A-League preview: Melbourne Heart need a kickstart
Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi poses for a photo at the launch of the 2012-3 season. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Stability has been the buzzword at Melbourne Heart – solid if unspectacular performances, signings, crowds, and so on. Can they bounce upwards on their consistent but unspectacular base?
2011/12: Nine wins, 10 draws, eight losses – sixth place.
Living in the shadow of the more established Victory, Heart have been a consistent performers in their brief time in the A-League. Last season they scraped into the finals with sixth place, although they went out in straight sets against eventual grand finalists, Perth Glory.
But now inaugural coach John van ‘t Schip is gone, replaced by first-time senior coach John Aloisi, and young stars have been sold off to European clubs. The latter may help with the bottom-line, at a time when the club continues to try and establish itself in the Melbourne market, but where does that leave the Heart for the 2012/13 season?
Much depends on the fitness of players who suffered from persistent injuries last season. Brazilian playmaker Fred, for example, was sorely missed when he wasn’t on the pitch last season, and at 33 years of age he could be missing in action more often. While the club is known for its youth policy, regulars such as Matt Thompson, Simon Colosimo and Clint Bolton and new signing Richard Garcia are in their 30s.
Youngsters Curtis Good (Newcastle United), Brendan Hamill (Seongnam Ilhwa), Eli Babalj (Red Star Belgrade) and Adrian Zahra (Perth Glory) will be sorely missed and their absence ages the squad. Meanwhile, the departures of regulars Rutger Worm, Alex Terra, Kristian Sarkies and Wayne Srhoj highlight the wholesale changes to the squad.
Golgol Mebrahtu, signed from Gold Coast United, has a lot of promise at 21 years of age, while the experience of Garcia will come in handy. But overall it’s a weaker squad than last season, missing a key marksman up front with, the pre-season also exposing some defensive frailties, most notably in the 5-0 loss to the Glory.
Aloisi is promoted from the Heart youth team but faces the difficult task of replicating his predecessor’s achievement of making the finals with a new-look squad missing its most exciting young talent.
Heart faces a challenging start to the season (a new coach’s worst nightmare) with the Melbourne derby and matches against last season’s top four (Central Coast Mariners, Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix) in the first six rounds.
Heart, as Melbourne’s ‘second team’, has the advantage of flying under the radar relative to the Victory, especially with the high expectations on the ‘blue side’ of Melbourne with the arrival of new coach Ange Postecoglou.
But unless they’re competitive in the derby and manage to squeeze a few points from their tough start, the club could be left at the bottom-end of the ladder early on with mounting pressure, particularly if Postecoglou revitalises the Victory.
A strong season for the Victory puts the pressure on the Heart with off-field implications, so results are vital. But it’s difficult to see how the rookie coach and his squad can push for a finals spot.
Ins: Ben Garuccio (AIS), Richard Garcia (Hull City, UK), David Vrankovic (Sydney FC NYL), Dylan Macallister, Josip Tadic (Lechia Gdansk), Golgol Mebrahtu, Steven Gray, Patrick Gerhardt (FK Zeljeznicar), Andrew Redmayne (Brisbane Roar).
Outs: Curtis Good (Newcastle United), Brendan Hamill (Seongnam Ilhwa), Eli Babalj (Red Star Belgrade), Adrian Zahra (Perth Glory), Rutger Worm (released), Alex Terra (released), Kristian Sarkies (released), Kamal Ibrahim (released), Kliment Taseski (released), Maycon (released), Nikola Roganovic (released), Craig Goodwin (Newcastle Jets), Wayne Srhoj (released).
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.