Who is the A-League’s next poster boy?
When Matt McKay signed for Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers, Brisbane Roar not only lost their inspirational leader and most dynamic midfielder, but the A-League also lost their poster boy.
McKay’s six years at Brisbane demonstrated precisely what can be gained from playing in the Australian game.
He developed an incredibly aerobic capacity, grew exponentially as a leader and developed his game technically to the point that he’s now an integral part of the Socceroos.
His absence will be sorely missed.
Granted, the recent signings of Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton have given the league an almighty boost that will hopefully resonate long beyond their respective playing tenures, however, in losing McKay, the A-League said goodbye to an element neither Kewell nor Emerton can bring.
As phenomenal as those signing were, they don’t necessarily provide the strongest endorsement to the standard the league has graduated to without them.
And while their presences will surely elevate the Australian game to an even higher level, the league could do worse by continually promoting the Australian players yet to leave these shores. Those who for the moment at least feel comfortable that the A-League can take their games, like McKay’s, to the very pinnacle of their potential.
There’s no shortage of Australian talent still playing in Australia who have either resisted international overtures or whose game will soon attract such interest.
Moreover, there are Australian players in this league, like McKay, who will surely remain on Holger Osieck’s Socceroo radar.
Here’s a list comprised of ten players who could be candidates to usurp McKay’s poster boy status – to carry the flame for all that’s excellent about the A-League.
Before, however, a brief criteria needs to be established. A clause if you will, which indicates why the likes of Oliver Bozanic, Eugene Galekovic, Zenon Caravella and Dario Vidosic can’t qualify.
Essentially, all left Australia at some point to pursue a possible European move. And though none of those names can be criticised for leaving – we’re in fact immeasurably blessed to have each back – they don’t have the organic element of the McKay story which underpins this exercise.
Andrew Durante (Wellington)
A-League championship winner with Newcastle in 2008, Durante’s brilliance and defensive solidity is somewhat masked by the relative obscurity of playing for Wellington.
The 2008 Joe Marsten medal winner was immediately made captain upon his arrival in New Zealand and has hardly missed a match since.
With over 100 A-League appearances, a position within the Socceroo back four shouldn’t be out of the question considering the age of Osieck’s preferred central pairing of Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski.
Though Durante, 29, is yet to represent Australia at any level, such a feat is by no means beyond reach when you consider McKay and Ognenovski made their debuts at 27 and 31 respectively.
Matt Thompson (Melbourne Heart)
Thompson, like McKay possesses all the qualities which propelled McKay’s game to such an esteemed level.
Having just turned 29 and with over 150 A-League appearances- an A-league record- Thompson would be the most logical candidate to take over McKay’s poster boy mantle.
His versatility and leadership qualities were the key tenants behind Melbourne Heart making the former Newcastle captain their inaugural signing.
Thompson performed admirably in Melbourne’s debut season often filling in at centre back as well his preferred central midfield location.
Thompson’s also capable of operating as a creative midfielder scoring 19 times during his five seasons at the Jets.
He’ll likely be used in a more advanced role this season thanks to the signing of Argentinean midfielder Jonathan Germano and the stability of proven Heart midfielders such as Nick Kalmar and Wayne Shroj.
Alex Wilkinson (Central Coast)
Along with Durante it’s hard to think of a central defender over the six previous A-League seasons who’s been more consistent and reliable than Alex Wilkinson.
Only Matt Thompson has suited up for more A-League games than the Mariners captain who’s been a mainstay of Central Coast’s defence having reprasented the club in all three of their grand final appearances.
Wilkinson’s a fearless leader who like McKay sets a strong example both on and off the pitch.
A potential Socceroo birth for Wilkinson remains alive, despite the 27-year-old not wearing the green and gold since junior representation almost 10 years ago.
Stuart Musialik (Central Coast)
Capped more than 30 times for Australia at junior level, recent Central Coast addition Stuart Musialik has been lost in the contemporary Socceroo landscape.
Having recently turned 26, Musialik certainly has time on his side while his move to Gosford will hopefully reinvigorate the talented Novocastrian.
Like former Jets teammate Matt Thompson, Musialik primarily operates as a central midfielder however he’s been used in a variety of roles over his more than 100 A-League appearances.
Musialik was a vital element in Newcastle’s 2008 premiership team before a big money move to Sydney where he was once again instrumental in helping the Sky Blues claim the 2010 crown.
Matt Simon (Central Coast)
Simon would certainly qualify as the most suspect member of the group though it’s often forgotten that the ginger-haired centre forward has represented Australia at both junior and senior level.
Despite being absent from the current Socceroo calculations, one thinks if he keeps scoring goals Osieck may have no other choice but to bring him in for another go.
At just 25, Simon has scored more than 30 goals in all competitions for the Mariners (25 in his past three seasons) which places him in the top five scorers amongst active A-League players.
With the Mariners having strengthed their midfield with the signing of Musialik along with the temporary retention of Mustafa Amini, Simon should continue his impressive goal scoring form.
Jason Hoffman (Melbourne Heart)
At over six feet tall, Jason Hoffman continually shapes as the kind of front-man who’s ready to explode in the A-League.
Remarkably, Hoffman’s the fourth player on this list to have tasted championship success with the Newcastle in the 2008 grand final, though it must be said Hoffman’s career has stagnated somewhat since.
Despite being one of Melbourne’s inaugural signings, Hoffman played fleetingly in the Heart’s debut season managing just a dozen games and failing to trouble the scorers.
Despite his lack of game time there remains a buzz concerning the 22-year-old and with the retirements of John Aloisi and Gerald Sibon, now seems the ideal time for the Newcastle product to really make a name for himself in the Australian game.
And if the pre-season is any guide, Hoffman stands in good stead having scored a remarkable 17 times against an eclectic mix of opposition teams, as well as netting a handful of times for the Olyroos during the Australian winter.
Mitch Nichols (Brisbane Roar)
At just 22 Mitch Nichols has already strung together 75 games for the all conquering Roar, netting no less than 12 times along the way.
A perennial representative at junior level, Nichols will surely have some role to play with the Socceroos with the question of when rather than if being most pertinent.
Nichols will likely have a much more pronounced and responsible role to play both on and off the pitch for Brisbane in the wake of McKay’s departure, with the way he’ll handle such a transition sure to be closely monitored by Osieck and the relevant Socceroo top brass.
The only stumbling block in the way of Nichols immediately taking over McKay’s poster boy status will be how long the Gold Coast product intends to stay in Australia with international overtures doubtlessly already having come his way.
Marko Jesic (Newcastle)
Another Western Sydney product, Marko Jesic shapes as an ideal Socceroos prospect, perfectly encompassing the modern ideal of the low centre of gravity, highly skilled, adaptable player capable of scoring of goals.
It’s a skill set which has seen Jesic not only become a key component of the Olyroos campaign for London, but a mantle which has seen the 22-year-old already become the most integral ingredient of a Newcastle front line in serious transition.
Jesic’s true capability in the A-League has yet to be fully realised having already blown out both of his knees restricting him to just 36 A-League appearances.
Kofi Danning (Brisbane)
Along with Mitch Nichols, Ghanaian-born Danning is the only non New South Wales-born player on this list.
And he’s here not on exposed and consistent A-League form, but because of the sublime potential he has.
Danning’s best can be spellbinding as often demonstrated as a teenager at Sydney FC and for the Joeys however his recent output has been less than satisfactory.
Danning’s performances at the recent under-20 World Cup in Colombia left a lot to be desired while he cobbled together just 12 games for a poor Sydney team last campaign contributing neither a single goal or assist.
Danning’s off-season move to Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane will hopefully unleash the talent clearly bubbling on the surface as too will perhaps more consistent game time which may come his way as a result of the departures of McKay, Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solarzano.
Ben Kantarovski (Newcastle)
Kantarovski signed a professional contract with Newcastle at just 15 and won Newcastle’s player of the year award before turning 18.
In short time he’s emerged as Newcastle’s most important player, more so now with the long term injury status of Jason Culina.
At six-feet tall, Kantarovski shapes as the idea central midfielder or defensive option. He recently captained the under-20 Australian team at the World Cup in Colombia with the team comprehensively falling apart when he aggravated a knee injury in the tournament opener.
Still a teenager, Kantarovski has already represented Australia almost 40 times at junior level while it wouldn’t surprise if he finds himself with a ticket to Brazil should the Socceroos qualify for the World Cup in 2014.