's Kristian Sarkies, Newcastle's Stuart Musialik and Perth's Billy Celeski are other contenders, but none has the look of an effectual overage player at the moment. Zenon Caravella is a bit of a wild card whose chances are derailed by unproductive club factors at the Knights. Adelaide's Travis Dodd and Newcastle's Matt Thompson are intriguing outsiders, while Queensland's Massimo Murdocca and Matt McKay haven't done enough to convince they can perform at a higher level.


Ante Milicic (Newcastle United Jets)
Sasho Petrovski (Sydney FC)
Alex Brosque (Queensland Roar)
Tom Pondeljak (Central Coast Mariners)

What, no Bobby Despotovski, Daniel Allsopp, David Zdrilic or Damian Mori? As good as those guys are, or have been, various reasons preclude them. Bobby isn't the type of dynamic forward Guus admires. He'a a deadly finisher who disappears from matches for lengthy periods. Allsopp is currently unproductive, lacking confidence and has never played at a very high level. At his best, Zdrilic is a talented striker, but injuries and a battle for fitness have made him look very ordinary. For much the same reason's as Veart, there doesn't seem to be much point in involving Mori at the expense of younger talent. Outside football work commitments might exclude him in any case.

Milicic isn't young but he's always been the most fleet footed and skillful of the more experienced domestic striking legion. What's more, he's proved himself in relatively recent internationals. Petrovski is admired by Guus, who probably likes his work ethic, occasional flair and ability to make things happen. Brosque isn't really an outright striker, but he'd make a wonderful contribution on the left (Kewell's) side of Hiddink's forward three. Pondeljak is a marvel who has astonishingly earned just four caps for Australia. In terms of keeping possession, decision making and one-touch football, few in the league can match him.

Okay, okay so that's twenty-five players in total: keeping it down to twenty-two isn't all that important but if push came to shove I'd probably remove Byrnes, Wilkinson and Costanzo. The significant asymmetry in favour of the defence is absolutely imperative, one would think, given our problems in that department. It would probably create a few selection headaches with friendly lineups (defenders in constant rotation, while forwards almost always the same), but the simple solution is to have a few people playing out of position. Hiddink has already played former NSL attacking midfield star Chipperfield as a stopper against Uruguay, proving the importance and possibilities of adaptability!

23 November 2005

Who Is This 'See-Oww' Guy?

I can't stand it any longer. Be it on radio or television, every commentator in the country continues to mispronounce the name of Korean import Hyuk-soo Seo.

Following the lead of whomever said it first (perhaps someone at Foxtel), commentators refer to the Queensland Roar defensive midfielder as something along the lines of 'See-Oww', which is certainly not music to the ears of Korean speakers.

The common mistake made here is expressing the 'eo' part of the Korean's romanised family name as two syllables rather than one. In Hangeul, the Korean script, Seo is the mono-syllabic combination of one consonant ('S') and one vowel ('eo'). The latter of these has no direct equivalent in English. Unlike an English word like 'neon' the 'eo' in Seo does not indicate two separate sounds. It represents one very short o sound, as in fault. So (!), it seems that the problem confronting commentators is how to make the listener aware that they're actually referring to a player rather than a short word in English that has various meanings and uses. Perhaps this explains the See-oww innovation.

It's a small matter, but there's no harm in trying to get it right!

For your interest, the family name Lee (e.g. Tottenham's Lee Young-pyo) is actually pronounced 'Ee', which obviously sounds and looks plain weird to English speakers. A very common Korean name is Choi (Jin-cheol), which just about everyone articulates to rhyme with 'Joy'. Well, this isn't correct either: Choi is more correctly pronounced as 'Chae' (rhyming with 'Jay'). Thankfully, Park (Ji-sung) is a lot easier, but since the 'r' is silent even that is a bit of a trick. Given all of these subtle complications and bizarre romanisations, it's not difficult to appreciate why many Koreans are so easy going about the continual mispronounciation of their names in English.

22 November 2005

Round Thirteen Report

Plenty of action, but few goals this week as Sydney, Perth, New Zealand, Melbourne and Queensland all failed to score.

The Central Coast Mariners totally upset Melbourne Victory and the return of Archie Thompson, who started on the bench due to mutual consent (not wanting to ruffle feathers by starting over blokes who had trained hard all week). Without Pondeljak, Gumprecht and Mrdja (who may be back after the December break), the Mariners hustled, and kept their game tight and controlled. Better defence from Victory may have limited the damage, but ultimately it was a deserved win for the Gosford boys.

Dwight Yorke also returned from his successful World Cup qualification stint, also coming off the bench. Sydney's defence did what Melbourne's couldn't and held Perth at bay, but only just. Glory have been on fire lately, with Nick Ward producing some welcome creative spark in the midfield. Having secured Damian Mori for the rest of the season and looking forward to the imminent return of David Tarka, a finals run seems a certainty for the West Australians. Sydney, meanwhile, are clearly looking forward to a closer date with destiny: the Club World Championships in Japan. Among the great news for the Bling is the return of Mark Milligan next week. Having toughed it out with Andrew Packer as the featured right fullback for most of the season, Sydney will surely improve with the talented Milligan back in the lineup. It's a hard encounter for him first up, however, with Adelaide on the road the next fixture.

No doubt, John Kosmina will be thinking long and hard all week about who to start in left midfield for Adelaide, with Pantelis, Brain and Veart among his options. The Reds accounted for the Knights with an ease not reflected on the scoreboard. The Knights can at least salvage some dignity from the result, but statistics like shots on target (15 vs 6) and possession (60% to 40%) illustrate the domination of the South Australian team. The Knights toyed with the defensive structure, starting Frank van Eijs (at last) as sweeper next to Danny Hay. Will small modifications continue to help? With the visit of Melbourne next week, the Knights have perhaps their best chance for a decent result in weeks. Against them, Archie Thompson will no doubt return to full flight. But given the pressure that Ernie Merrick and the Victory squad are under at the moment, I wouldn't be too surprised if the Knights keep this one close.

Queensland and Newcastle capped off the weekend with an entertaining, though frustrating duel in Brisbane. Roar have found no answer to their goal drought and like Merrick, Miron Bleiberg is starting to feel the heat. There was a great deal of misfortune in the result, given that Richter hit the crossbar and Corbo was ruled offside late in the match after burying the ball in the back of Tom Willis' net. But excuses don't count for much when the pattern of failure has become such a long-term problem. As for Newcastle, they continue to look the goods. With good balance across the park, creative brilliance in the form of Nick Carle, the finishing prowess of Ante Milicic, and a defensive backbone as good as anyone's, they are definite title contenders. The recent signing of ex-New Zealand skipper Vaughan Coveny suggests they're looking for (and expecting) a big finish to the season.

Australia's World Cup thrilling qualification campaign left us speechless and will remain etched in our memories forever. A-League attendances were bouyant over the weekend and should continue to pick up as the summer afternoons and nights well and truly kick in. The future is bright. My hope is that national league performances continue to improve and excite. It's nice to see all these eyebrow raising away victories and the occasional unexpected thrashing, but a little consistency and a run of good form will go a long way with the fans. It's too late for the Knights, of course, but the other seven teams are all within range of challenging for the inaugural championship. If it's this close in round twenty-one, what more could we ask for?

Best of Round Thirteen:

Player: Nick Ward (pictured) - continuing to improve since finally assuming an every week role in Glory's central attacking midfield

U-20 Player: Nick Ward

Coach: Lawrie McKinna - extracting a remarkable performance from an under-strength squad with their backs well and truly to the wall

Match: Queensland Roar vs Newcastle United Jets

Referee: Angelo Nardi

Goal: Shengqing Qu - expertly finding space in the box after accurate long-range buildup from Veart and Dodd

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Shengqing Qu - Stewart Petrie
Damien Brown - Nick Carle - Nick Ward - Richard Kitzbichler
Mateo Corbo - Andrew Clark - Iain Fyfe - Richie Alagich
Clint Bolton

Subs: Matt Horsley, Noel Spencer, Carl Veart, Tom Willis

18 November 2005

Tonight's Match

It's hard to remember that, yes, there's a game on tonight. Kickoff at Melbourne's Olympic Park is less than a minute away. After helping the socceroos come to terms with Uruguay and sharing a song and a dance with John Travolta, Archie Thompson is back for the Victory. They certainly need him to fire since they haven't scored a goal in their last three games! Meanwhile, the Mariners are missing Andre Gumprecht, another big blow to the all-important midfield engine room that has been a strength of the Mariners early success (e.g. winning the pre-season cup).

It's been a fantastic week, let's hope this round's matches cap it all off in spectacular fashion.

17 November 2005

15 November 2005

Card Watch

The following players are on 3 yellow cards and in risk of suspension for the final match before the December break (or the first game after Christmas) if they are carded again this weekend:

Adelaide - Ross Aloisi, Adam van Dommele, Carl Veart

Central Coast - Andre Gumprecht (pictured), Dean Heffernan

Melbourne - Steve Pantelidis, Adrian Leijer

Newcastle - Jade North, Allan Picken

New Zealand - Darren Bazeley, Sean Devine

Perth - Billy Celeski

Queensland - Michael Baird, Karl Dodd, Seo Hyuk-su

Sydney - Andrew Packer

14 November 2005

Round Twelve Report

Australia's quest to qualify for the World Cup completely overshadowed the A-League this week, which featured few shining performances and little of outstanding merit.

Kazuyoshi Miura's appearance in a Sydney FC shirt came quite late in the second half, much to the chagrin of his fans and personal media crew, and he made little impact against the organised Roar defence. Unfortunately, Roar sweeper Chad Gibson's misdirected attempt at clearing Sydney striker David Zdrilic's meek cross-shot on goal proved very costly indeed. The Queenslander's are in quite an offensive rut about which Alex Brosque can do very little when he continue to be outmuscled in a striker role that his flying style doesn't very well suit.

Adelaide's stunning come-from-behind victory rubbed salt deep into the substantial wounds of the Central Coast Mariners. Starting the year so impressively by winning the (still nameless?) pre-season cup, injuries and suspension have derailed the campaign of Gosford's only professional sporting club competing in a nationwide tournament. Judging from current form and fortune, they'd do well to finish above the New Zealand Knights. Meanwhile, Adelaide continue to snatch three points from unusual situations. They won in the wet in Auckland and now with two goals in the remaining few minutes they've pulled off the most thrilling and satisfying reversal of the season. Some results like this indicate a good team, others think their luck is bound to run out at a critical point in the future. But I think we can say with some certainty now that Adelaide is (a) the surprise packet of the inaugural A-League season, and (b) almost certain to figure in the top four finals series.

Of the Knights, what else can one say? Perth Glory didn't have to exert itself too much in what may as well have been a walkover. Next week the Knights take on Adelaide and I'm going to do something I haven't bothered with since week one (because I suck) and that's make a prediction: a five or six goal win for the Reds is the final blow as Knights manager John Adshead decides to give someone else a shot at motivating his charges. This may not actually involve him stepping down, but rather allowing someone else to become more involved with taking charge of the team during training and/or matches. For once I kind of believe all the rhetoric about Adshead's job safety, at least until the December break.

Finally, Melbourne and Newcastle battled out a fairly exciting 0-0 draw, probably making Queenslanders happier about their lack of potency up front. For Melbourne, Rickey Diaco showed some class, but couldn't finish, and Daniel Piorkowski gave the gaffer yet another youthful option at the back. On days like this, Victory fans should probably remember that operations manager Gary Cole and head coach Ernie Merrick still have an ace up their sleeve in the form of one more available spot on the roster. It's incredible that they haven't felt the pinch in terms of depth, as have the Mariners and just about everyone else at particular moments in the season. What's more, Melbourne's bench has proven very useful, and they still have top players like Chris Tadrosse lurking about with intent. If they manage to sign a gun midfielder in the transfer window (wouldn't we love to see Paul Okon back in Australia?) then you'd have to think them likely champions this year or next. Wouldn't you? As for Newcastle, they remain something of an enigma. Superb when banging the goals in, they are suspect when under the pressure applied by the league's top sides. The Carle-Milicic combination is without a doubt the most vibrant and value-for-money going around, but something is amiss within this squad and I just can't quite put my finger on what it is. The gut feeling is that Sydney may well be the unfair target of the arrogance label, since between the aforementioned dynamic duo, Ned 'Call Me The Saviour' Zelic, Richard 'In Ya Face' Johnson, Liam 'My Haircut Is Ace' Reddy, Stuart 'That's Right, I'm a Bad Boy' Musialik and the rest (maybe not Jade North), it's a quality the Jets seem to have in spades.

The league table has finally started to show signs of substantive splintering, with Adelaide and Sydney looking the goods, Perth, Newcastle, Melbourne and Queensland duking it out for third and fourth, while the weakest teams in terms of numerical support, the slipping Mariners and the farcical Knights, are left to face their demons. Doubts must also be expressed about Queensland's capacity to really threaten the teams above when goals are so scarce. There's still nine rounds to go, and anything can happen, but at this point luck rather than form may be required to positvely determine things for those not among the top two.

A big big open-ended question is will the Glory Boys ease off on the Steve McMahon hatred if their lads manage to win it all? In so many ways, it's a question that sends shivers down the spine...

Best of Round Twelve:

Player: Daniel Piorkowski (pictured) - coming into the starting team in a difficult situation and keeping everything very tidy against the league's in form attacking unit (i.e. the Carle-Milicic demolition team)

U-20 Player: Nick Ward - forcing his way into the starting lineup in recent weeks and capping off a polished game by collecting Mori's low cross and finishing in style

Coach: Ernie Merrick - sticking to his principles and successfully fielding the youngest back four since the U-17 World Youth Cup

Match: Central Coast Mariners vs Adelaide United

Referee: Craig Zetter

Goal: Fernando Rech - taking a rebound from a monstrous Beltrame kick upfield and thoroughly spanking a late match-winning half-volley over and around Danny Vukovic, who like Jason Petkovic early on is making a habit of getting beaten by the long ball

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

John Hutchinson - Shengqing Qu
Adrian Caceres - Carl Veart - Nick Ward - Richard Kitzbichler
Mateo Corbo - Daniel Piorkowski - Matt Horsley - Andrew Packer
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Jacob Timpano, Angelo Costanzo, Bobby Despotovski, Liam Reddy

10 November 2005

A-League Takes a Back Seat

It's on! Australia vs Uruguay, 1st Leg. 7am Sunday morning. Where I'll be: Federation Square, Melbourne.

A little earlier than expected, due to the continual shenanigans of the Uruguayan football federation, but why should that stop us from cleaning up in Montevideo?

7 November 2005

Round Eleven Report

What an astonishing week!

Ante Milicic, Sasho Petrovski and Damian Mori all notched up hattricks, after ten rounds with none. The league leaders were trounced at home, with Daniel Beltrame's woeful mistake making a mockery of my previous thoughts about goalkeeping quality in the league. At least the Roar's Tom Willis kept another clean sheet, his fifth in eight games! Meanwhile, the Knights discovered a lively home-based scoring partnership and bid Ronnie Bull farewell back to England, giving them some room under the salary cap come the transfer window. In the absence of Tom Pondeljak, Central Coast relied on the likes of Hutchinson, Brown and Spencer to little effect against a David Carney-inspired Sydney.

Once again refereeing decisions were put under the spotlight, detracting from desirable coverage of player performance, goals, and results. Elite defenders copped the brunt of the whistle blowing, with Muscat, Claeys and Beauchamp all seeing red. Each will be badly missed next week, as will Andrew Packer and Kristian Rees who both earned one-game suspensions following their fourth yellows. In the meantime, Nick Ward escaped unpunished for an elbow to the face of Adam Van Dommele, while teammate Billy Celeski picking up a yellow for bystanding! (Edit - actually, courtesy of a clip of the incident, Ward had nothing to do with it. Celeski received a caution for tripping Van Dommele after a simply unfortunate accident that saw Celeski clip Van Dommele in the head with his extended arm. The referees got everything perfectly right!) Make no mistake, the inquest vis-a-vis refereeing standards is in full swing.

Remarkably, just five points and a half-dozen goals separate the top seven sides. Sydney has not yet looked championship material, yet they share the summit of the ladder with Adelaide, which augers well for the rest of the season. While their form at home has irked some fans, they've actually recorded fewer losses on their home turf than any other club. Furthermore, they are the only team, along with Melbourne, to possess positive goal difference at home, which is quite incredible. Amazingly, every team besides Victory and the Knights have a positive away goals record!

Adelaide has been riding on its close victories for some time (e.g. round six versus the Knights). On road trips, they have escaped with five wins and no draws, while winning just one game at home where they now sustain a negative goal difference. Have the Reds been a tad lucky so far? Is the tide about to turn?

Of the rest, the Jets always look good when they're scoring freely. Their defensive frailties continue to be exposed, however. Glory's form oscillations are entirely unpredictable. Losses at home have hurt and there are question marks surrounding Mori's availability for the rest of the season. Queensland can't quite nudge their way into the top four on a consistent basis. Lack of production is a huge problem, but not for want of trying. Melbourne is in a spot of trouble over the coming weeks, with suspensions and the absence of Archie Thompson likely to exact a heavy toll. Home advantage against Newcastle and the Mariners before an away visit to New Zealand looks fairly comfortable on paper, which of course means nothing. Two of those teams, Central Coast and the Knights, probably have it even tougher. I'm expecting the Mariners to drop at least a couple of games before the December break. Life is just too tough without Pondeljak. Hopefully we'll get to see more of Leo Carle, who would be everyone's pick as a potential talismanic replacement within the squad. For the Knights, things can't get much worse so there should be improvement on the horizon. A long road trip to Glory next week doesn't help, nor does the followup excursion to Adelaide. But if Adshead can beef up the spirit a touch and continue to extract powerful outings from his local talent, who knows? Melbourne's visit to Auckland in late-November might be one to pencil in as a surprise.

Best of Round Eleven:

Player: Ante Milicic (pictured) - hitting top form at last, albeit against the hapless Knights

U-20 Player: Spase Dilevski - top show from the man with the speediest legs this side of Lance Armstrong (unless Kazuyoshi Mirua winds back the clock, that is); Dilevski has gotten so far forward this year that he's collected twice as many offsides as any other defender in the league!

Coach: Miron Bleiberg - executing a victorious homecoming, with a little help from Massimo Murdocca and friends

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Queensland Roar

Referee: Matthew Breeze

Goal: Ante Milicic - his third strike, a wonderful delicate chip around the body and over the keeper after bringing down a high ball just inside the area with the tip of his toes

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Ante Milicic - Damian Mori
David Carney - Steve Corica - Noel Spencer - Massimo Murdocca
Remo Buess - Adrian Leijer - Karl Dodd - Spase Dilevski
Tom Willis

Subs: Simon Colosimo, Stuart Musialik, Kris Bright, Jason Petkovic

2 November 2005

Our Goalkeepers

It's an open-ended contention one hears every now and then: Australian football has nurtured a disproportionate share of excellent goalkeepers as opposed to outfielders. For a short time, Mark Bosnich was among the top four or five 'keepers in the world. Mark Schwarzer has been a consistent presence in the upper echelons of the EPL for many years. In the same competition, John Filan has defied his advanced years and lowly reputation to help Wigan climb within sight of the Chelsea billionaires. Zeljko Kalac has been the first Australian to be sign for a true giant Italian club, and doesn't he like to make everyone aware of it? Then there's the likes of Jes Kedwell van Strattan and Nathan Coe, biding their time in Italy and Holland. We've even got great out of contract goalies like Michael Turnbull, who surely deserves a chance in the A-League if a roster spot happens to make itself available. And this is not to mention the numerous number one's, many of them unheralded, plying their trade in the lower leagues throughout Europe, in Spain, Greece, Turkey, England, Holland, Germany and elsewhere.

One of the arguments going around is that potential shot stoppers thrive in an Australian culture congested with hand-oriented sports. Perhaps the proliferation of 'handball' codes in this country has contributed to the accelerated development of hand-eye coordination among our sporting elite. It's an interesting assertion, but I'm not sure what to make of it. Some people might even find a problem with the original contention and argue that we haven't created many truly great 'keepers after all. Bosnich couldn't adapt to wealth and fame. They might claim that Kalac is merely Dida's training partner, or that Schwarzer has never secured a contract with a top shelf club. Or that simply Gordon Banks they ain't.

What do the current crop of goalies in the A-League suggest?

On close inspection, it's very interesting that out of the sixteen contracted goalkeepers (and one emergency ring-in: Adelaide's Nick Crossley in the fifth round), all but three have featured in the thick of the action so far this season. Milan Jovanic, Justin Pasfield and Andy Petterson are the unlucky trio who have been relegated to bench roles behind their uninjured, unsuspended rivals. But it's quite a startling fact that there's been a fair degree of revolution among those named at the top of the team sheet.

  • For the Mariners, U-20 starlet Danny Vukovic brilliantly filled in for regular starter John Crawley in round six and has since claimed the starting job.

  • Glen Moss put the pressure on Danny Milosevic with a great debut for the Knights in round five, and looks set to steal more quality time (irony intended) if Milosevic's recent hip injury continues to be a problem.

  • Michael Theoklitos and Eugene Galekovic shared duties between the posts early on for Victory, but that elusive winning feeling coincided with Galekovic's turn in the rotation and he has remained first choice ever since. You'd have to think a two or three match losing run would once again turn the tables.

  • Adelaide's Robert Bajic has deputised a couple of times for Daniel Beltrame. Ditto Roar's Scott Higgins for Tom Willis (pictured). On each occasion the backups performed admirably.

    There certainly does seem to be a useful amount of depth at the position. Further down the line, state leaguers like Jacob Rex, Ben Moore, Stuart Webster and Lupce Acevski are also extremely competent goalies. It's quite impressive that there's no room for players like them in the A-League set-up. It seems that even a reformed Mark Bosnich would find it very tough indeed to crack into a starting lineup. What coach in their right mind would seriously consider Bosnich over Bolton, Reddy, Petkovic, Willis or Beltrame?

    Our domestic 'keepers may have their detractors. They've made some clangers at times and we're probably yet to see a totally dominating performance from any one of them, but surely they stack up quite well in relation to comparative international standards.

    Are our GKs proportionately better than our locally-based outfielders? Well, the reasonably high 2.6 goals-per-game average in the A-League suggests one of two things: (1) no, or (2) yes, but only if there is a further asymmetry, this time in the outfield between defense and attack.

    So, do Australian football players attack better than they defend? Perhaps that's something to mull over while watching the next Kevin Muscat-inspired 5-0 whitewash or Alex Brosque-complicated 0-0 draw...
  • 31 October 2005

    Round Ten Report

    We've almost reached the half-way point of the domestic home-and-away season. With forty matches already played and 104 goals scored, we've come a long way (not that it feels like it) since Carl Veart and Noel Spencer helped Adelaide United and Perth Glory to opening round victories in late-August.

    News filtered through this week that A-League clubs will not be eligible for the Asian Champions League draw in December this year, a hindrance to Australian football's regional expansion but at least only a temporary one. This has to be sad news for Adelaide, who strolled into Melbourne and accomplished what Perth, Newcastle and Sydney couldn't, beating Victory on their home turf. The solid win has allowed the unfancied club to continue their domination at the top of the table, but their efforts to maximise ties with Asian neighbours (especially China) could all be for nought, or little more, come the end of the season.

    The other really surprising result on the weekend was Queensland Roar's 0-0 draw with Glory. It was just the second goaless game in the league's short history, both involving Roar who are arguably the most exciting pass-and-move team going forward in the competition. Ever since far back in the pre-season, Miron Bleiberg has been searching for a deadly finisher. He thought Alex Brosque was his man, but in reality Brosque is a flying contributor not a prolific scorer, a fact well known before he was signed over half-a-dozen other trialists from all over Europe and South America. It's probably fair to say that the goal-scoring burden placed on Brosque is too large. While Michael Baird is Brosque's most regularly used partner in attack, his position in the starting lineup is uncertain from week-to-week. Bleiberg is the antithesis of Adelaide's John Kosmina or Glory's Steve McMahon, who both like to sustain harmony and shape over long intervals, months if possible. Roar's coaching is helter-skelter, more like that displayed in Melbourne and New Zealand, other team's constantly fiddling with their lineups. But Bleiberg's team is full of youngsters, and it might be a good question to ask if they're capable of reacting, mentally, physically and emotionally, to so many daily transformations.

    Finally, given the continual fluctuations in form among all the teams, barring the Knights who've been junk for quite some time now, I wonder if anyone else gets the feeling that we're in for a topsy-turvy season from start to finish. Maybe the grand final will be an all goals affair, with the fourth placed team in the regular season getting through the preliminaries and slamming four or five past the minor premier? It's certainly possible, which is fantastic. And for all involved, stressful! Who's to know what's coming next.

    Best of Round Ten:

    Player: Tom Pondeljak (pictured) - a handful of aces against the Knights, until he fell in the box, earned a penalty and fractured his wrist

    U-20 Player: Jacob Timpano - another standout job at the back keeps Rudan on the bench; along with the forthcoming return of Milligan, restoring promise to SFC's beleaguered defence

    Coach: John Kosmina - continuing to find all the right answers for his numerous detractors

    Match: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United

    Referee: Simon Przydacz

    Goal: Carl Veart - collecting Costanzo's perfect little chip over the defence and hoofing it over the advanced Galekovic

    4-4-2 Team of the Week:

    Shengqing Qu - Tom Pondeljak
    Carl Veart - Steven Pantelidis - Angelo Costanzo - David Carney
    Alvin Ceccoli - Kristian Rees - Matt Horsley - Jade North
    Jason Petkovic

    Subs: Michael Valkanis, Richard Kitzbichler, Alex Brosque, Daniel Beltrame

    24 October 2005

    Round Nine Report

    Tensions are high. Between the FAs of Australia and Uruguay, between John Kosmina and Miron Bleiberg, between Damian Mori and Mark Shield, and just about everywhere else in between. It's that mid-season and pre-qualifying feeling, where careers and ever-lasting reputations at stake and when so many elements are in limbo. It seems that just about everyone is making a statement and sharing an opinion about our lovely game, from tactical configurations and player selections right down to the word 'football' itself. The times are looming remarkably large for Australian football; clearly these are precious moments. If we can capture this mood and sustain it every week, as we one day hope to, the lives of footballers and football fans in Australia will be very much improved.

    The voices and hearts of the naysayers will only grow stronger as we close in on the lofty heights of World Cup qualification and the smaller successes at home. At this important juncture in our history, it's important we remain focused on our long-term goals for the game. There is still plenty of room for the A-League to expand and improve its status, but likewise things could sour.

    This entire season is one long knife's edge.

    While Uruguay offers us a merry distraction and the topsy-turvy antics of our favoured clubs bring us jubilation and despair from one week to the next, we must remember to nourish and sustain all these sensational thoughts and feelings, even while they jolt us awake in the middle of the night. I like to imagine that the entire spectrum of football that is in our collective blood and minds is like a vast stretch of sandy beach, disturbed by the ebb and flow of the tide. We need to pick up a handful of the fine golden sand and keep it in our pockets, taking it with us on our journeys, having it on our side.

    Such were my thoughts when confronted the other day by grounds keepers at a local park, while attempting to have a kick of the old round ball. "You can't play here, it's not soccer season," was the jist of the antagonist's argument. "Clearly you haven't heard of the A-League," I retorted, smiling to myself and picturing that long sunny beach...

    Best of Round Nine:

    Player: Matt Horsley (pictured) - making the most of a rare start to provide the spark for a nostalgic Glory outing

    U-20 Player: Jacob Timpano - a gutsy and at times silky performance from the national youth captain

    Coach: Steve McMahon - overcoming the bizarre situation with Mori's ring finger and limiting Thompson's opportunities by closing down Melbourne's flanks, while cramming the midfield

    Match: Queensland Roar vs Adelaide United

    Referee: Ben Williams

    Goal: Fernando Rech - sweetly timing a run into the box and stooping low to power a header from Kemp's angled cross into the lower-left corner, leaving Higgins rooted to his line

    4-4-2 Team of the Week:

    Shengqing Qu - Sasho Petrovski
    Nick Ward - Simon Colosimo - Andre Gumprecht - David Carney
    Mateo Corbo - Jacob Timpano - Ned Zelic - Matt Horsley
    Clint Bolton

    Subs: Remo Buess, Lucas Pantelis, Daniel Allsopp, Daniel Beltrame

    17 October 2005

    Round Eight Report

    Two multiple-goal thrashings, a second loss on the trot for the league leaders and another spineless performance from the Knights, so much for tightly congested football in the A-League!

    The glut of goals and unbalanced scorelines this week probably indicates that the teams are starting to find their peak fitness, tactical awareness and skill levels. On their day any side, with the exception of the Knights, is able to produce a big effort and wipe the opposition off the turf. From here on, consistency and mental toughness are going to become deciding factors. Determined sides like the Mariners can blow away question-riddled outfits like the Glory. Overconfidence remains a problematic issue for Sydney. For the Knights, the lack of a results-based attitude is widening the gap between last place and the rest of the table: a few draws here and there might have helped. Adelaide and the Jets are enigmatic to say the least. From one game to the next it's impossible to predict which team will grace the park, the tactical supremos or the overwhelmed duds. And as for Victory, who have probably become overnight title favourites after their dominating 5-0 performance over Sydney, one wonders if the pressure of success in this sports mad city will start to build and build, negatively influencing performance and results?

    At the moment, certainly, Victory is flying high and looking good. Rampaging fullback Kevin Muscat has been a large factor in Victory's success. Muscat has definitely earned an international recall, impressing even his heavy detractors (including me). Craig Foster pointed out that Muscat was always a decent player of the ball but after so many years in the English lower-leagues he became overly reliant on his tough safety game. But now we're seeing a Muscat renaissance, replete with roulettes, rabonas, rollovers and sharp penalty taking, and it's actually quite pleasurable to witness! He may not get a gig against Uruguay, but for the upcoming campaign in Asia it's hard to think of a better locally-based captain for the national team (sooky Ned Zelic? I think not). Nice work, Kev.

    Archie Thompson is, of course, the other Melbourne standout. His game has great range. His pace is always a nuisance, and when he's on fire it looks like he can keep motoring all day. I've always been a touch dubious of his close-to-the-body ballwork, but at times he can produce the Midas touch. Anyone who's seen footage of his best goals for Lierse knows what I'm talking about, as do the 18,000 who attended the weekend's match versus Sydney. It might be asking for too much, but a brace against the South Americans next month would have to just about earn him the keys to the city you'd think.

    I think I might wait until the conclusion of the tenth round before compiling a summary of league and player performances to date. This week demonstrated that the putative closeness of the A-League is an extremely fluid and relative notion, which makes for wonderful football but problematic analysis. I'm just going to sit back for a couple more weeks and enjoy the show!

    Best of Round Eight:

    Player: Archie Thompson (pictured) - a super-confident return from international duty; his pace and form must put him in contention for a starting place against Uruguay

    U-20 Player: Adrian Leijer - another comfortable outing against Dwight Yorke

    Coach: Ernie Merrick - bringing in Byrnes at left back to form possibly the best defensive foursome in the league; the result: a 5-0 whitewash

    Match: Adelaide United vs Newcastle United Jets

    Referee: Mark Shield

    Goal: Hyuk-soo Seo - after a simple Carro layoff, a stunning curvaceous half-volley from even further out than last week that caught Milosevic a touch off his line

    4-4-2 Team of the Week:

    Archie Thompson - Tom Pondeljak
    Adrian Caceres - Nick Carle - Hyuk-soo Seo - Richard Kitzbichler
    Mateo Corbo - Ned Zelic - Michael Beauchamp - Kevin Muscat
    Eugene Galekovic

    Subs: Andrew Clark, Richard Johnson, Stewart Petrie, Scott Higgins