The sheer romance of a football fan in yearning for a club legend to return is a wonderful feeling.
With football returning across Europe, the A-League continues its long hibernation.
The backdrop of COVID continues a vice-like grip on eastern Australia. While we wait with bated breath, let’s focus on some football for a change.
I break down the best and worst business of each team so far, point out where I think they need to improve and give them a table rating based on their off-season performance.
This article looks at ranks seven to 12, while Part 2 will break down the top six. How does your club fare?
7. Perth Glory
8. Sydney FC
9. Adelaide United
10. Wellington Phoenix
11. Western United
12. Central Coast Mariners
Nicolai Muller was a shining light in a disappointing Western Sydney Wanderers team last season. He boasts over 300 appearances in the German Bundesliga. Muller is a star for the Mariners and brings much needed experience and quality to their attacking third. His seven goals in 37 appearances for WSW understate his clear attacking threat and he could arguably be an improvement on the departing Daniel De Silva. Good service to him will remain an issue.
Here’s hoping a few more signings of equivalent quality join him on the Central Coast. Otherwise, it could be quite a long season again for everyone’s second favourite team.
This is a tough one, but I have gone with Cy Goddard from Benevento in Italy. The former Tottenham youth player is no longer young (24 years old) and his resume makes for poor reading (two sub appearances in Serie B, six in the Cypriot league) with his last club being Mumbai City in India. There is nothing to suggest here that he will be successful in the A-League and he is a poor replacement for departing Olympian Gianni Stensness.
Still to fix
Everything. The club is again in free fall after finally a promising season back on the coast. There are plenty of teams in the A-League paying the cap only, so why does the Coast revert to a whipping-boy position? Poor management and a lack of faith once again rips the heart out of the A-League’s beloved underdog.
The recent loss of Gianni Stensness hurts. Stensness developed into a key player in his two seasons on the Coast, particularly last season when he found himself in a strong combination with Oliver Bozanic. Stensness’ ball-winning and tackling was key to their success in reaching the finals last season. It does not look like he has been properly replaced and at only 22 he is only going to get better.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls joins from the Brisbane Roar on a three-year deal. Brisbane made a mistake letting him go. At just 23 years old, coming off his best season in the A-League (seven goals), this signing was a no brainer. I am surprised that other teams didn’t chase him harder. Perhaps he was given some of that Besart Berisha money.
He has potential to get even better and will get his opportunity to score many more this season with the excellent service from Alessandro Diamanti. He is an exciting prospect and it will be interesting to see how he goes this year.
Nikolai Topor-Stanley joins from the Newcastle Jets as a replacement for the retiring A-League legend Andrew Durante. This signing is a classic Western United move, who like nothing more than central defenders past their prime joining from other A-League teams. I thought he was retiring… why bother releasing Brendan Hamill to sign him? It will be a fun watch to see whether the ageing bodies in the team can survive an entire season.
Still to fix
Culture. What does Western United represent as a club? If anyone can actually tell me, I would be quite interested to know. All I can see is that Western United is quickly becoming the retirement home of the A-League. After releasing the A-League’s best ever marksman in Berisha because of his age (36), they turned around and signed Topor-Stanley (36), Jamie Young (36) and Neil Kilkenny (35). These three join the ever magical Alessandro Diamanti (38).
Other than signing ageing A-League stars, what does Western United bring to the A-League? After one strong season, and one disappointing season, it is time to start delivering. Otherwise the choice not to award a Canberra or Tasmania a team continues to be a laughable decision for the FFA.
The return of Gary Hooper from a stint in India looms as the best business so far for the Phoenix. The former Celtic legend joined on a new two-year deal. That is a savvy move from the Nix hierarchy. What Hooper promises is goals. If fit, he is good for ten to 15 goals a season in the A-League. He knows the league, is settled within the Phoenix camp (reuniting the jetski gang has to be good for the socials), and is fresh off a big pay day in India.
This is the year Hooper needs to prove his worth in the league. All signs suggest that he should.
The return of Callan Elliot from Xanthi in Greece is a puzzling move. Elliot will join the club rich with choices at right back. Unless his quality has risen significantly while training in Greece (he didn’t play a single minute for the team), Elliot should be third choice at right back behind Connor Payne and Louis Fenton.
Yes, Elliot is a Kiwi, yes, he is a young player (22) and yes, he is a recent Olympian. Other positions, however, are a greater priority for a team that can ill afford to make mistakes with their finances.
Still to fix
The loss of Ulises Davila has yet to be rectified. He is undeniably one of the three most important players at the club (alongside Paul Ifill and Roy Krishna). It remains to be seen whether the Nix back office can afford to fill that gap, given the massive uncertainty overhanging the club this season.
No team in the A-League is more impacted by the ongoing uncertainty caused by COVID than the Wellington Phoenix. Basing the team in Wollongong last season was a financial nightmare for the owners and back-office staff (ignoring the massive sacrifice the playing staff undertook). The books, while deep in the red, were saved by a $1 million grant from NZ governing body Sport NZ.
It’s shaping up as likely to have the first half of the season back in Australia. This means owners will bleed more money, all just to play their part in the season. The coffers, pre-COVID, were looking plentiful with the massive moves of Libby Cacace and Sarpreet Singh. Income from these transfers has been used to save the club, with any reinvestment lost. It is a shame for what has been a massive transformation under the new owners into a club that prides itself on being nearly financially self-sufficient.
Nick Ansell joins Adelaide from Victorian rivals Melbourne Victory. Ansell is a known quality within the A-League, is in his prime at 27 years old and will slot straight into the starting line-up as a direct replacement for Jordan Elsey. It is a strong piece of business by the new back-room office missing Bruce Djite.
While praised in some quarters, the return of a 34-year-old Isaias has raised some eyebrows. A player likely to demand plenty of the salary cap, his return form Qatar pushes two young Australian options further down the pecking order (Louis D’Arrigo and Josh Cavallo).
Adelaide have received a lot of praise in recent years for promoting South Australians in their starting line-up, with this most business at odds with their transfer policy.
Still to fix
There is a rather large hole at right back with the departure of Ryan Strain to Maccabi Haifa in Israel. Strain has developed into a key cog in the Adelaide United team. He has already been called up to the Socceroos’ squad for the qualifiers versus China and Vietnam, played 82 times for Adelaide and was one of the best right backs in the league last season. Strain can prove very difficult to replace, especially with a non-visa player.
Storm Roux potentially can fill the gap, although he failed to perform in a terrible Melbourne Victory team last year.
Max Burgess joins from Western United, after previously excelling in Phoenix colours. Burgess returns to his home city on a two-year deal. Burgess is a player who pre-COVID looked like he was on the verge of a Socceroos call-up when he scored six goals in 25 appearances for Western United. It is great to have a Bondi local and Sydney FC junior back in the squad and he should be a good replacement for the departing Alexander Baumjohann.
Elvis Kamsoba joins from Melbourne Victory. Twitter has had a field day with this signing. To call this signing something from left field is an understatement. Kamsoba is a player who in his youth promised plenty, with wicked speed to boot, yet he never was able to deliver to his potential. Kamsoba has under-performed at the league’s biggest club. Moving to an arch rival to reignite a career is an interesting move. Generally Sky Blues fans are against signing ex-Victory players (Seb Ryall is the only exception). What could possibly come from this?
Still to fix
A gap in defence. Losing Ryan McGowan, a 21-time Socceroo who had formed a great partnership with Alex Wilkinson, is a real shame. He wanted to be closer to his family in Europe and the money offered in Kuwait was also far greater than Sydney FC could afford. He will be a big loss if Ben Warland or James Donachie can’t step up to replace his output.
There is ageing star quality. Sydney FC has received plenty of well-deserved plaudits for its consistent success. This winning formula has been based on an unchanging style of football, and a settled playing roster previously unseen in the A-League era. The star style of Milos Ninkovic and Wilkinson, among others, are well beyond their peak. To remain at the top, Sydney need to find their plan B soon.
Brandon O’Neill returns to Perth an A-League champion and a Socceroo after stints in Korea and Thailand. The much improved O’Neill is expected to be the key cog in Perth’s midfield, taking over the role that Neill Kilkenny filled in previous seasons (perhaps with less anger). His most recent stint at Buriram United in Thailand raises questions over the quality of opposition he has faced most recently.
Returning at 27, O’Neill is set to hit the A-League at his prime and with a three-year contract should be the player that Perth build their squad around.
Brad Jones’ return from Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia creates perhaps the world’s oldest goalkeeper union. Normally when you sign a six-time Socceroo you’d associate it with being a quality signing. The problem here is Jones is 39 years old (past his prime even for a goalkeeper) and the Glory have strengthened a position, which arguably didn’t need strengthening.
Why bother re-signing Liam Reddy on a two-year deal when you have Brad Jones? It is a strange signing. Either way you look at it, the understudy will be a 40-year-old keeper for Perth this season and next. Why?
Still to fix
A Chris Ikonomidis-sized hole. Chris Ikonomidis’ transfer to Melbourne Victory is heartbreaking for the Perth back office and faithful alike. Losing a 14-time Socceroo who is in his prime (26) is always going to be a big loss. The money rumoured for Ikonomidis’ move means it was always going to be tough to turn down. Surely something could have been done to prioritise re-signing, particularly after rehabilitating him from the brink of a serious career-ending injury two years ago.
The ageing Diego Castro and Bruno Fornaroli eat up a serious chunk of the wage budget, and will have to stretch further to fill the void left by their Socceroos teammate.