Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is one of history’s best supersubs and one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most dangerous weapons.
Another year, another A-League season that’s flashed before our eyes, this time with a majority of teams forced to relocate to New South Wales for the final rounds thanks to this dystopian reality that is COVID-19.
Let’s see how all 11 clubs fared in a season like no other.
The pre-COVID period saw Dutchman Gerjtan Ver Beek take the reins at the city of churches, but he failed to make an impact. A record of just nine wins and ten losses amid a string of big-margin defeats led up to the season shutdown.
But Ver Beek’s exit led to a revitalised post-COVID United team under caretaker coach Carl Veart. A mixture of youth and experience under a 4-3-3 formation paid dividends. The always-safe gloves of Paul Izzo dazzled the competition in exceptional touch, which coincided with Adelaide being one of the in-form teams in the season’s post-script, albeit narrowly missing the six.
Things are looking incredibly bright for the South Australians.
Central Coast Mariners
This was yet another abysmal outing from the once-proud foundation club. To claim three wooden spoons in three seasons is unacceptable, to put it bluntly. The Coasties enjoyed only five victories across the season.
Despite a slight improvement over last year’s win record, the dark clouds continue to circle the club, and only time will tell what lies next for the Gosford side. But from here the dark days have no end in sight.
Fingers crossed midfielder Milan Djuric and Mark Birighitti put pen to paper for a contract extension. However, given the club’s financial situation, I wouldn’t get too excited.
Melbourne Victory, arguably Australia’s biggest football club, had a tumultuous 2019-20 campaign. The departure of Marco Kurz at the start of the season proceeded to a caretaker merry-go-round for the Navy Blue. Carlos Perez failed to reinvigorate the side following Kurz’s departure with underwhelming marquees Andrew Nabbout and Robbie Kruse.
Grant Brebner then took over after the pandemic suspension and bled some youngsters, including Josh Barnett, Josh Hope and Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, gaining them valuable senior game time. Together with a mini purple patch for Marco Rojas, it was a pleasure to see grassroots Aussies prosper.
But there’s a lot of work is needed to recapture the glory days of old. The team was anchored in tenth position, which is simply not good enough for a franchise of this calibre.
Western Sydney Wanderers
An upgraded Parramatta stadium, a manager with an impressive resume and a world-class training facility to boast. All the ingredients to invoke the Wanderers of old, right? Wrong. Utterly wrong. Markus Babbel’s public shaming of the A-League standard didn’t help the cause either.
Star marquee Alex Meier couldn’t hit a barn door. The only glimpse of light came in the shape of nearly completing the three-peat over cross-town rivals Sydney FC. Although we witnessed an improvement under Jean-Paul de Marigny. the disgruntled performances and unsettled supporters are in need of serious rectifying.
The Novocastrians’ slow start to the season led to the dismissal of one the A-League’s longest-serving coaches, Ernie Merrick. A record of two wins out of a possible 14 wasn’t enough to appease CEO Lawrie McKinna.
What followed was quite extraordinary: six wins, three draws and only one loss. Carl Robinson’s tenure Down Under breathed new life into the once struggling Jets under a preferred formation of a 5-3-2.
Additionally getting the best out Abdiel Arroyo and Dimitri Petratos. The bolstered attacking front added an element of speed in the shape Bernie Ibini, who was Carl Robinson’s first major signing.
All the pieces seem to be in place for the resurgent Jets to fire next season. A strong Newcastle is a strong A-League.
Eagerly hunting a manager to reignite the Roarcelona concept last seen under Ange Postecoglou, Liverpool Legend Robbie Fowler found his way to the sunshine state, and the Roar enjoyed one of their best seasons in recent years, boasting 11 victories and finishing fourth on the table.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls continues to impress next to the in-form Scott McDonald. Between the sticks Jamie Young glorified the art of goalkeeping and perhaps consolidated himself as a potential Socceroo in the near future. The incumbent Warren Moon will have a difficult task ahead to keep the Roar on track.
Holding onto key players will be a must if they are to convey the highs of this season.
Rudan’s departure at the end of the 2018-19 season left a void in the Nix. It’s fair to say most A-League pundits would’ve inked a red line through the Phoenix coming into this season only to be deceived by Ufuk Talay and talismanic attacking midfielder Ulises Davila. The wingbacks pushing up from behind showcased a unique style under Talay’s watchful eye, giving the neutral fan an entertaining spectacle.
Liberato Cacace and Cameron Devlin are destined for big things thanks to Talay. Falling just short of a semi-final appearance after becoming in entrenched in fourth position, the mutters of potentially folding the club are slowly being put to bed.
The new boys in green and black came so close to emulating a the debut season of the Wanderers in 2012-13, ending only a whisker away from a maiden grand final appearance. The ageless front three of Besart Berisha, Alessandro Diamanti and Max Burgess established themselves as a must-fear side for any defence, scoring a whopping 32 goals between them.
Mark Rudan has yet again proved he’s the real deal in the managerial stakes, delivering two finals berths in two seasons.
Meanwhile, discussions have emerged of an identity issue for United given the majority of their home games are being played out of Geelong’s GMHBA Stadium despite training 54 kilometres away in Tarneit. United will need time to grow and cement themselves in top-flight football with a geographical identity.
But as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the successes of this season will be a major stepping stone for the club going forward.
Tony Popovic’s men from the west failed to recapture any form from last season. Scrapping into the six, the COVID break delivered a diminished Glory lacking creativity in the midfield thanks to the departure of Diego Castro.
A misfiring Bruno Fornarouli in a lucky victory over Wellington at the business end of the season resulted in an underwhelming grand final replay against Sydney in the semi-final. But it was a major mismatch for Glory that led to a dispiriting end to what could’ve been a successful campaign.
The 4-0 defeat to tenth-placed Melbourne Victory midseason demonstrates just how inept the side were at times.
Moreover, Popovic’s recent return to European football will raise questions about the Glory’s prospects for next season. However, with an exquisite NSL past to tap into and luxurious stadiums to play in, Perth remain a sleeping giant of the A-League.
The City Football Group’s Australian franchise enjoyed one of their best seasons to date, finishing runners-up for the very first time in their short tenure, much to the delight of the major shareholders.
As for the playing group, Jamie Maclaren roared in the striking position, scoring 22 goals. A lot was also owed to the service of Craig Noone and Adrian Luna, who impressed as marquees.
At the back Harrison Delbridge was a veritable brick wall across the campaign, not to mention 22-year-old Thomas Glover, who arguably-should’ve won the Joe Marston medal.
Erick Mombaerts’s exit is untimely for City, though the incoming Patrick Kisnorbo’s first stint at A-League level with Mombaert’s DNA stamped into the side will make City a force to be reckoned with.
Another toilet seat safely locked up in the harbour city’s vice-like grip. That five championships in professional football, establishing the Sky Blues as an elite sporting market in Australia, not to mention the milestone of Steve Corica going back to back, the first manager to do so in A-League history.
The 16 victories across the regular season all but sealed the premiers plate by Christmas despite a mini form slump during the span of games post-COVID.
To the roster, and centre attacking midfielder Milos Ninkovic ignited an attacking front with Kosta Barbarouses and Adam le Fondre bulging the net 28 times between them. The two defeats to Western Sydney were minor setbacks in an accomplished 2019-20 campaign.
Identifying any weakness is almost impossible, and attention now turns to whether the Sky Blues can make it three in a row.