It was a year in which Australia’s youth teams, the Joeys and Young Socceroos, disappointed at their respective world cups, so it’s with deep regret that not a single under 17s or 20s player features in this 11, although a couple get notable mentions.
With the Brisbane Roar so dominant in the A-League, it was only natural that many of Ange Postecoglou’s stars feature here, in a team set out in 3-4-3.
What this team highlights is that the balance this year continued to shift from Europe to the A-League and other parts of Asia.
Matt Ryan; While Michael Theoklitos deserves a recommendation for his work with the ball at his feet, and Adam Federici continues to keep Mark Schwarzer on his toes, 2011 has seen Ryan turn the promise he showed at the start of last season into consistency, the hallmark of any good keeper. Whether for the Mariners or the Olyroos, what has impressed about Ryan is his quick feet and ability to recover from a first save to make a second.
Ivan Franjic; Despite already being in the Brisbane Roar mix when Ange Postecoglou turned up, Franjic has become an instrumental part of the machine in 2011, driving forward and adding to the Roar’s attack with his over-lapping work on the right. Often making it to the byline, he combined beautifully with Kosta Barbarouses last season and can’t be too far from a Socceroos cap if the form continues in 2012.
Matt Jurman; While Sydney FC struggled for most of last season, their resurgence in the final two months of the campaign was in no small part due to the belated inclusion of Jurman in Vitezslav Lavicka’s 11.
There he showed poise, sound distribution and good coverage. It was little wonder, when I broke the news here that he had been snapped up by the Brisbane Roar, that The Cove was up in arms, demands answers from their club as to why they had sold another talented youngster.
While the past month hasn’t quite been as kind, Jurman has slotted in fairly seamlessly into the Roar system, while Aurelio Vidmar sees him as key defender in trying to qualify for the London Olympics.
Aziz Behich; While the Melbourne Heart had a largely forgettable first season, Behich work up and down the left flank was one of the features, and he has arguably been even better this season. Having arrived at the club from cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory an attacker, it looks like some inspired work from John van’t Schip to transform him into a fullback.
I have Behich just ahead of Josh Rose and Michael Zullo, despite the latter breaking into the Socceroos. At this rate, it won’t be long before Behich is knocking on Osieck’s door.
Brett Holman; Starring for AZ Alkmaar and now one of the most influential Socceroos, Holman is a modern day attacker, helping his teams defend from the front and transition quickly into attack when the ball is won.
For the Socceroos he has been effective making intelligent diagonal runs, and, after playing out wide at the Asian Cup, is now firmly fixed in behind Josh Kennedy as the Roos shadow striker.
Erik Paartalu; having worked with him at national youth team level, Ange Postecoglou drafted Paartalu in as a key anchor in his midfield, with the aim that he sets the team’s tempo with his range of passing.
Paartalu has relished the responsibility, dropping deep, splitting his defenders, to pick up the ball off Theoklitos, before spraying it around, short and long. He also provided one of the moments of 2011 with his headed equaliser in the grand final.
Mustafa Amini; bursting onto the scene last season with his fro and on-field flow, somewhat stealing the show from often-injured star recruit Patricio Perez, Amini capped a remarkable campaign at the head of Graham Arnold’s diamond by signing for Borussia Dortmund, who loaned him back to the Mariners for this season.
There have been a few down-moments throughout 2011, such as a quiet grand final and U20s world cup, but after re-building his body in the early part of this season, his form in the past month or so has been breathtaking and augurs well for 2012.
Matt McKay; while not yet in full favour at Rangers, 2011 has been another bumper one at both club and international level. Among the stand-outs at the Asian Cup, he has proved an adaptable option for Osieck, able to play at either left back or midfield.
Driving forward, always looking to combine, he has been a key tempo setter for both Postecoglou and Osieck, and has added much composure to his game, pausing more often than he did a few years ago.
Robbie Kruse; while he is yet to hit the heights at Germany second division outfit Fortuna Dusseldorf, where he is often coming off the bench late, is was his outstanding form for Melbourne Victory in the back half of last season that saw him attract the attention of both Dusseldorf and Osieck. Showing excellent dribbling ability and pace, he has been effective mainly in the wide attacking areas.
Mathew Leckie, getting sporadic runs at Borussia Moenchengladbach, is another to watch in this area.
Josh Kennedy; what a difference a change of manager can make. Kennedy’s national team career appeared to be stalling under the counter-attacking ways of Pim Verbeek, who often played without a striker.
Under Osieck’s more offensive mantra, Kennedy has been banging in the goals, and proving he can contribute to the play outside the box with intelligent movement and good touch. At club level, for Nagoya Grampus, Kennedy continues to be a revelation, finishing the season top scorer with 19 goals and more than 10 assists, to back up his 17 goals from 2010.
Special mentions should also go to both Dylan Tombides and Kerem Bulut, who were excellent for the Joeys and Young Socceroos respectively, despite often being isolated, while Brent McGrath is another to watch, having attracted Osieck’s attention.
Alex Brosque; after being one of Sydney FC’s best under Lavicka, it has been terrific to see Brosque kick-on in Japan, at Shimizu S-Pulse, where he almost reached double-figures in the recently completed season.
With his incredible workrate and sharp creative edge, it has been no surprise to learn that Brosque has adapted to the quicker tempo in Japan, and been influencing from a slightly deeper role.
For country, it has also been a breakthrough year and he is now thought of very highly by Osieck. Nikita Rukavytsya and Tommy Oar have also been getting valuable development time at their respective European clubs.