Topor-Stanley departs: Newcastle Jets cleanout continues
Another club veteran has been shown the door in Newcastle with the exit of Nikolai Topor-Stanley, as the Jets prepare to field easily the most in-experienced and cheapest squad in the A-League in 2012/2013.
Is this by design or chance?
The Jets have a very young team set for season eight, arguably the youngest in recent A-League history, and some would say too young. Undoubtedly there is a lot of talent there – including many Olyroo, Young Socceroo and Joey representatives. Many of their signings, like James Brown, were in demand from other clubs.
But the Jets now have no marquee, and little experience and little depth in key positions such as defence, central midfield and attack.
Topor-Stanley certainly had his critics, but he was also a fan favourite with many Jets supporters. His departure leaves Tiago Calvano, the slow Brazilian with a penchant for throwing elbows, as the Jets sole seasoned centre back. Connor Chapman and Taylor Regan will be fighting it out for the spot alongside him.
Another fan favourite, Tarek Elrich, has gone along with Korean fullback Byun Sung-hwan. Equal top-scoring striker Jeremy Brockie has moved to Wellington, leaving Ryan Griffiths as the only established and veteran pro up front along with Michael Bridges, who now mostly plays in midfield and is usually limited to only 30 minutes a game. Also joining the departure list has been Ali Abbas, Francis Jeffers and Labinot Haliti. The Jets are currently trialling Korean midfielder Lee Soung-yong and have five playing spots to fill.
The blood-letting is not confined to the playing ranks.
Popular chief scout and former Newcastle player David Lowe was axed, along with the entire Jets advisory board except for Ray Baartz. The advisory board was made up of respected football figures from the area – former Matildas captain and Australia’s most-capped player Cheryl Salisbury, former Socceroo Joe Senkalski, former KB United striker and renowned coach Keith Harris, respected journalist Neil Jameson and Northern NSW Football president Jeff Green. When it was set up, it was lauded across Australia as a fantastic move, but eventually the Hunter Sports Group stop listening to its advice.
National youth league coach and first team assistant Arthur Papas made the move to India, and he has been replaced by local boy and former Socceroo Clayton Zane. Zane was in charge of the Jets W-league team, but the side is now being run by Northern NSW Football.
Jets coach Gary van Egmond has publicly stated that he wants a fast and mobile side to play his attacking, up-tempo brand of attacking football. Sure, he will have bunch of speedy kids able to run all day long, but realistically how can they be expected to compete week-in-week-out without any experienced or seasoned players? Gold Coast United showed what will happen when you fill your side with youngsters before they are ready – they finished dead last. There is nothing wrong with promoting youth, but it has to be in the right circumstances and with experienced teammates beside them to guide and provide advice. Putting everything on youth is a big gamble to make.
Rumors abound that owner Nathan Tinkler has decided to rein in the purse strings for the Jets following his fracas with FFA. Most of the signs since that very public fall-out point in exactly that direction, including a massively reduced wage bill. The situation around former marquee Jason Culina has now been finalised, so why have the Jets not signed another marquee? In the past the Jets have been linked to the likes of Michael Owen and Paul Scholes as overseas signings. Have they given up on signing a big-name overseas star, which would excite their proud fans?
Clive Palmer gutted Gold Coast United in its final season in the A-League, offering only one-year contracts and allowing many of the side’s high-profile stars like Shane Smeltz to leave. Palmer relied on youth and taunted the FFA with several acts, eventually forcing United to be kicked out of the A-League – perhaps what Palmer wanted all along. Is fellow mining magnate Tinkler following a similar path (I sincerely hope not), or just demonstrating financial prudence?
It is understandable that Tinkler wants to make the Jets more profitable and lose less money this season, but the playing squad is in dire need of investment. Tinkler has moved his family to Singapore, his beloved Knights are in dire straits and he has alienated huge parts of the Newcastle football community with some controversial actions. His plans to bring back the Newcastle Falcons to the NBL and a WNBL side to Newcastle have not come to fruition. The relationship between the Hunter Sports Group and the region’s major media outlet, Fairfax’s Newcastle Herald, is strained.
The decision to hand in the Jets license to FFA dismayed many, and remains a very raw point in the Hunter.
The Jets faithful want to see the club do well, to grow and prosper and be successful. But the club has a massive question mark hovering over its future, and recent decisions won’t build any confidence. Tinkler and Hunter Sports Group have some questions to answer.
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