A Melbourne derby will make for a fascinating marquee fixture to kick-off Round 1 of the A-League season, as well as an exciting launchpad for Victory and City.
Who are Melbourne City? That’s the question that has been asked not just since the City Football Group’s takeover in 2014 but since their inception in 2009.
Nine seasons, six finals appearances, one FFA Cup title. No premiers plates. No championships. Not a single grand final appearance. Only the Wellington Phoenix have a longer drought. Is that set to continue this season, or is it finally time for Melbourne City to show us who they really are?
The blue half of Melbourne have either fairly or unfairly been compared to their sister club and reigning Premier League champions Manchester City. We expect the owners to put as much money as they can into the team, which we expect to play fast, thrilling, possession-based football. In the early days of the takeover we kind of got that to an extent. Damien Duff, Robert Koren and David Villa (for all of four weeks) all added a bit of starpower to the club.
It wasn’t until the 2015-16 season that the A-League got a glimpse of what City could be. Leaky at the back but devastating at the front, with Aaron Mooy combining with the likes of Harry Novillo and Bruno Fornaroli. It was punk rock football. It was chaotic, it was unpredictable, it was entertaining. But unlike the genre of music which has lasted decades, that style of football lasted a season.
John van’t Schip left, Michael Valkanis took over for a bit before Warren Joyce was handed the keys. Then it became insert genre of music you don’t like here. Boring, pragmatic, predictable.
Joyce is gone now, as are a number of star players as well – hello to Neil Kilkenny and Bruno Fornaroli across the Nullabor. Once again City are starting from scratch. A new season, a new foreign manager, new expectations.
Like Joyce, Erick Mombaerts has a decent looking resume. Riyad Mahrez is a Premier League winner. Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng is a Golden Boot winner. Antoine Griezmann is a World Cup winner who recently moved to La Liga champions Barcelona. Hugo Lloris recently played in a Champions League final. These and many more were coached by Mombaerts as youngsters.
Nathaniel Atkinson has been threatening to breakout for a while now. Lachy Wales and Ramy Najjarine could become two of the most exciting youngsters in the league if nurtured right. Denis Genreau, along with Dean Bouzanis, spent last season on loan with Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle.
Jamie Maclaren, Josh Brillante and Curtis Good are all 26 years of age which is pretty much close to being to the peak of their football powers.
Javier Cabrera, Adrian Luna and Richard Windbichler are unknown entities to the A-League. Florin Berenguer has had a full season and preseason to get used to the Australian game and climate. If Craig Noone’s preseason and FFA Cup is anything to go by, he’s going to be more a Ross McCormack than Michael O’Halloran – don’t worry, I forgot he existed as well. Michael, if you’re reading, I hope you’re well – St Johnstone are winless after seven games in Scotland, he’s not.
Then there’s Scott Jamieson and Rostyn Griffiths. Often maligned. Often rightly so, but experienced, hard-hitting, leave nothing behind, take no prisoners. Players you want to play with.
Is this a star-studded team? Absolutely not. No disrespect to the likes of Maclaren, Brillante and Noone, but they don’t have the name value to bring members into the club, to reduce the seagulls-to-people in attendance ratio at AAMI Park. But that’s not who this team is.
This club is producing, or at least has the potential to produce, some of the best, most exciting young players in the country.
This club has a handful of Australians in their mid-20s who should be fighting each and every week to prove to Socceroos coach Graham Arnold that they’re capable of helping the national team qualify for a fifth consecutive World Cup.
This club has handed opportunities to five foreign players. To come to the other side of the world, introduce yourself to a new audience and reinvent yourself far away from the pressures of their home country.
Melbourne City have failed to overtake Melbourne Victory as the biggest team in the state despite closing in on ten years in existence. They can’t allow Western United to overtake them as the second biggest team in Victoria. This is the year City have something to fight for. This is the year City have something to prove.
This is the year City must show us who they want to be. This is the year City must show us who they are.