Gavin Bergin is here with Part 2 of his A-League Preview, as the new seasons gets underway.
It’s been an off-season of huge changes at the Jets, with no fewer than 12 of their first team squad departing the club. Phil Stubbins has been appointed to oversee what is sure to be a hugely transitional season for the Jets. With so many players leaving, Newcastle have had to recruit from around the A-League and have brought in the wonderfully named Jeronimo Neumann from Adelaide Utd, and Marco Flores on a free transfer after he was released by CCM following a bad knee injury.
They’ve also brought in Northern Ireland international Jonny Steele from New York Red Bulls, and Edson Montano, a striker from Ecuadorian club Barcelona SC. The Jets will undoubtedly have the best collection of names in the A-League, but that’s not going to win them many games on the pitch.
To expect any more than a season of rebuilding would be expecting too much. They’ll be hoping to bed in a new team and it might be the second half of the season before we (possibly) see it all come together.
To say that the Glory have been a bit of a basket case in recent times would be putting it mildly. Massive in-fighting at the club last year led to the departure of then manager Alistair Edwards, himself and (now since retired) club captain Jacob Burns not seeing eye to eye. William Gallas spent a brief but memorable time at the club last season, but he was another one to pass through the door marked “exit” since the shenanigans of last season.
Kenny Lowe is the man who took over following Alistair Edwards’ departure and perhaps not helped with everything going on around the club, struggled to make much of an impact. He starts this season having seemingly recruited wisely, with some solid A-League experience in Richard Garcia and ex-Newcastle skipper Ruben Zadkovich, allied to the signing of the tricky Youssouf Hersi from WSW.
Their main signing, and appearing to be a bit of a coup all things considered, is Irish International Andy Keogh. He’s been on the score sheet already in preseason as well as the ongoing FFA Cup, and the Glory will be looking to him to score the goals to propel them up the table.
Assuming that last year was the steep learning curve the club and Lowe needed, they could threaten the top six. Otherwise, expect another long hard season for the club from out West.
So begins the post-Alessandro Del Piero era. It’s sad to see the great man go, but it was what was needed for Sydney as a club to regroup and move forward. One man who won’t be as sadly missed is Frank Farina, who was given the boot and has since been replaced by Graham Arnold. He’s coming off the back of a disappointing spell at Vegalta Sendai in Japan, and will again be eager to show he still possesses the coaching ability that saw him lead the Mariners to two Premierships and one Championship during his spell in charge.
Their off-season recruitment has arguably only been bettered by Melbourne City. They’ve brought in some serious attacking threat in the shape of Austria captain Marc Janko, Shane Smeltz (second highest scorer in A-League history), Alex Brosque, and Bernie Ibini. In youngster Terry Antonis they possess one of the leagues brightest prospects, and will be hoping with a full pre-season under his belt he can put an injury-hit last season behind him.
Sydney scraped into the top six last year before being beaten by Melbourne Victory. Expect them to be comfortably in the top six this time around with Arnold at the helm and a much more balanced squad than last year.
The sole New Zealand representative in the A-League, the Phoenix have been through some hard times in recent years. Ernie Merrick took over from Rickie Herbert midway through last season, following a poor run of results for the Phoenix. An experienced coach, indeed soon to be the most experienced A-League coach, Merrick will have his work cut out this year.
Improving on last year’s 9th place finish would probably be considered a successful season for the Phoenix. They’ve held onto last seasons POTY Albert Riera (not the ex-Liverpool legend), and Kenny Cunningham (not that one!). Coming in are ex-Celtic youth product Michael McGlinchey, via a dispute with CCM, and Nathan Burns from Newcastle Jets. It’s hard to see the Phoenix troubling the top half of the table this season, with another long battle to avoid finishing bottom of the table more likely.
Western Sydney Wanderers
Last season saw a second consecutive Grand Final defeat for the Wanderers, following on from defeat to CCM in the 2013 final, so they’ll be hoping to take that final step this year. Considering they only formed in April 2012, it’s fair to say the Wanderers have taken to the league pretty well.
They are currently approaching a two-legged AFC Champions League Final against Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia. That’ll mean they’ll have played two Grand Finals and one Champions League final in under three years in existence, which is very impressive stuff all-round. Much of the credit has gone to manager Tony Popovic, once of Crystal Palace, and the worry must be how long the Wanderers can hang onto him.
His name has been mentioned the last couple of times that the Palace job has become available, and his reputation continues to be enhanced with the club’s Champions League progress. They’ve lost marquee man Shinji Ono, who has returned to Japan, as well as Aaron Mooy and Youssouf Hersi.
In come one time future wonderkid Romeo Castelen, Brazilian Vitor Saba (ex-Brescia), and Nigerian left-back Seyi Adeleke. They’ll have had a long season come the end of the A-league schedule, but they’ll still be expected to make an appearance in the finals. Whether they can become the first Australian side to win the AFC Champions League in the coming weeks will be at the forefront of their mind, so don’t be surprised if they start slowly in their league campaign with four away games on the bounce.
Gavin Bergin, Pundit Arena.