Season 13: Unlucky for some, but not the A-League

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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103 Have your say

    While Sydney FC fans bask in the glow of their premiership, championship and an unrivalled and stellar season, there are nine other ambitious clubs circling A-League silverware in 2017-18.

    Off-field issues have been the centre of attention over the course of recent months and one would be foolish to dismiss them as merely that. The reality is that governance and the power structure in Australian football is inextricably linked to the highest flight.

    Shrewd financial control of the game provides security to clubs, fans and the ability to attract marquees and imports looking to lengthen their careers, as well as ensuring the survival and sustainability of lower tier clubs all over Australia. Maintaining that football baseline is vital.

    Quality coaching at youth level, clear avenues by which talent can be identified and the difficult task of turning grassroots footballers into attending fans are further issues the FFA must continue to address.

    How free-to-air coverage fits into the mix will be revealed in time and looms as a potential game changer.

    Co-ordinating all the pieces of the puzzle into a lucid and strategic plan that serves the states, clubs, youth development, women’s football and national teams is the task at hand and it intertwines with the A-League in so many ways.

    So what are fair expectations of the national league as it enters its 13th season? Let’s be fair and begin by making note of recent trends.

    The reality is that crowds aren’t growing, salary caps are keeping the talent pool relatively constant and without quality free-to-air coverage a broadening in exposure will only ever be described as a trickle. Throw in some serious questions around parity and there will be a variety of different expectations among the clubs.

    The powerhouses look strong once again – Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers will all make the top six and will accept nothing less.

    Alex Brosque Sydney FC A-League Grand Final 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    It remains to be seen whether Central Coast Mariners coach Paul Okon’s investment in youth and his trust in taking a few steps back – to eventually move forward with a style he prefers – will reap rewards this season. A finals spot would be a wonderful achievement.

    We are also none the wiser as to what the Wellington Phoenix will bring. Finishing just out of the finals in 2016-17 suggests they will feel they can climb higher. And for the sake of attendance figures and their long-term viability in the league, hopefully that is the case.

    Logic says Adelaide and Perth will improve and their supporter bases will expect just that after mixed and directionless seasons where neither seriously threatened.

    If the Brisbane Roar can harness their experienced squad into a cohesive unit they could surprise a few, despite being labelled as something of an old folk’s home. John Aloisi was not happy with the outcome last time around and will accept nothing less than a top four spot as a pass mark.

    Last season’s 10th-placed club have an enormous task ahead under new manager Ernie Merrick. The only way is up for the Newcastle Jets and hopefully the Hunter faithful climb aboard for a ride to the outskirts of the six, which would be something of an achievement.

    The A-League itself will be hoping that both ratings and attendance figures spike. A reasonable and fair goal would be 14,000 per game and if 200-300,000 people tune in to free-to-air coverage on a weekly basis, some measure of success could claim to have been achieved.

    Membership seems to have hovered between 100,000 to 120,000 recently, and it would be pleasing to see that threshold broken. Those clubs dragging the chain will need to begin the season with much improved form in order to see any increase in their figures.

    The Sydney and Melbourne teams will hold up their end of the bargain, however it would be nice to see the Phoenix and Mariners increase their numbers. Last season saw around 8000 new members join clubs and with another small increase, the 120,000 barrier is well within reach.

    A-League fans have adopted European scarf wearing

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    After the orgasmic climax of the grand final, the game experienced unprecedented media coverage. Whether articles continue to creep their way steadily towards back pages or start to slump back into the hidden depths of sporting sections in both hard and soft copy will be an excellent measuring stick.

    It will be tough to gauge numerically, but seeing football represented more positively in the media would please us all. Articles appearing alongside greyhound racing content has been commonplace and, with no disrespect to the dish lickers, if that ends it would be another step forward for the game.

    Another season of goal statistics of around three per game and stern officiating that punishes the cynical and rewards the expansive and skilful would be other barometers of success.

    Some might feel these are conservative goals, however there is one clear objective that is far more extravagant and dreamy.

    Peace on football earth! That’s right. A deal, a conclusion and a united front, brokered in good faith by all interested parties. A blueprint for the future that sees multiple tiers of football, promotion-relegation and protects all involved.

    Small increases in membership attendance, watching a good standard of football and further traction in the media achieved through quality football writing and the new television deal are all realistic goals. If these are combined with football peace, the A-League will be ready to take its largest step ever in this country.

    This season might be another where the A-League treads a little water, however with some luck, hard work and a little peace football might just be positioning itself very well for the future.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (103)

    • September 20th 2017 @ 7:54am
      Fadida said | September 20th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      I’m more excited than nemesis at an Eastern European “field hockey” final.
      Off field controversies never bother me. What has me excited is the potential brilliance of the unknown recruits. For me this is where football has it over the other major codes. Yes, they may all turn out to be rubbish (early evidence suggests not), but the unknown is thrilling. YouTube highlights are suggesting some real quality. And they are good ages.

      So many potential dark horses; Adelaide with a new coach and on paper some fabulous recruiting. Mariners should be better, the Jets vastly improved. Victory have again recruited well. Perth have interesting signings. Sydney may be even better, and have added real quality.

      WsW? Who knows. Another big turnover. City? I think they’ll bomb. A poor coaching choice, and I think they lack pace.

      Wellington? God knows. New Coach, interesting signings. Roar. Old, and it will hurt, and yet fascinating attacking signings!

      My only wish is the cap be lifted to allow more potentially mouthwatering signings.

      • Columnist

        September 20th 2017 @ 10:17am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        WSW are the real smokey. Might take a couple of months to gel yet when they do…………?

        • September 20th 2017 @ 11:36am
          Realfootball said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

          Stuart, I would place Adelaide in that category too. They have made an excellent coaching appointment and have recruited exceptionally well.

          I was surprised you referred to Melb City as a “powerhouse”. Can’t see what they have done to earn that descriptor. I would argue that the only thing they have done consistently is underwhelmed, and their squad this season looks very, very ordinary. They have never managed to replace Novillo adequately.

          • Columnist

            September 20th 2017 @ 12:06pm
            Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

            Financial powerhouse. Certainly have the resources to make an impact.

          • Roar Guru

            September 20th 2017 @ 12:19pm
            tully101 said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

            city have been consistent though, since the transformation from Heart, they have always finished in the top half of the table, no other club has achieved this during this time.
            Hopefully Chelo could be the replacement from Novillo, because city don’t lack pace, they lack some creativity. the creative spark that Novillo and Mooy brought was replaced by the speed of Fitz, Bruce & Brandan

            • September 20th 2017 @ 1:56pm
              Realfootball said | September 20th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

              Yeah, but without coming close to a Premiership or Championship.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 2:28pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

                City have never finished higher than 4th since CFG took over. Not a record to be proud of if you want to be called “powerhouse”. This season 4th looks more like a stretch target for them.

              • Roar Guru

                September 20th 2017 @ 4:13pm
                tully101 said | September 20th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

                consistent, i didnt say any good

              • September 20th 2017 @ 4:49pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

                fair enough ? I’m trying not to bait you for fear of R1 lol

            • September 21st 2017 @ 9:25am
              Realfootball said | September 21st 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

              Robbie Slater shares my view of the City squad and the club’s lack of ambition: https://www.foxsports.com.au/football/a-league

    • September 20th 2017 @ 8:21am
      Yowzers said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Will be interesting to see how Ten’s coverage on Saturday nights will stack up to SBS on a Friday.

      Will be more interesting to see how how Ronnie Vargas goes for the Jets!

      • September 21st 2017 @ 6:26pm
        Kangajets said | September 21st 2017 @ 6:26pm | ! Report

        Vargas might be the real deal for Newcastle

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:08am
      mattq said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      not happy 10’s coverage seems will be in SD. I would’ve tuned into it most weeks but will stay with Fox and their HD

      • Columnist

        September 20th 2017 @ 10:18am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        Once you have the HD experience it is hard to go back to SD. It really looks rubbish in comparison.

      • September 20th 2017 @ 11:37am
        Realfootball said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        That is not good news. I find it incredible that SD still exists.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:36am
      Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      “John Aloisi was not happy with the outcome last time around and will accept nothing less than a top four spot as a pass mark”. I don’t get the point Stuart. Has your research failed you, or are you baiting us? They finished third last season, and third the season before, both under Aloisi, so why would he be happy with nothing less than top 4.
      I think you mean top two, surely, for one of the A League’s most consistent sides.

      • Columnist

        September 20th 2017 @ 10:21am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        I mean it just as I wrote Lionheart. I know where they finished, what I am saying is that top four is a pass, of course he would want more. Another top four finish without a Grand Final or Championship will only be a pass. Maybe a b-. I was suggesting that if they do slip from the top four, Aloisi will see it as a fail. Hence supporting your correct view that the Roar are one of the most consistent sides in the A-League.

        • September 20th 2017 @ 10:28am
          Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          Thanks Stuart. I’m thinking that fans will see anything but an improvement on last season as a failure. Aloisi himself, in past seasons, has said anything but a title is a failure. He shouldn’t be happy with the same result three years running.

          • Columnist

            September 20th 2017 @ 10:50am
            Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

            Do you think they have the players to do it?

            • September 20th 2017 @ 11:01am
              Tezza said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:01am | ! Report

              Stuart, if we don`t have the players then there is really only 2 places to look, the owners and the coach for their off season recruitment. In saying that I can`t wait for the first round to kick off and see where everyone is up to.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 2:31pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

                Well Tezza, there’s no point looking at the owners this season – Aloisi has had the money and the resources to sign who he wants. And on time for a change. This is Aloisi’s squad win, lose or draw and it’s on him alone.

            • September 20th 2017 @ 11:17am
              Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

              I haven’t seen them play in the pre-season Stuart, so I don’t know. But on paper they look good – Eric Bautheac (former LOSC Lille) looks a great acquisition for the A League, and Maccaroni, despite his age, brings a lot of experience to our attack and will help the new younger guys too, Gameiro and Martinez who (from reports) look good up front. Defence has been an issue pre-season going on scores/results, but several key players have been out. I’m hoping for an injury free run and expect more goals than last season.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 2:34pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

                I’ll be very surprised if Skapetis isn’t fighting for the golden boot all season too. Probably the signing of this off season, not that you’d know it with our media coverage lol.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 3:51pm
                Fadida said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

                I’m really excited to see Skapetis Waz

              • September 20th 2017 @ 4:05pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

                I hope he’s as good as his preseason form suggests. He just looks class

              • September 20th 2017 @ 3:50pm
                Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

                Waz
                From the few reports I’ve read, mainly from fans like you I might add, we have a fine group of forwards. When we thought we’d be relying on Daggers and Brady (who are ok) they’ll be striving to get a start. Midfield looks strong but Holman has to produce or it’s up to the youth), and then there’s our defence who you’d think look a strength but I fear how our backs are used may be an issue. Time will tell.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 4:04pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

                My biggest worry is the back 3. It’s worked okay but when it fails we’ve conceded big time. I’m not a fan of the back 3 at all but JA says he is sticking with it.

                Up front we’ll be fine, mainly because we’ve got Skapetis in form (I recon he might go in the January window with Stoke still monitoring him), new French winger and Maccarone as creator not scorer.

                The midfield I don’t know; it’s a 3421 apparently so browns in the “midfield” and Holman in the “2” I guess. It all gets messy here lol.

                But this squad is good enough imo – the question marks are all over the coaches.

          • September 20th 2017 @ 11:32am
            Realfootball said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

            He’s not going to get the same result. Hell will freeze over before Brisbane finishes in the top 4 this season. The better players are too old, and the younger players are mediocre at best.

            Our only hope is the new Frenchman turns out to be another Broich.

            • September 20th 2017 @ 11:50am
              Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

              I will remember that comment Realfootball, and ask to be wrapped into my casket in a thick woollen blanket, should my time come to pass next year.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 11:52am
                Realfootball said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

                Well said!

    • Columnist

      September 20th 2017 @ 10:25am
      Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      The A-League Championship has been won by five different clubs in the last five years. That is half the competition. Not many competitions can lay claim to that. A sixth club might be the best thing for the League? Who could it be? Is it the Wanderers time? Or perhaps Perth?

      • September 20th 2017 @ 11:40am
        Nick Symonds said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        Wellington Phoenix?

      • September 20th 2017 @ 11:45am
        Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        can Sydney go back to back, and take the FFA Cup too?

        • September 20th 2017 @ 12:29pm
          punter said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

          Let’s hope so!!!!

          • Columnist

            September 20th 2017 @ 12:42pm
            Stuart Thomas said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

            If that does happen Punter, we both might need to have a sit down.

            • September 20th 2017 @ 12:52pm
              punter said | September 20th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

              Stuart, I went out & saw SFC v Man City & though City was below their best, SFC, especially in 1st half was pretty good, Adrian, the new Polish winger looks as good as Ninkovic & Wilshire looked very solid back there. O’Neill & Brillante also looked 1 year smarter.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 2:36pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

                yeah, but, wiltshire’s 36 so can’t be any good. It’s an unwritten law of Australian football don’t you know.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 2:54pm
                punter said | September 20th 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

                I think the media & MV fans has really burnt you with the old jibe.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 3:01pm
                Waz said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

                Media yes, MV fans no – that’s the sort of banta I’d expect.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 3:14pm
                punter said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

                Yes the season not far away to prove them all wrong.

                SFC got the boring SFC from fans & media alike, can see where they come from as Arnie’s team when on top grinds instead of grabbing by the throat & go for the kill. But the likes of Ninkovic, Bobo, Holosko, Brosque Grant, O’Neill & Brillante, played some lovely football & we won the double & lost final of FFA cup.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 3:54pm
                Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

                wasn’t the SFC – Man City game on TV? I thought SFC were terrible – an embarrassment to our league. They played well below themselves, far worse than any A League team I’ve seen play a visiting club. Or have I got the wrong game?

              • September 20th 2017 @ 4:15pm
                punter said | September 20th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

                LH, haha.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 6:20pm
                Lionheart said | September 20th 2017 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

                I don’t mean offence Punter, may be it was v Liverpool. My apologies if I’ve offended you.

              • September 20th 2017 @ 6:24pm
                punter said | September 20th 2017 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

                I meant SFC v Melb City in the FFA cup LH.

                The game against Liverpool was with a 2nd string team.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 12:52pm
                Mark said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

                If Sydney FC win the title again this year then so be it…that of itself will do the competition no harm. I just hope if they do, it is a bit more competitive than last season.

                Sydney’s dominance last season was not good for interest in the league. Looking at home attendances towards the end of the season, even their own fans got a bit bored of it.

    • Roar Guru

      September 20th 2017 @ 11:31am
      Chris Kettlewell said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

      I think slow, trickle-feed, modest improvements, year on year, is what we need to be thinking now. Trying to take big leaps often becomes unsustainable and you have a drop back after a while. If there can be slow gains each year that can be healthy.

      The comment about the salary cap and the talent pool is an interesting one. To me, the way the talent pool improves under a salary cap is in doing a better job ad developing young talent. The real quality young players need to be looking to top Euro pastures after a couple of years in the A-League. From a Socceroos perspective we really need that. But if we can see a really good pathway for developing high quality young players we can still see them coming in and improving the quality of the A-League overall before they graduate to higher leagues (hopefully bolstering the finances of the A-League club they came from in the way of transfer payments).

      To me that’s still the number one thing. We need to be breeding better quality young footballers and bringing them through. That will both improve the A-League and improve the Socceroos, and that will build the popularity and money in the game and all that. Get that bit right and a lot of the rest should start to fall into place.

      • September 20th 2017 @ 11:40am
        Realfootball said | September 20th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        Agree, Chris. I always saw the A League as a 20 year project. Cultural change is a generational process.

        Last season was pretty ordinary in terms of playing standards. This season, however, taken on the evidence of recruiting, looks more promising. Wellington remain a big problem.

      • September 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm
        Mark said | September 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

        Slow improvement is not a bad outcome at all, particularly when you look at Union and League, which are bleeding fans. League, at times, seems to not care if anyone turns up or not.

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