Right now, if you were picking your A-League All-Stars team for the game against Manchester United in July, you’d have one hell of headache. Just try it.
While the FFA are set the announce the process for the selection of the team today, one that is likely to involve fans across the country, there’s nothing to stop us having a bit of fun here.
Sitting down with an up-and-coming Australian coach over an A-League triple-header a couple of weeks ago, we got chatting about who we’d pick if we had the reigns.
With so much quality about, it proved to be no easy task, but with a bit of negotiation and adjustment, we eventually got there.
Part of the process was about including some club combinations that might work in the context of this selection, and ensuring the team has a functional shape that made technical sense.
After all, we want this team to be competitive and represent the A-League with distinction.
We started with a formation, deciding that the 4-3-3, with a scattered midfield, was the best way to go given that most of the teams nearest the top of the table have been using something similar this season.
If required, we could always turn it into a 4-2-3-1.
With the formation decided, we started building from the back, between the sticks.
Already we had a tough decision between Eugene Galekovic and Mat Ryan. While we decided we’d be including both in the squad, only one can come out at Homebush and face up to Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
With his brilliant work sweeping behind his back four, Ryan has undoubtedly continued to develop his game this season, but there haven’t been any signs that Galekovic’s game is waning in any way.
Indeed, some of his performances have been incredible, and, as much for his consistency over the past five years, he gets the starting gig.
Others could rightly mount a strong case for Ante Covic or the fast developing Mark Birighitti, both outstanding this season, but we’ve gone with Galekovic to start and Ryan on the bench.
It doesn’t get much easier as we move from keeper to right back, where two players in particular stand out, Pedj Bojic and Jerome Polenz.
There’s very little between them, but Polenz gets the job here, as much for his combination with my right sided attacker, which I’ll reflect on further down.
In the centre of defence it gets even harder, with no less than five players in the mix for the two spot.
While his teammate Patrick Zwaanswijk has been consistently good since arriving, I’ve given an opportunity here to his younger side-kick Trent Sainsbury at right stopper.
For me he’s been the standout defender this season, clean and calm, and deserves to start.
Zwaanswijk should definitely be in the mix for the left stopper role, but I’ve got him competing with Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Michael Thwaite and Michael Beauchamp. All would add experience alongside Sainsbury.
But, in one of the tougher decisions, I’ve decided to do something a little different here and push Mark Milligan into the centre on defence, just ahead of Topor-Stanley, who starts on the bench.
Milligan has been in outstanding form as a holding midfielder, but because I’m looking to do something a little different in midfield, I’ve pushed him into defence.
Alongside him at left back there’s only one real option, his Victory teammate Adama Traore.
Thwaite, on the bench, can cover anywhere across the backline.
Part of the biggest challenge, as you move further up the pitch, is to fit the plethora of attacking options into four or five spots.
To do so, we probably didn’t have the luxury of playing two out-and-out holding midfielders.
What we needed was a man who can eat up the work of two men in midfield. There was only one option, Mateo Poljak, as tactically aware as any midfielder in the league.
As we saw against the Melbourne Heart, when the Wanderers were reduced to 10 men, Poljak can still control a midfield on his own.
What the inclusion of the powerhouse Poljak does is allow us to play a more offensive player slightly ahead of him in the number eight role.
While Shinji Ono has been playing as a number 10 most of the season, as his fitness has improved he’s shown he can work back and help control the midfield, always adding quality and composure on the ball.
It allows us to play Alessandro Del Piero further ahead of him, in the number 10 role.
While some thought was given to using Del Piero in the last line, up front, he’s proven at his most effective when joining the attack from behind the main striker.
Certainly, the thought of watching him combine with Ono in midfield whets the appetite.
It means that the likes of Billy Celeski, Marcelo Carrusca, Dario Vidosic and Aaron Mooy, all a major influence at their clubs, have to contend with a spot on the bench.
With the midfield decided, it doesn’t get any easier up front.
With their form this season, there’s certainly an argument that Marco Rojas and Archie Thompson have to be in the 11.
You could comfortably mount the same case for the likes of Michael McGlinchey, Youssouf Hersi and Daniel McBreen.
Others that might be considered as certainties, at least by Brisbane Roar fans, are Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha, or even new recent arrival Stef Nijland.
Meanwhile, Emile Heskey is the third of the A-League marquees.
Unfortunately all of these “must-haves” don’t go into three and we have to find a solution.
My first instinct is that Rojas and Thompson should be playing in the wide left and right roles, as they do for the Victory.
This would give us the option of starting either McBreen or Berisha at number nine.
This, however, means there’s no room for Hersi and McGlinchey, both playing wide on the right for their clubs.
McGlinchey continues to catch the eye, but for sheer goal-scoring influence and threat, it’s very hard to go past the in-form Hersi.
His combinations with Polenz, Ono and Poljak also help here.
With Hersi on the right, it’s Rojas on the left, which means there’s an club combination on that side.
Now there’s a decision about what to do at number nine.
While McBreen wouldn’t let this selection down, and Heskey has marketing appeal, we’ve decided to use Thompson at the pointy end, as much for the potential of his combinations with Del Piero and Ono.
See below for the finalised list. Given the quality in the A-League this season, it was far from the easiest XI to pick, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you would do?
Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United)
Mat Ryan (Central Coast Mariners)
Jerome Polenz (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Trent Sainsbury (Central Coast Mariners)
Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory)
Michael Thwaite (Perth Glory)
Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Adama Traore (Melbourne Victory)
Mateo Poljak (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Marcelo Carrusca (Adelaide United)
Shinji Ono (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Dario Vidosic (Adelaide United)
Billy Celeski (Melbourne Victory)
Aaron Mooy (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Alessandro Del Piero (Sydney FC)
Michael McGlinchey (Central Coast Mariners)
Daniel McBreen (Central Coast Mariners)
Youssouf Hersi (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Marco Rojas (Melbourne Victory)
Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory)
Thomas Broich (Brisbane Roar)
Besart Berisha (Brisbane Roar)
Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets)