The off-season hasn’t even begun, and already we have two clubs – one of them in the finals – rolling up their sleeves, taking aim, and firing square into the boot.
The Jets, firmly in the rebuilding frame of mind after finishing last and sacking their coach, have signed Roy O’Donovan from the Central Coast Mariners. The decision to buy a striker is not an odd one, but choosing O’Donovan is.
More on that later, because meanwhile, the Roar have courted the chagrin of almost their entire supportership by ham-fistedly orchestrating a bizarre exit route for their veteran star Thomas Broich.
Broich, 36, has apparently been left in the lurch by manager John Aloisi and the Roar hierarchy, with no concrete offer for next season. The German thus has felt compelled to speak publicly to the media about the situation, and the Roar have only yesterday begun attempting to limit the damage, with Craig Moore and Mark Kingsman – the latter meekly on Twitter – putting out some puzzling explanations.
Broich, while certainly showing his age this season, nonetheless remains one of the Roar’s most creative players. He ranks inside the league’s top ten for both assists and chances created, leading his team in both categories. He has missed only three games this season, and starts and finishes the match in the vast majority of his appearances. His defensive hustle is underrated, his veteran leadership, one must assume, is utterly invaluable.
More than this, he is the club’s greatest ever player; to leave his future to hang awkwardly in limbo, with what is now his last finals campaign arriving, beggars belief.
Kingsman’s reply to a random questioner’s tweet hardly bolsters confidence that Broich will be given an adequate send-off – indeed, the most appropriate way to honour the German’s last few seasons in the A-League would be to resign him, his legacy alone argues for this.
But, in Moore’s words: “Thomas Broich is a legend of the football club. But at the end of the day, football is a business and people come and go. It does happen.”
There was a lovely moment in the Roar’s 5-1 win over the Mariners at the start of the month when, following a horribly miscued clearance, Broich pointed to the name across his back, cashing, in faux self-adulation, a a free pass for one botched hack.
He has more than earned the right to one sour pass, having banked countless sublime ones at Brisbane, but apparently that’s where the privilege ends.
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Broich cancelled plans to retire at the end of the season, but had no intention of prolonging his playing career at another A-League club. Right now, any team with money to spare and a visa spot might be tempted to snatch him up. The thought of him lining up alongside old partner in crime Besart Berisha in Melbourne, well, that possibility is simply too horrible to bear for the Roar faithful.
Have Brisbane thrashed out a deal with Golden Booted Jamie Maclaren, one that makes Broich a regrettable piece of collateral damage? That would be, if not justified, at least a little more understandable.
Yet Moore strangely intimated the decision not to assure the German of his future was essentially down to a choice between Broich and 18-year-old Joe Caletti, who has played in a little over a quarter of the Roar’s 2016-17 campaign. That explanation has not satisfied fans.
Now, to O’Donovan and the Jets.
It was made official yesterday, and as much as some Central Coast fans will grit their teeth at their top goalscorer waltzing over to their F3 Derby rivals, others are a little relieved.
O’Donovan is not, according to both the stats and the eye-test, an efficient striker, while Newcastle need a goalscorer who will convert chances efficiently.
Their Jets’ season, which tumbled down into a inky pool of disappointment, was plagued by a plethora of unrealised opportunities. Andrew Hoole was second only to Diego Castro in terms of chances created, and second only to Gui Finkler for crosses made. Andrew Nabbout was doing his best, inside the top ten for shots taken, and illuminating the league on his best nights. There is plenty of creative activity whirring around the midfield, but no one to effectively finish things off.
O’Donovan scored 11 goals for the Mariners, but did so with a minutes-to-goal ratio almost twice that of the league’s best strikers, Berisha and Maclaren. Relevantly, the Irishman took almost as many total shots as Berisha as well. He has a worse shooting accuracy than both Nabbout and Hoole, and of the top six teams’ strikers, only Berisha and Perth’s Andy Keogh were found offside more often than O’Donovan. He creates fewer chances than almost all of the top six teams’ starting strikers, and won just one penalty this season.
The Irishman reportedly rejected an offer from the Mariners, with the Jets likely offering a more handsome package. Newcastle had an equal league-worst chance conversion percentage of 11 per cent, four points worse than the Mariners, scored the second fewest goals in the league, with fewer assists than the Mariners, and more shots on target.
All of these numbers indicate an active, but highly inefficient attack, one that might be markedly improved by a reliable finisher. O’Donovan’s season indicates he is not that player.
Hoole is also out of contract, and there were vague reports a few weeks ago that he had fallen out with the club. If he is to leave, and an adequate replacement is not secured, he will take a huge portion of the team’s creativity with him, and O’Donovan will have even less to work with.
This does not even touch on how searching for a replacement for sacked manager Mark Jones will complicate things.
The Jets have also confirmed that Daniel Georgievski will join them next season, as well as Kosta Petratos and Mario Shabow.
So, as one ill-fitting attacker is brought in at Newcastle, a beloved talisman is callously ushered out at Brisbane. The true wisdom or folly of both of these decisions will become clear in the months to come.
At the moment though, it’s certainly a strange start.