There is very little time to rest, for the A-League to seek merciful solace in the post-season tranquillity. Almost immediately a new machine grinds into gear, churning and spluttering, as players spin the revolving door into a blur.
A-League clubs, some more than others, have permeable membranes in the off-season, and mass clear-outs of the playing staff occur all around the league.
It’s been only a week since Sydney FC won the title, but already there has been a flurry of movement, with clubs releasing updated rosters as they snatch eagerly for the coveted available. Here’s the scene as it stands.
Sydney have been quick to announce the retention of almost all of the key facets of their historic campaign, with Milos Ninkovic, Bobo, and Jordy Buijs having re-signed.
It looks likely that Filip Holosko will depart, as Ninkovic has assumed his marquee spot, and so he will join Bernie Ibini in leaving, with previously on-loan Ibini joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS.
All of these returning assets have bolstered hopes of a storming assault on the Asian Champions League next season, as well as offering compelling evidence of the growing ability of A-League teams to retain their best players.
Defeated finalists Melbourne Victory announced their out-going players last week, with Alan Baro, Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Nick Ansell the most notable, all of them joining the Jets-bound Daniel Georgievski on their way out of the club.
Significant losses, then, have been incurred at the centre-back position, and the club have addressed this by signing Rhys Williams from Perth, and Thomas Deng – a former Victory youth product – has been brought back to the club from PSV Eindhoven.
A deficit instantly made up, and now the focus for Victory turns to doing everything they can to retain James Troisi.
Speaking of Perth, Williams isn’t the only departure. Josh Risdon, Dino Djulbic and Nebojša Marinkovic are the other noteworthy players leaving, Risdon in particular, as he heads to Western Sydney.
Joel Chianese and, crucially, Diego Castro, are among the re-signed players, as well as goalkeeper Liam Reddy. Jacob Poscoliero has also been signed from Central Coast.
However, the loss of Williams – and in spite of the fact he was less utilised this season than perhaps might have been expected – leaves a gap in a Perth defence that’s already holier than the Shroud of Turin. If another season of kamikaze football is to be avoided, then recruitment in this area must start soon.
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The Newcastle Jets have been swiftly striding forth into what they hope is a future that’s significantly brighter than their dull, wooden-spooned present.
Mark Jones was sacked in late April, and Ernie Merrick – who himself was let go by Wellington Phoenix earlier in the 2016-17 season – has taken over the reigns, and along with the aforementioned Georgievski, has welcomed Kiwi keeper Glen Moss and striker Roy O’Donovan to the club.
Merrick has also ushered out a great number of players, something of a blood-letting, with Andrew Hoole – one of the Jets’ best attackers last season – and eight others let go. Hoole’s value, one must assume, was damaged by the spat he had with management towards the end of the season, and in Andrew Nabbout the Jets still have one of the league’s best offensive weapons.
The Wanderers and Tony Popovic – a manager who seems to relish the off-season overhaul – have released a huge swathe of first-teamers, with both captain Dimas and vice-captain Mitch Nichols saying their goodbyes.
Bruno Piñatares and Scott Neville, the latter seemingly bound for Perth, have also left, and Nico Martinez and Terry Antonis – both on loan at the Wanderers in 2016-17 – have returned to their parent clubs. Questions are bubbling up, like a bout of acid reflux, as they do every time the Wanderers tear down the first team, pondering exactly how effective this sort of extreme team-restructuring is.
Having said that, the sort of meandering mediocrity that lingered throughout the Wanderers’ 2016-17 campaign isn’t really something worth preserving. And, on the other hand, the trio of incoming players – Roly Bonevacia from Wellington, Risdon from Perth and Michael Thwaite from Liang Whowin in the CSL – are all excellent recruits.
For Brisbane, the departures of Thomas Broich and Jamie Maclaren – the former confirmed just before their semi-final, the latter confirmed just yesterday – are the most traumatic losses.
Maclaren, who was joint-winner of the 2016-17 Golden Boot, has been linked with German club FC Kaiserslautern – along with, as it happens, Brisbane teammate Brandon Borrello – but nothing certain has been established as to his next destination.
Manuel Arana and a host of others are off contract, but the club is yet to release an updated squad list. Luke DeVere signed a key extension to his contract mid-season, and in youngsters Joe Caletti and Corey Brown, the Roar have a lot to build on in the coming seasons. Manager John Aloisi, who was also mooted as being set to leave at the end of this season, has also extended his stewardship.
Adelaide have signed Paul Izzo, meaning Eugene Galekovic’s time at the club is surely coming to an end.
As for the rest, well, Melbourne City are still keeping us all on tenterhooks as to who their marquee manager will be, and are therefore yet to sign any new playing staff.
Central Coast and Wellington are both yet to sign anyone either, while allowing a great number of players to leave, which will only pour more icy water on their short-term prospects. Paul Okon’s Mariners have lost O’Donovan, Poscoliero and Izzo, and the Phoenix have lost Bonevacia, Jacob Tratt and Shane Smeltz, the latter to Indonesian club Borneo FC.
The upheaval is colossal, and we’re only a week into things. Such is life in the A-League, and as clubs bicker with the FFA over the financial distribution deal, and the issue of expansion continues to ignite spot-fires around the league, this off-season looks set to be far from tranquil.