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Getting it right: The rocks and diamonds in A-League recruitment

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Expert
26th June, 2019
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1625 Reads

Spare me the task of trawling through hours and hours of footage and compiling countless reams of research in the search for a perfect A-League import.

It must be the most tireless and inexact science of all; piecing together fragments of form and information about players and determining whether they are indeed the perfect accompaniment to the existing squad.

Get the job right and the rewards can be considerable. Yet for every masterstroke, there are numerous failures.

Sydney FC’s championship run in 2018-19 is perhaps the most lucid example of both, with Adam le Fondre proving to be one of the most influential players throughout the season, scoring 18 goals and providing exactly what manager Steve Corica had hoped for up front.

There was plenty of information on which to form an opinion around le Fondre, as was the case with Dutchman Siem De Jong, who also played a pivotal role in Sydney’s championship.

Contrastingly, De Jong’s countryman Jop Van Der Linden proved an abject failure in the harbour city, with poor form and a recurring hip injury restricting his play to just nine A-League matches. The injury has since accelerated his retirement.

The hit and miss nature of recruitment in the A-League is personified in the above examples.

While luring the likes of Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen to our shores brings no real surprises in terms of their quality, lesser names always bring a sense of trepidation in the fans and a nervousness in those who opened the chequebook to attract them in the first place.

Adam Le Fondre

Adam Le Fondre of Sydney FC (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

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Historically there have been some duds. Most notably for me was Western Sydney’s marquee Italian in 2015-16.

Federico Piovaccari apparently had the Wanderers’ coaching staff in absolute astonishment when they first saw him train; such was his indecision and clumsiness on the ball.

It perhaps would have been somewhat humorous if not for the investment made; an investment that lasted just 12 matches where Piovaccari managed two goals and a host of misses.

The Italian has now joined his 2oth professional team, Cordoba in Spain and has scored 11 goals in 33 games.

As regrettable as that signing may have been for the Wanderers, clubs also hold on tightly to those men whose time in Australia becomes a charmed one.

Adelaide’s Isaias enjoyed six glorious seasons in the city of churches, Andy Keogh has chalked up 128 matches with the Glory and teammate Diego Castro is now part of the A-League furniture after signing a recent two-year extension on his contract.

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Roar legend Thomas Broich and Sydney FC’s Milos Ninkovic will go down as two of the best to ever grace our shores and are further examples of recruitment decisions that have been worth their weight in gold.

With such extreme levels of fortune involved in the signing of experienced international players moving towards or beyond the age of thirty, it is no wonder that Brisbane Roar took a leap of faith in signing 33-year-old Irishman Roy O’Donovan.

They know all too well of what he is capable. Both the good and the bad.

A total of 39 goals in 79 A-League matches tells anyone all they need to know about the striker and if not for the best part of a full season spent on the side line thanks to suspension, his record might be even more formidable.

The Roar have obviously taken the ‘devil you know’ approach, feeling certain of what they gain by recruiting O’Donovan and avoiding the potential pitfalls associated with signing a new face to provide potency up front.

Roy O'Donovan

Roy O’Donovan when with the Jets. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

However, that hasn’t stopped the Roar’s new manager Robbie Fowler taking a leap of faith in signing 26-year-old Welshman Aaron Amadi-Holloway from Shrewsbury Town or Tom Aldred from fellow English League One side Bury.

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The Central Coast Mariners are also attempting to eliminate unnecessary risk by offering trial opportunities to Koreans Kim Eun-sun and Lee Sang-ho, rather than bringing either in as an unknown quantity.

Alen Stajcic will get the chance to see them both in action thanks to the time they have on their hands.

Kim and Lee have been a little idle of late thanks to their dismissals from K-League clubs after drink driving incidents in 2018. If anyone was looking for a curious and quirky story to get the recruitment season underway, I think they just found it.

With most clubs yet to announce any of the new foreigners heading our way, the Wanderers have bucked the trend.

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Western Sydney’s cards are well and truly on the table after presenting new Swiss recruits Pirmin Schwegler and Daniel Lopar, as well as Pole Radoslaw Majewski.

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All three are 32 years of age and will, should the art of recruitment have been mastered by the Wanderers, play a key role in the resurgence of the red and black this season.

That art of recruitment involves more than a skerrick of luck and there are eleven A-League clubs with high hopes that the new players they are about to announce, will make 2019-20 a season to remember.