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Opinion

The A-League better hope it has a Plan B

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20th December, 2020
52
2020 Reads

Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years and if the wretched year that is 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that I’ll never take for granted attending a football game ever again.

It’s not looking good for the A-League’s new-look summer schedule.

An anticipated start date of December 27 is looking more and more tenuous by the hour, with Sydney’s latest COVID-19 outbreak rattling the local populace and leaving the city’s sports schedule hanging by a knife edge.

It prompted a statement late yesterday from Greg O’Rourke – now Football Australia’s ‘Head of Leagues,’ whatever that is – in which he used plenty of words to say what was painfully obvious in just a few: that 2020-21 A-League games will be postponed if necessary.

Adelaide United fans celebrate

Will we see fans at A-League games throughout this season? (Photo by James Elsby/Getty Images)

How could they not be? There are more important things in life than a game of football – not least the health and well-being of every single person involved in putting on a fixture in the first place.

The players who sacrificed so much to ensure last season came to a satisfactory conclusion deserve plenty of praise, but then so too do all the support start, stadium operators, security personnel, journalists and anyone else who risked their own safety to ensure that we still had some football to talk about.

And hopefully, with a little bit of luck and a lot more common sense, this latest outbreak of community transmission can be managed and contained and dealt with by authorities.

But it’s not looking good for the A-League in the short term.

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Which is a shame, because the 2020-21 season was shaping up as one of the most oddly exciting in years.

For all the talk of losing key players during the off-season, it’s not like those losses haven’t been offset by a hugely intriguing raft of replacements.

And the best part of welcoming a host of new faces is the fact that so many of them are spread across different clubs.

Newcomers Macarthur FC might have topped the lot, signing much-travelled Englishman Matt Derbyshire, experienced French midfielder Loïc Puyo and one-time Melbourne City winger Markel Susaeta – not to mention former Socceroo Mark Milligan as their inaugural skipper.

But it’s the capture of metronomic Basque midfielder Beñat Etxebarria that should really excite, with the former Athletic Bilbao star likely to be one of the classiest imports in the league.

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Melbourne Victory have gone the English route, augmenting a trio of English signings with towering target man Rudy Gestede, who has spent much of his career powering home headers in England’s top two tiers and the national team of Benin.

The Central Coast Mariners have got in on the act by signing Polish winger Michał Janota and Serbian midfielder Stefan Janković, there’s a couple more Spaniards in the form of Javi López and Víctor Sánchez, while classy Scottish midfielder Graham Dorrans has joined Western Sydney Wanderers.

But it’s the signing of several high-quality Japanese imports that has really got keyboards rattling, with Brisbane Roar nabbing tough-as-teak front man Masato Kudo and promising youngster Riku Danzaki, while Melbourne City have signed the genuinely exciting Naoki Tsubaki on loan.

But you can take it from me that Perth Glory have got the pick of the bunch in Kosuke Ota.

I’ve watched Ota play many times for Shimizu S-Pulse and the left back was seriously unlucky to feature only seven times for Japan, generally finding his way blocked by the legendary Yuto Nagatomo.

How refreshing is it to finally see some genuine Japanese stars in the A-League? It’s just a pity we might not be seeing them play any time soon.

The Western Sydney derby between the Wanderers and Macarthur FC on December 27 is surely in grave danger.

But the A-League has dealt with this awful pandemic once before.

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Now, as the 12 constituent clubs inch glacially towards full independence, we’ll see if they can handle it once again.