The season is starting to build up a solid head of steam and the table is starting to take a little bit of shape, so let’s take a look at some of the major points from Round 6 of the A-League.
The opportunities perpetually being lost for the Wanderers
If you needed a microcosm of the development and differing trajectories of two clubs in the space of 90 minutes, then you needn’t look any further than Melbourne Victory’s complete dismantling of the Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday night.
The Victory’s development into a true powerhouse in the Australian sporting landscape speaks for itself: success, following, star players, a true glamour club of the competition, and along with Sydney FC, a club that is genuinely recognised at home and abroad.
The Victory’s off-field success was exemplified on-field in the way they made the Wanderers look like a total class apart.
What happened to Western Sydney Wanderers?
While there is the argument that they were too successful too quickly, I don’t buy that for a second, particularly when you consider that the likes of Victory and Sydney FC have managed early success quite well, while you think of a club like Melbourne Storm in rugby league that won a comp after two seasons, and don’t seem to be complaining too much.
Early success isn’t a bad thing.
Remember, the Wanderers were very quickly the club that every club aspired to be: well-supported, and successful.
The Wanderers made grand finals, and became the first Australian club to win the Asian Champions League. How has it all gone so wrong?
The Red and Black Bloc, the self-appointed supporters group for the Wanderers, are equally unhappy, and while their influence and standing may have diminished over the seasons, well, they are not happy, as evidenced by a post on their Facebook page:
“We went from being a member’s oriented club, to this out of touch, inept organisation.
“Investment in the squad resembles that of a mediocre club, while the board “aspires” to be the biggest club in the country.
“Our squad has no depth and the results definitely show.
“The only strategy those at the helm of our club have, is to wait for a new stadium to be built, clinging onto hope that a new Western Sydney stadium may miraculously fix everything.
“The person in charge of this club is now the one selected to lead the A-League.
“An indictment on football in this country.
“Stop asking members to spend their hard earned money with nothing to show for it. Use it.”
The RBB Facebook page, in case you’re wondering (no pun intended), have a following of approximately 37,000.
Now, putting aside whatever merits of their complaint you might disagree with, one thing is undeniable: rather than competing with the likes of Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC for bragging rights of superiority in this league, the Wanderers have gone from being a members based club, to one that is largely lacking in identity, and very well short on success.
What impact the loss of Tony Popovic at the start of the last season has had on this club, we may never completely know, but the symptoms are telling.
However, that the loss of a coach, regardless of what happened last season, might still be holding the Wanderers back so badly even at this stage, makes you question how much of the club’s success was about the club as a whole, or simply due to an astute appointment of Poppa in the inaugural season.
The good thing for the Wanderers, at least this season, is that they have plenty of time to turn things around, and in Marcus Babbel they have another smart signing that might be able to turn around the fortunes.
However, as pointed out by the RBB, with the lack of player depth at the moment, Babbel can’t work miracles.
But from a broader view, getting the house in order, re-engaging with their fan base, as the RBB point out, if those in charge of the Wanderers believe that a new stadium will be some sort of miracle cure for all the club’s ills, then the Wanderers have much deeper problems than 4-nil losses to the reigning champion, which is such a shame.
Everything was in place for the Wanderers in those foundation years and subsequent seasons to truly take this competition, and the country, by storm. That hasn’t happened, and on current projections, looks largely unlikely to happen.
What a waste that truly would be.
Action on the sidelines
Talk about drama.
The sideline antics from John Aloisi and Marco Kurz made for truly entertaining viewing on Friday night.
Two coaches at each other, passion for days, Aloisi fighting to back his knocked out player, Kurz returning fire with a passioned defence of his players.
Just what the league needs, right?
The thing about Friday night is that, for me, coaches at each other’s throats really isn’t what the league needs.
Friday night needed the two coaches, in a highly volatile situation, to remain calm, and focused only on one thing: the well being of the unconscious player, Stefan Mauk.
Add in the vision of an upright Mauk leaving the field and kicking out at the stadium, it all added up to yet another episode of ‘old soccer,’ or that unsightly uncontrolled volatility that the game, at least in this country, is trying to rid itself.
And Kurz has history in this regard as well, being continuously carded by referees, and coaching a side that has players sent off with rhythmic regularity.
So, while it was entertaining, it would have been slightly more refreshing to see two coaches working with one another as colleagues, to ensure player safety, rather than reaching for their rattles at ten paces.
Same old, same old, Central Coast
Remember back when the Central Coast Mariners looked like they might be competitive this season?
When, despite the whole Bolt circus, after two rounds, the Mariners were testing their opponents and seemed unlucky to be winless, but destined for some wins?
Round 2 seems like a long, long, long time ago.
Now, to be fair, Central Coast lost to Sydney FC via an unfortunate penalty (I believe the foul was outside the box, in particular if Rhyan Grant’s boot was planted on the penalty box line and he was lunging forward), and an absolute rocket from Brendan O’Neill delivered with the type of ferocity that would make grown men, or Ben Kennedy, cry.
But the harsh reality of the situation as it currently stands is that after six rounds, the Mariners have precisely zero wins, and are back in that old familiar territory of bottom spot.
Never has a club been so perfectly summed up than the way the Mariners are when a pitch invader made it all the way to a goalmouth untouched, despite doing so with a moon boot and crutches.
It all seemed so genuinely hopeful early on that the Mike Mulvey revolution was going to bear immediate fruit, and such fruits may still be picked.
But the thing about pressure is that with every round that passes without a win, that pressure ramps up, and suddenly, so many simple things start to become more difficult, and that first win seems further and further away.
Mulvey must be cursing the name ‘Usain Bolt.’
As current circumstances are proving, as if turning this club around wasn’t going to be hard enough, but the added circus of the Bolt Show, now having left town, has left a little bit of uncertainty in its place.
And left to pick up the pieces? One M Mulvey, the same man who was already trying to put together the pieces of a club coming off its worst ever season.
I don’t know how much time Central Coast have given Mulvey, and I hope for their sake they are buying into his long term plan.
But at the moment? It looks like the same old Mariners, and it isn’t pretty.
How good is Honda?
Seriously, how good is he?
4-nil up in the 92nd minute of a clash against a completely outplayed opponent, what do you do? Do you run the clock down, play safe, and enjoy the three points and boost to your goal difference? Hell no you don’t!
That’s right, you go for the kill, and keep plugging away for more.
Or at least, that’s what you do when you are Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda.
Make no mistake, Honda is not the star player that the A-League deserves, but by gum he is the star player that this league needs.
His candid interview post-match about not caring about the result (doubt that’s completely true), but wanting to entertain and make the crowd happy – that right there is what this league needs in ways unimaginable.
If every club was given a player like Honda, and remember, again, that is what the marquee player is for, if you had that star player craving to entertain the masses, then you would go some way to answering the problem of dwindling crowds and TV viewers.
And for Melbourne, they are the club to do it, with the likes of Honda, Ola Toivonen, James Troisi, and now Raul Baena, then Honda is right, Melbourne are the team to entertain and keep scoring.
Wins are all good and well, but when you think about it, if you play a thrilling brand of football, something you can guarantee to deliver, then perhaps crowds and TV numbers will come back, even at the risk of watching your team not winning, something you can never guarantee on delivering.
The distance VAR-by
I love the Distance Derby.
5,255 km of gruelling distance travelled for 90 minutes of football, the teams do themselves justice three times a year to not only each make the 10,000 km round trip on such a regular basis, but still put on as good as show as they did on this occasion.
And here I was, all ready to wax lyrical about the Distance Derby in all its splendour, when the VAR rears its ugly little insipid head once again, and ruins everything.
As if Mark Rudan and his Nix didn’t have it hard enough, second last on the table and welcoming the ladder leader to town, but finding themselves miraculously at 1-nil up with 15 to go, surely Wellington supporters were booking out the local for a ticker tape parade.
And then the ref made the most stomach-churning signal in world football: the finger to the ear.
That’s right, the VAR was sitting there ready to ruin the contest, and in the process also ruining my pledge to keep talking points a VAR-free zone.
Now, I’m genuinely not sure who was more surprised by the delivery of the red to Ryan Lowry, who had put in a hard shift in his four-minute substitute appearance to that point: Rudan, Poppa, the commentators, the players, everyone at the game, or anyone watching with at least one eyeball and two or more brain cells.
That Lowry’s slide-tackle was deemed, upon multiple slow-montion reviews, worthy of a red card is the biggest indictment on the game since, well, funnily enough, the last time VAR intervened in such a huge moment.
And what happened? Lowry was off, the ladder leaders had a man advantage, and you guessed it, Perth scored minutes after Lowry’s departure.
Now, granted, a 1-all draw with the table-toppers by Wellington is still a great result, but make no mistake, the referee and use of the VAR robbed Wellington of a much needed, potentially season altering win, a fact that should not be forgotten.
You know what, instead of me bagging out the VAR, can someone please, just please, tell me how the game in this country has improved under VAR?
Just get rid of it. Get rid of it, get rid of it, get rid of it.
Was that silence a protest, was it?
I mentioned in last round’s talking points that Warren Joyce needed to be careful about the battle he wanted to have with his star players.
Well, to prove that he is a man of principle and won’t be deterred, he doubled-down on his show of authority, and omitted Bruno Fornaroli again.
The natives, it must be said, have become restless.
With reports that Bruno would again be missing the game and ordered to research Lite N Easy recipes, the fans decided something had to be done: protest.
The issue for Melbourne City, and their fans in particular though, is that if you are going to protest in the form of limited fan participation, whether it be non-attendance to the game or the 23-minutes of silence to open the match, then in order for that protest to have any real impact, it helps if your fans actually attend and participate in previous occasions.
If you ask me, the Melbourne City fans have been silently protesting for a few seasons now, and it’s hard to threaten not attending the game when hardly anyone shows up to begin with.
The bigger shame in all this is that the whole Joyce vs Fornaroli fued is a distraction, particularly when the real stories were Johnny Koutroumbis returning from cancer, Luke Brattan’s wonder strike and Riley McGree opening the scoring against his former club side.
As for Warren Joyce, match success or not, his battle with his players is now him against the players and the fans.
Is that a battle he genuinely thinks he is going to win? Joyce seems to genuinely think so, and he will be ably assisted by City winning without Bruno.