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Western United take first steps towards becoming a real club, but questions remain

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Expert
12th February, 2019
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The A-League’s newest franchise made the slow start to become the competition’s newest club this week and made quite a statement in doing so.

The franchise formerly known as Western Melbourne Group officially unveiled their new name, new colours and first Socceroo.

Western United, which will wear green and black, announced the signing of right-back Josh Risdon – surely one of the hottest properties on the A-League free agency market.

Risdon joins former Greece international Panagiotis Kone as the club’s second player.

Yet, while the introduction of a new club will always spark intrigue, many questions remain over the ownership, financial backing, direction and future of the Wyndham outfit.

For starters, how much did the group pay for their license? Was the price they were willing to pay the ultimate factor in the decision to give them the nod? How firm was the commitment to a brand new stadium and how reliant are those plans on the investment of supporting infrastructure from the Victorian government?

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There remains no announcement on where the club will play games in their debut season, and doubts over whether or not the club is in fact part-owned by the owners of English Championship outfit Birmingham City, BSH.

An online report from Almajir.net linked BSH with the club, despite the group repeatedly asserting the investment is Australian-based.

Almajir’s report does suggest that BSH is no longer funding the project, which may mean the claims of the club’s ownership being Australian may be true, but if such significant funding has indeed been removed from the bid, will the club will be able to deliver on some of its biggest promises – especially a new stadium?

Of course, how much clarity the public can expect to get around these questions is another matter altogether.

It’s clear the club is unwilling to disclose a lot of detail about their ownership structures and financial capacity, so perhaps, in these early stages, Western United’s player recruitment will provide the clearest indication of how serious the new boys are.

In that respect, the club – fronted by super agent Lou Sticca and former Socceroo Steve Horvat – is off to a fantastic start.

Kone brings real international flair, while Risdon is the best Australian right-back going around, and one would expect any offer to keep him in Australia must have been a pretty good, given overseas interest.

Sticca pulled no punches on what to expect from the next few weeks, either.

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“People might not like it, but we’ll be very aggressive in the marketplace both locally and overseas. We’ll abide by A-League protocols but we won’t be timid, we need to have a competitive team,” he told the Herald Sun.

Any new team involving Sticca is always going to be linked with plenty of players, but it will be interesting to see how the Western United squad forms.

Should the new outfit genuinely add to the league’s ability to draw genuine marquee talent, like cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC regularly do, they will certainly be a welcome addition.

Of course, to deliver on that promise they will need to build on their first foray into the marquee market. Kone is a great start for a brand new club, but it’s not the heights some might expect from Sticca and Co.

Regardless, their real benefit could be in the greater opportunities they potentially give to up-and-coming talent from the National Premier Leagues and the National Youth League.

Signing up assistant coaches John Anastasiadis and John Hutchison will potentially go a long way to doing that.

Anastasiadis has enjoyed immense success in Victoria with the Bentleigh Greens in recent seasons and his near unrivalled knowledge of the NPL Victoria competition will give Western United a real edge when it comes to recruiting fresh talent from that particular competition.

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Victory’s recent forays into that market, with the signings of Kenny Athiu and Elvis Kamsoba, prove there is exciting potential to be unearthed in the nation’s semi-professional second tier.

If Western United can get the mix right between a compelling combination of visa players, established local quality (I’m thinking more along the lines of Luke Brattan rather than Jacob Pepper) and the best the NPL and NYL have to offer, they will promise an exciting debut season.

Football Federation Australia for one will hope Western United can deliver on the great promise they offer the competition and that public uncertainty about how well the wheels are turning behind the scenes are no more than rumours.