A-League: No titles, but plenty to be won and lost in opening round
Roar players celebrate following the A-League season 7 grand final between the Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Whatever happens during the opening round will have little bearing on the destination of the A-League title.
Yet there’s no doubt the kick-off to the 2012-13 campaign is one of the most eagerly anticipated in A-League history and as such, the 10 teams in action will be keen to get off to a good start.
That’s particularly the case in Melbourne where Victory and Heart go head to head in a derby-day opener at Etihad Stadium on Friday.
Victory will be glad the media spotlight has been steadfastly trained on the city of Sydney during the pre-season as new man Ange Postecoglou aims to replicate his wildly successful stint with Brisbane Roar.
Yet just as intriguing as Postecoglou’s A-League debut with the Victory is how his counterpart John Aloisi fares at city rivals Melbourne Heart.
One of the great aspects of the A-League is that it gives young Australian coaches the chance to cut their teeth at the highest level and while Aloisi clearly enjoyed a high-profile career as a player, he’s untested at this level as a coach.
Indeed, Aloisi is just one rookie aiming to get their first win out of the way with Brisbane’s Rado Vidosic, the Wanderers’ Tony Popovic and Sydney FC’s Ian Crook also making their bows as A-League head coaches.
Conversely, Wellington’s Ricki Herbert seems to have been around since the dawn of time and after knocking Sydney FC out of the finals last season, the Phoenix would love nothing more than to spoil the Del Piero lovefest with a win over the Sky Blues at ‘The Cake Tin’ on Saturday.
We can guess what sort of welcome some of Wellington’s more experienced campaigners might give the Italian should he get on the pitch – perhaps a gentle reminder of how the 2010 World Cup went for all concerned – and with some interesting attacking signings in their midst, including livewire Solomons striker Benjamin Totori, the Phoenix may have more goals in them than in previous campaigns.
The clash between Western Sydney and the Central Coast could be the fizzer of the round, as far as I’m concerned.
The Wanderers will be nervous and the Mariners won’t play an expansive brand of football on their travels, so a scoreless draw might be on the cards at Parramatta Stadium.
Hopefully there’ll be plenty of buzz around the A-League’s newest team nonetheless, not least because Football Federation Australia can’t afford for the Wanderers to attract the kind of lacklustre crowds Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury did before them.
That shouldn’t be a problem over in Perth, where the Glory are looking to avenge their Grand Final defeat to Brisbane Roar in the unusual surrounds of Subiaco Oval.
Glory fans are still talking about that moment in last season’s decider and such is the level of feeling going into the re-match, we might reasonably expect to see the hosts ambush their visitors with an all-out attacking display.
Speaking of attacking firepower, is anyone else quietly considering the possibility of Emile Heskey scoring goals by the bucket load?
Yes, he’s hardly been prolific for the last few years but this isn’t the English Premier League and Heskey’s direct style may very well suit the A-League.
Besides, if he’s read any local press since his arrival the hulking striker will have a point to prove given that every single piece of media written about him – including this one – has mentioned his poor goal scoring record in England.
The Jets take on an Adelaide side which will have travelled to Tashkent and back before the clash, so whether that helps or hinders the Reds remains to be seen.
One thing is certain – the A-League title won’t be won or lost in the opening round.
But that won’t stop teams chasing a positive result from the get-go, with bragging rights and a positive start to the season up for grabs.
Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he has settled in Brisbane and has been a Roar columnist since December 2008. Follow Mike on twitter @Mike_Tuckerman