Despite concerns that the repercussions of a global pandemic would see a ripping of much quality from the A-League this season, a host of exciting, new, young and returning players are set to entertain.
With competition kick-off just six weeks away and a footballing public anxious to see a finalised draw, the strange void that currently exists in Australian sport is very shortly to be filled with A-League play.
The new signings began in a trickle, yet recent weeks have seen club’s squads begin to take a more definitive shape. Among the new and returning men are some very promising and potentially influential players, and the league will also showcase a host of youngsters ready to solidify their place at the top level.
This first piece in a duo of articles features four such players – men that A-League fans will be watching closely and keeping tabs on to gauge their form, fitness and impact once the league begins in late December.
1. Joseph Champness (Brisbane Roar)
After putting his football career on hold and focussing exclusively on a burgeoning musical one during 2020, Champness is back in the A-League, this time with the Brisbane Roar.
Putting aside the kerfuffle around the final details of his contract situation and the eventual loan deal struck between Newcastle and the Roar, the most important fact to remember about the 23-year-old attacker is that he can flat out play.
An experienced Olyroo, Champness showed immense promise in his developmental years in the Hunter. Former coach Ernie Merrick was impressed and Champness found the net eight times in 36 appearances, displaying both an explosive presence and a finisher’s sense in attack. Brisbane may well have got their hands on a returning gem for 2021.
2. Oliver Bozanic (Central Coast Mariners)
Potentially one of the most underrated domestic players to have gone abroad in recent times, the 31-year-old will return to an attacking midfield role in Alen Stajcic’s ever-developing Mariners and bring some much-needed experience to his youthful squad.
There will be an obvious touch of class evident when Bozanic takes to Central Coast Stadium this season, a touch that has seen the Sydney-born player lead a typically nomadic lifestyle since 2007 that has him now approaching 300 senior matches.
His arrival is a boon for the Mariners, and should it lure another quality player or two in coming weeks, the knock-on benefit could see a far improved Mariners squad in 2021.
3. Mark Milligan (Macarthur FC)
As big a mess as 2020 has been, one can only imagine the stresses and difficulties involved in attempting to prepare and present a new A-League club for the upcoming season. The Bulls have managed to do so and assembled a squad that, on paper, appears more than competitive.
Amid financial doubt and logistical uncertainty, how valuable steady and unflappable minds must have been and still will be for Macarthur as they take their place in the A-League. In Mark Milligan they have just that as well as experience and quality.
Despite living the twilight hours of a glorious career that brought 80 emotional appearances for the Socceroos and one that saw Milligan ply his trade right across the globe, A-League play will still be well and truly in the veteran’s wheelhouse.
He is destined to provide a measurable sense of calm and quiet determination in the back half for Macarthur, and with what looks a deep squad the new boys could well match Western United’s excellent debut season of 2019-20.
4. Mirza Muratovic (Wellington Phoenix)
At just 20, the upside to the signing of Muratovic is potentially immense. Personally, I felt he showed a rare touch of class in front of goal for a domestic player during his time in Brisbane.
It could prove a major win for Ufuk Talay and a steadily building Phoenix. In footballing terms the young man from Oberon is still a baby, yet he proved at youth level that scoring goals is his modus operandi, and one can only imagine what such a talent will look like at 24 or 25.
I’ll step confidently out onto a limb and state that Muratovic is a potential A-League golden boot winner at some stage in the future should he remain in the competition for the medium term. He is one of the most promising domestic players in the country.
With signings continuing to be announced on a day-to-day basis, the momentum builds for what will be a welcome return to Australian football matches played in front of living, breathing fans.
Next week I’ll cast an eye over another group of players destined to make a splash in the 2021 A-League season.