The future of the Jets now rests entirely on Gary van Egmond recruiting over the next off-season. But does he have the means and the guts to do what he must?
An uncompromising attitude towards playing his style of football is clear, and now it’s up to him to determine which current players can fit in his side and which positions he needs to fill.
Goalkeepers are sorted. Ben Kennedy and Mark Birighitti will fight it out for the number one spot, with Jack Duncan in the background continuing his development. Nonetheless, it’s a strange roster if you ask me, with the lack of experience a risky and bold decision.
In defence it is clear the only man who should be safe is Taylor Regan. The youngster has been colossal when called upon and should keep his place in the first 11 for the rest of the season. He is consistent, calm on the ball, strong in the tackle and possesses the willingness and ability to play the ball on the deck out of defence.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley will most likely stay, but it’s time he stepped up and acted his age. He is no longer of the mould where he should need the guiding presence of a more experienced central partner. He has to become a leader in what will likely be a young side.
The jury has to be out on Tiago Calvano. He is slow, indecisive and constantly looks likely to be sent to the stands. His strong use of the elbow and antics rolling on the floor don’t endear him to many fans either.
With the promising Connor Chapman signing on a few months back, there is a decent backup to Regan and Topor anyway.
Elrich and Byun are both coming off contract and neither deserve a new deal. It may seem harsh on Elrich, the Jets’ record appearance holder, but he has been extremely poor for too long now. Byun just doesn’t seem to provide enough going forward or in defence to warrant a new deal.
The midfield is probably the area most in need of a shake-up. Wehrman looks to be on his way already. Jobe Wheelhouse is captain and still has a year of his contract to run, but should not be anywhere near the starting 11. Hopefully van Egmond has the guts to strip him of the captaincy and keep him to a bench role.
Zadkovich will probably re-sign but the decision could be highly questionable. He is brilliant off the ball and his harrying of defenders could prove crucial for van Egmond’s game plan. Perhaps a role as a wingback would better suit.
Ben Kantarovski is the player the team needs to be built around. The U-20 Australia captain was earning rave reviews before his unfortunate injury and with increased game time his touch and awareness will come back to him. Having Jobe Wheelhouse as captain is only stemming his development.
Ali Abbas and Marko Jesic will have the rest of the season to prove themselves capable of filling the number 10 role but if van Egmond seriously wants to be competitive it is clear a natural and gifted number 10 is essential. It is unlikely both will receive new contracts.
It is also unlikely both Jeffers and Bridges will stay. They are ageing and is seems inconceivable they will be able to hold down a first team spot. Keeping Bridges would be a good idea to keep some much-needed experience in the side, though it looks like Jeffers won’t be around.
Labinot Haliti should not be given a new contract and Chris Payne looks like he is already on his way out with Wehrman.
That leaves Jeremy Brockie and Ryan Griffiths to lead the line. While both have shown moments of class, consistency will be key for them to convince van Egmond another striker is not needed. Regardless, a quality proven goal scorer should be recruited along with a number 10.
Meanwhile, squad members such as Sam Gallaway, Mario Simic, Jacob Pepper and James Virgili should stay to continue their development and hopefully make a push for the first team.
So van Egmond’s wishlist should contain the following:
A wingback – Jacob Pepper or Zadkovich could fill the other side.
A central defender – if Tiago were to be shown the door.
A central midfielder – to partner Kantarovski in the middle of the park.
A number 10 – that elusive creative spark that can turn a game on its head.
A quality, proven goal scorer of reasonable age.
So a possible line-up and one that I’d be pleased with would look like this:
Topor-Stanley, Regan, Tiago/Chapman (or replacement?)
Zadkovich, Kantarovski, (holding midfielder?), Jacob Pepper (or replacement?)
Ryan Griffiths, Jeremy Brockie (or replacement?)
A 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2, or whichever way you prefer to look at it is the type of formation I think Gary van Egmond would be wise to follow through with.
We saw the early stages of such a line-up last week against the Central Coast and the rest of the season should be used to try and drill it into the players the coach wants to keep.