The round of football kicked off with a bang in Brisbane on Friday night, and finished with a double whammy on Sunday night. As always, there are plenty of talking points from Round 8 of the A-League.
What kind of league does the A-League want to be?
How good was the first 45 minutes on Friday?
I will tell you how good it was: it made international online news, it was that good.
For the social media-elite, Sport Bible felt that the opening 45 minutes were so good, they wanted to share the highlights (that normally would have been spread across two matches, let alone one match) on their Facebook page.
The Sport Bible Facebook page has 11 million followers.
And while it is momentary coverage, it is great coverage nonetheless.
It all got me thinking: what kind of league does the A-League want to be? It seems like an obvious question, with an apparently obvious answer, but as is always the issue with football in Australia, the answer may well be different to every fan (i.e. every stakeholder) of the game in this country.
The A-League can’t claim to be the best in the world, it won’t be the biggest in the world, likely not even the biggest in its confederation.
Does the league want to be popular, does it want to be technically sound, does it want to be used as simply a vehicle for young talent to make their pathway into bigger overseas leagues?
Does the A-League want to be everything to everyone, or simply something to someone?
At this stage, the A-League appears to be a 27 round format of 10 (soon to be 12) licensed franchises, all of whom have differing identities and practicalities.
It was further brought to light that the league is lacking in its own true identity listening this week to the reasonings behind the awarding of licences for the next two A-League sides.
Words like “metrics,” and “markets,” and “coverage” were seemingly much more important than “history,” or “culture,” or even “community.”
At this stage, the A-League is a marketing business, and to a certain extent, the marketing aspect is damaging the business part.
Take the Newcastle Jets for instance – this season they set a new membership record. Now, granted, a season following a successful grand final run, you would hope for a boom in numbers, but that team success was no accident, with a CEO in Lawrie McKenna and an owner who care about the region.
The key to the current Jets’ success has been a connection with the community, with the people who care about the game then carrying over to people who aren’t really overly aware of the game.
The Wanderers were initially successful when the fans of the west felt like they had a team that was theirs.
Which brings me back to Friday night.
For all the focus on metrics and sustainability, nothing comes close to unrivalled coverage like an exciting game that simply cannot be ignored.
For 45 minutes, the A-League’s identity was being the most exciting game on the planet.
That’s coverage that money can’t buy.
For what it’s worth
One quick point, or half a talking point, can we please get rid of the idea that just because there’s contact on an attacking player in the area, that it’s a penalty?
Football is a contact sport, players contact each other all the time.
When Milos Ninkovic went down on Saturday, and then Joel Chianese went down in Newcastle, while yes there was contact on each player, it is questionable (certainly in Ninkovic’s case) whether it was a foul.
Stop simply resting on the argument that if there’s contact in the area it’s a penalty – if that were the case, referees would have to blow free kicks every ten seconds.
Stop worrying about whether a defender made contact with his opponent, and start wondering whether there was actually a foul.
Goals shouldn’t be so easy to give away just because bodies brush up against one another.
Most enjoyable half of football I have seen
While I may appear to be doubling up on one talking point, given how exciting that first half in Brisbane was on Friday night, it really deserves to be mentioned twice.
Six goals, one send-off, penalties, sideline antics, a fiery exit, an amazing corner set-piece that resulted in a goal, I was exhausted by the end of the first half between Victory and the Roar.
Suffice to say, the second half failed to live up to the hype and expectation created by the first 45 minutes.
Keisuke Honda said after a standout 4-nil win over the Mariners that simply winning was not enough, he wanted to entertain – and a big deal was made of that statement given how well Melbourne had performed that night.
For 45 minutes on Friday, he and 21 other players did exactly that, if only for 45 minutes, but those 45 minutes were more than some teams produce over an entire season.
In a lot of ways, perhaps the luckiest man in Brisbane was Eric Bautheac. If the half hadn’t been as thrilling as it was, his ridiculous challenge and petulant exit would have had a bigger deal made of it.
Instead, everyone was talking about the amazing half of football and six goals.
If that’s what Honda meant by entertaining, then his pay check needs to double.
A tale of two coaches
It really is the best of times and the worst of times at the moment.
Mark Rudan seems to be settling into this coaching gig pretty well, and importantly, has his team all singing from the same song sheet with two wins in a row and undefeated in their last three.
Wellington has held the ladder leaders to a draw (could very easily have been a win), they took apart the mighty Sydney FC in Sydney, and they did what needed to be done against the team on the bottom.
Wellington are a team on the rise, and their new coach is rightfully reaping the plaudits.
And at the other end is that team on the bottom, and a championship winning coach who is at his wits’ end.
Worst start to a season ever, and six losses in a row, things are already looking terminal for Central Coast.
To Mike Mulvey’s credit, he doesn’t seem phased as yet.
He is making all the right noises about following the process, taking it one game at a time, trying to make the systems work.
How long the board of the Mariners will listen to that is anybody’s guess.
But as far as first season coaches go, right now, the stories could not be anymore diametrically differing than those currently being told by Rudan and Mulvey.
Ground control to Janjetovic
Vedran Janjetovic was so far out of his area when he made a leaping save with his hands off Adam le Fondre’s shot that he was almost stepping on Marcus Babbel’s sky blue socks.
What a waste.
Western Sydney, with their one win in 15 derbies, were on fire in the opening 25 minutes, outplaying Sydney and taking charge.
Oriel Riera, with his regulation derby goal, looked like he would finally score in a winning derby side.
Baumjohann, being rough-housed from pillar to post, still set up Riera for the opener, and looked ready to take charge.
Bruce Kamau and Jaushua Sotorio were carving up a slow looking Sydney defence, that defence then in strife with Alex Wilkinson already missing, and the losing Jop van der Linden to boot.
After 25 minutes, a red and black win was not just on the cards, they were already entering it into the history books in pencil.
And then Janjetovic went on an adventure the likes of which have only been seen in Middle Earth involving a fellowship.
What he was doing that far out of his area, and attempting to challenge Le Fondre, who was already covered by a Western Sydney defender, I’m not even convinced Janjetovic will know.
But when he decided to dive and save a shot (and let’s be honest, Le Fondre was that far out it was more of a cross to an offside Alex Brosque than a shot) from outside his area and guarantee his departure from the game, the derby flilpped on its head, and only one result was going to occur.
It was going to take something pretty extraordinary by a player to make them the focus after the lightning striking delay before the game, and for Vedran Janjetovic, it truly was his hold my beer moment.
Tale of two keepers
While the coaches in Wellington were experiencing opposing ends of the spectrum, so too were the goalkeepers in Newcastle.
Within the first 20 seconds, Newcastle were putting passes together with a blistering Jair volley on target to open the scoring, only for Liam Reddy to pull off a point blank blinder of a save and keep the game scoreless.
Just to prove the worth of that save, Perth raced up the other end, earned a penalty from a Glen Moss foul, and open the scoring.
Liam Reddy then continued to save everything coming his way, and keep Perth’s defence rock solid.
As for Moss, his evening got even worse when he dropped a regulation looping header into his area, and Perth pounced and scored.
If the Jets had opened the scoring, perhaps Jair could have placed his bullet volley better, and Glen Moss didn’t have butter fingers, that’s a 1-all scoreline.
Instead, Perth take all three points, and jump to the top of the table, while Newcastle, who for the most part outplayed their travelling opponents, fell outside the eight.
You can’t say that a good goalkeeper isn’t valuable.
What a cracking finish from Jordan Elsey
We had some quality own goals this weekend.
While Ola Toivonen was putting up his hand for own goal of the round, nay, season, Jordan Elsey had his own “hold my beer” moment with his sublime finish in the 26th minute against Melbourne City.
It’s always awkward when it comes to judging own goals. Defending is hard at the best of times, because you rarely get accolades for doing your job well, and you get largely lambasted for minor mistakes, while strikers can miss sitters and nobody blinks an eye.
But a quality own goal finish can’t go without passing.
Elsey’s finish was a combination of skill, placement, and a little power, so good was the finish that Paul Izzo could not move a millimetre.
And it was a shame for Adelaide in general, given that they have the one win at home this season, and were coming off a sapping loss in Victoria to another Melbourne the week before.
Eager to impress the home crowd and bounce back from their away disappointment, the last thing they needed was an Elsey cracker at the wrong end.
To add insult to injury, Elsey then gave away possession early in the second half for Melbourne City’s second.
Oh well, as my grandfather used to say, the ball is round.