Just 12 games remain in the regular season, and we learned a little bit more about most sides this weekend.
Here are your A-League Round 24 talking points.
With all the talk of Adelaide United’s great run and Western Sydney’s resurgence under Marko Rudan this campaign, Melbourne City might not have received all the plaudits that they deserved. Perhaps everyone is just getting used to City dominate in the regular season, as this is their third premiership on the bounce.
There’s no use rehashing the regular season versus Grand Final debate. Everyone already has their own notion, and putting personal preference aside, in general Australian sporting culture it’s all about which team can get the job done on the ultimate stage, in the ‘big dance’.
City are a big chance of completing the double in 2022-23, avenging last season’s semi-final exit at the hands of Western United, but irrespective of who lifts the toilet seat in Sydney, the work of the players, Patrick Kisnorbo and Rado Vidosic deserves to be recognised. While it’s not as strenuous as many leagues around the world, a 26-game season is still a war of attrition, so congratulations to City for being the most consistent side in the league once more.
He’s one of the more promising Australian coaches going around, and at the relatively young age of 47, Ufuk Talay will likely have numerous attractive offers on the table for next season. Earlier this week the Phoenix boss announced that he’ll be leaving Wellington at the conclusion of their campaign, and remarked that his aim is to “get an overseas job, either in Asia or Europe.”
The rumour mill has been in overdrive since Talay’s press conference, with the two most plausible A-League links being his former side Sydney FC, and the struggling Melbourne Victory. In terms of the Sky Blues, a finals finish may be enough to save Steve Corica, but has Tony Popovic got enough credit in the bank for the Victory board to overlook their disastrous 2022-23 campaign?
With Victory officially out of contention for the finals series, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an imminent announcement that Popovic is out with Talay coming in.
But who knows, he seems to have the ambition to emulate the likes of Patrick Kisnorbo, Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat in achieving overseas moves, so if one comes up it’s unlikely he’d be too keen to stay in Australia.
Popovic cut a despondent figure in the press room in the bowels of CommBank Stadium on Saturday evening.
He claimed his side weren’t that far off in the 2-1 loss to Western Sydney that ended their season, but outside of a short burst at the start of the second half before Roderick Miranda earned an early shower, it was the same old story for Victory: lack of bite up front, ineffective midfielders and relying on Paul Izzo to keep them in the game.
Poppa noted Victory “know what success looks like,” and it’s true they had a fruitful 2021-22, finishing second on the ladder before bowing out in the semi-finals. The problem is, coaches like him – think Marko Rudan – have a shelf life that is rarely more than a couple of seasons. There are myriad problems at Victory, but it seems the squad’s started to tune out the coach’s methods.
As mentioned, Talay will be available and the head coaching position at Australia’s biggest club is still an attractive proposition, so should the board explore the possibility of a new manager, there will be good options. There will most certainly be changes to the squad in the off-season, but it remains to be seen if it’ll be Poppa overseeing them.
After the success of the NRL’s Magic Round in Brisbane, Melbourne hosted the Super Rugby version, and we’ve just seen the AFL hold Gather Round in Adelaide with big crowds across the weekend. Oh, for the APL to have just sold a regular season round to the NSW government instead of its biggest spectacle. But I digress.
Football doesn’t have the nationwide footprint the other codes boast, so it may be a stretch, but I’d like to see it trialed in 2023-24. The worry, I suppose, would be seeing 1500 fans in attendance for Wellington versus Macarthur at AAMI Park, but after this season that kind of number probably doesn’t look so frightening.
There would be lots of logistics to figure out first, and I’ll leave that kind of thinking to brighter minds than my own, but a Magic Round would hopefully be a money-spinner for the APL and a chance to increase engagement for the league in the chosen city.