When I woke up on Friday morning in Sicily and switched on the second-half of Melbourne Victory’s 2-0 crushing of North Queensland Fury, I practically fell off the couch – and it had nothing to do with the Fury’s inability to put a decent cross into the box.
You see, the last thing I had expected to see when I switched the game on was Nik Mrdja trotting into the middle of Etihad Stadium wearing the “Big V”. But there he was doing just that.
Having been out of touch with the latest A-League news for about 24 hours, I hadn’t heard about Mrdja’s move, so for a good while there I was pretty sure I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. In the end, it’s made quite the storm (Mrdja’s signing, not Kansas).
It seems each week everyone is finding a new bone to pick with the A-League. Two weeks ago it was the Etihad Stadium’s pitch, last week it was the “violent conduct” that marred the Melbourne and Gold Coast blockbuster and now comes this.
Ray Gatt summarised things quite nicely in The Australian, writing that “the lateness of the signing has put intense focus on the confusing replacement rule. While there is no suggestion that Melbourne Victory did anything but act within the rules and regulations, questions are being raised over possible abuse of the system by some clubs while fans have been left wondering about loyalty issues.”
Meanwhile, Jason Culina waded into the debate in his weekly The World Game blog.
“While I don’t completely understand how the loan system works over here (let’s face it, I didn’t really understand it in Europe either), I find the whole situation a bit strange,” explained the Gold Coast United captain.
“For me, players switching from one club to another club to play a few matches, before switching back again is weird and I’m not sure why a player would want to do that.
“It’s something that I’m not familiar with and I find it difficult to get my head around.
“For me, jumping from one club to another just wouldn’t feel right. It’s not fair on the fans either.”
Now Gatt and Culina make good points, but I’m not sure why everyone is acting so surprised. We’ve seen similar moves happen in the last couple seasons with Song Jin-Hyung at Newcastle and also when Henrique joined the Roar.
While Melbourne Victory and the Central Coast Mariners have found a loophole within the transfer restrictions, I wouldn’t be surprised if FIFA took a closer look at the transfer. It is still possible that Adelaide, thanks to their illegitimate signing of Adam Griffiths, wont be the only ones caught with their pants down.
On that point, what is going on at Hindmarsh? This is the second time the club have mismanaged their Asian Champions League roster after the Jonas Salley debacle before the knockout stage in 2008. If I was a Reds fan, I would be very worried by the club’s habit of not doing due diligence on their squad movements.
Back to the Mrdja move though and even more curious than how the former Perth Glory striker signed with Melbourne was his 40-odd minute performance for the champions.
It was a promising pace-filled start that had the North Queensland defence on their toes. While low on confidence and still wayward with his finishing, Mrdja also proved that he could be a reasonable replacement for the injured Archie Thompson. Most importantly though, Mrdja’s performance on Friday was approaching a level that was generally missing during his time at the Mariners.
When Mrdja signed for the Central Coast he became one of their highest paid players, but other then a brief run of form at the start of season three he hasn’t provided the goods.
While a contract extension was forthcoming for this season, it was only because he played just enough games to automatically trigger an extension – and he remained one of the clubs highest earners.
Now I’m starting to wonder whether Mrdja’s performances for the Mariners says less about the striker and more about coach Lawrie McKinna.
While A-League clubs insist on employing what Francis Awaritefe calls ‘battering-ram forwards’, guys like Mrdja will struggle and most fans will miss out on seeing exciting football.
Personally, I’ve really enjoyed watching the Victory since Danny Allsopp moved on earlier in the season. The forward line’s mobility has enabled Melbourne to play a quick and exciting brand of football that takes advantage of Carlos Hernandez’s vision and ability to link midfield with attack. With his speed and technical ability, and the added dimension he will bring in the air, Mrdja should fit right in.
In the end, the signing of Melbourne’s new number 29 has told us more about what is holding the Mariners back than anything else.