A-League 2013/14: Round Twelve Preview

Thursday 26th December: Sydney FC vs Brisbane Roar (Allianz Stadium)

With both teams coming into this round off a loss each, this will be a key game to determine how each club builds towards the second half of the current season. Farina must be praying and hoping that del Piero can return (which is most likely alongside Brett Emerton), whilst Mike Mulvey will be less than happy to know that Besart Berisha is again out for a few weeks with an injury. Janjetovic will possibly be under multiple threats thanks to Ivan Franjic and the Borussia Monchengladbach bound Kwame Yeboah, whilst at the other end of the pitch Despotovich and Garcia must try and replicate the work of the Jets. Whilst the sky blues are playing at home I don’t believe this will count too much in their favour. It’s almost impossible to go past a Brisbane Roar team that with Broich, McKay, Brattan and Miller looks more capable than the vast majority of Farina’s team (excluding ADP).

My Prediction: 2-0 win Roar

Friday 27th December: Melbourne Heart vs Wellington Phoenix (AAMI Park)

The so-called desperation derby does have the reek of mediocrity wafting around it, although to be fair to the visitors they know how to win games this season (well, one win anyway). Much will depend upon how Harry Kewell plays for the Heart (if indeed he does at all), and whether the players can continue to rally around the hapless John Aloisi. Without Paul Ifill the Kiwis are vulnerable and Hernandez and Brockie need to start doing more than making impressions of being quality footballers. It is possible that without Kisnorbo (suspended after last week’s red card) the Heart defence may be better, however can anyone realistically say that their attack with the myopic Michael Mifsud and the stuttering David Williams improve enough to beat Glen Moss in the visitor’s goal? Whatever the result don’t expect Aloisi to be sacked; he is like a barnacle on a sinking ship and can’t be levered off simply because he is integral to the whole box and dice of Heart’s floundering efforts. To cull the coach would effectively castrate every other aspect of the Heart.

My Prediction: 1-1 draw

Saturday 28th December: Melbourne Victory vs Western Sydney Wanderers (AAMI Park)

In what should be the game of the round the Wanderers will be looking to extend their dominance of the bigger and older Melburnian club away from home, with a team that is firing on all cylinders. The home team have plenty of potential going forward however I am still to be convinced that defensively they can match the visitors. Assuming Ono and Hersi start and Mooy returns Tony Popovic will have plenty of confidence in all three sectors of the Wanderers’ structure. Kevin Muscat on the other hand will be keen to see Nicholls,  Troisi, Finkler, Thompson and Pain apply pressure to Popovic’s back four. If Juric can replicate even half the performance of last round against the Mariners the Victory will be in trouble, though Contreras, Milligan and Traore are not that bad. The vibe from AAMI Par will also be intriguing, as the RBB are sending a massive deputation down south whilst the off-field ructions in the Victory’s support base are still to be resolved.

My Prediction: 0-1 win Wanderers

Sunday 29th December: Adelaide United vs Newcastle United (Coopers Stadium)

In what should be a fascinating game the Jets will be feeling pretty confident of giving Josep Gombau’s Reds a challenge if not a beating. Last time the teams met at Coopers Stadium the visitors won quite easily, and if Brillante, Hoole and Zadkovich are reinforced by Nathan Burns and Emile Heskey Gary Van Egmond will have a strong foundation to build towards an away win. Having said that the Reds enigmatic record in the last few weeks will give plenty of their fans reason to think they will win. Isaias and Djite did not play as crucial a role in the game against Perth last round as was needed, whilst Michael Zullo is rapidly losing some of the lustre he had surrounding him when he first came to the Reds. Galekovic will be hopeful that the at times porous Reds defence keeps more solid this game, whilst Birighitti will be pondering how to stop the inevitable shots he will face from Carrusca, Neumann and Ferreira. Adealide really do need the win, the Jets will probably accept a draw at worst.

My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Tuesday 31st December: Central Coast Mariners vs Perth Glory (Bluetongue Stadium)

Two neophyte coaches will be looking for improved performances from their respective teams in this final game of Round 12, and with the home advantage the Mariners should be the team to satisfy their coach by match’s end. Glory are a decent team however they have relied too heavily on a style of football that is very opportunistic plus needing one or two of their squad to rise above their usual standard. Sidnei is a prime example of this; whilst he helped destroy Wellington he hasn’t exactly helped rain in goals in other games. Injuries and lingering doubts over the stability of the team’s inner core must cause Kenny Lowe some concern, whilst for Phil Moss he has the comfort of being at Blue Tongue. Whilst the Mariners were deservedly beaten last round they still have quality in their team. McBreen must start doing more with the opportunities he is presented, whilst Mitchell Duke also needs to lift. Defence is a problem and Seip seems to be the core headache there, though in this match I don’t expect him to be as sorely tested by the Glory as he was by the Wanderers.

My Prediction: 2-0 win Mariners

A-League 2013/14: Round Eleven Review

Central Coast Mariners Vs Welington Phoenix (1-0 win Mariners)

In this hold-over from Round 6 it could have been expected that last season’s gun strikers, Jeremy Brockie for the Phoenix and CCM’s Daniel McBreen, would’ve been the stars of the match. Instead it was the work of goal keepers Liam Reddy for the Mariners and Glen Moss for the visiting Kiwi team that stuck in the memory post-game. With plenty of chances particularly coming for the Phoenix, the difference between the teams came down to two moments. Sorm Roux took his chance on goal in the 27th minute to give Central Coast the lead, then in the 52nd minute Stein Huseygems failed to convert a fortunate penalty call. In the interim there were shots a-plenty from the likes of Brockie, Hicks and Ifill for the Phoenix and Flores, McBreen and Fitzgerald. However time and again both shot-stoppers pulled off some fantastic saves. The result may have been slightly unfair on the Phoenix, however for coach Merrick it again demonstrates the paucity of defensive cohesion for his charges and finishing class. The Mariners may not have deserved the win and the trip to North Sydney was not a huge success, however with three points in the bag they could go into the following short turnaround against the Wanderers feeling happier than they left Adelaide last week.

Brisbane Roar Vs Newcastle United (0-2 win Jets)

Whatever the Jets have learnt to do to knock off the Roar is obviously patented to Gary Van Egmond and his squad, as no one else seems to have the ability to make the current table topping Queenslanders look as vulnerable as Newcastle do. As usual the Roar started with a hell of bang and with Broich providing plenty of service it was only some wayward shooting that kept the scores at 0-0. Then at the 34th minute Andrew Hoole capitalised on some weak defence from the home team to send in a speculative ground cross in the box that connected with defender James Donachie to take a right angle into the Roar’s net. Arguably the surface of Suncorp stadium didn’t suit Mulvey’s team however the work of Zadkovich, Hoole and Brillante was hardly impacted by the ground. As in previous rounds the younger Jets players had plenty of run and imagination, however this game they actually looked capable of finishing the job. Star Roar player Ivan Franjic had an average game and Berisha wasn’t a force either. Then to rub salt into the wounds of Brisbane in the dying stages of the game ex-Wanderers’ player Joey Gibbs got on the end of some lovely transition play from Josh Brillante and took the score to 0-2. The Jets will be a challenge for every team this season and could well be a dark horse for top four finishing, whilst the Roar have demonstrated vulnerabilities their league ladder position have arguably hidden.

Melbourne Heart vs Melbourne Victory (1-3 win Victory)

It was groundhog day in the latest installment of the Melbourne derby, with Aloisi’s Heart losing thanks to piss weak defensive errors, failure to convert chances, and meeting a team that was simply too competent for their limited skill sets. Even though the Victory may not have had the best of the opening passages they were always going to crack the fragile Heart defence, particularly after a needless sliding studs up challenge from Kisnorbo got him sent off. Nicholls took advantage of a schoolboy error from Heart goalie Redmayne to start the scoring, and then in the second half Troisi and again Nicholls chimed in with more goals. For a team that was lacking Archie Thompson the Victory were still able to create and complete the chances on the field, and alongside the two goal scorers Connor Pain had a decent game up front. For the home team it was a litany of woe, with Harry Kewell showing flashes of quality and Kalmar and Williams each having some passing moments of adequacy. However Kalmar’s late goal summed up much of the Heart’s effort and indeed their entire season, with Victory goalie Coe punching the ball into Kalmar’s face which rebounded into the net; luck and no conscious effort actually got more positive results for Heart than actual considered game play. John Aloisi and his team are like the Walking Dead of the 2013/14 A-League season; a shuffling threat that seems to have no brain and no spark of imagination, and only dangerous if you really don’t pay attention.

Wellington Phoenix vs Sydney FC (1-0 win Phoenix)

The perennial cries of ‘can’t win without ADP’ echoed in the Cake Tin and beyond with the visitors either failing to shoot anywhere near the Phoenix goal when close enough, and in one particular defensive collapse giving Belgian villain from the game against the Mariners two days earlier a chance for redemption, with Stein Husyegems scoring the sole goal to separate the teams. Sydney FC had only a few weeks ago looked surprisingly efficient in accumulating points. However now after two losses in three games and some comical work from Chianese and Despotovic the murmur of Farina out coming from the eastern suburbs of Sydney is building up again. In goal both Janjetovic for the sky blues and Moss for the Phoenix were on song, whilst Hernandez had a solid game for Wellington. The relief of winning their first match of the season was palpable for Ernie Merrick’s team, however the achilles injury to Paul Ifill is going to drastically hurt the remainder of their 2013/14 campaign. For Sydney FC their challenge is to find some consistency when del Piero isn’t around, and so far on evidence from their games this season they won’t be able to achieve this.

Perth Glory vs Adelaide United (0-0 draw)

A fairly lacklustre and boring affair marked the start of the post-Alistair Edwards era at the Glory, with neither the home team nor the visitors able to break the scoreless deadlock. Perth may have had the better of the opening 30 minutes of the game with Harold and Maclaren demonstrating the value of the sacked coach’s youth policy, however nought came of shots on goals. Adelaide then played a generally superior style of football and with their Latin players Carrusca and Neumann troubling the Glory it was perhaps a little unfortunate they didn’t score. Interestingly enough the two most potent players in both teams’ recent better performances, i.e. Bruce Djite for the Reds and Sidnei for the Glory came on as subs, with the later returning from injury. This certainly had an effect on the game’s quality. Jacob Burns validated his return to the home team and perhaps his key role in getting Edwards sacked with some good tackling, however up the other end of the park the injury to Ryo Nagai means that Perth are in a bit of a bind with a distinctly unhealthy roster. Josep Gombau is probably happy enough with the draw, however both he and interim Perth coach Kenny Lowe must be feeling some pressure in their teams’ inability to get higher up the table.

Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners (2-0 win Wanderers)

In easily the best game of the round the Wanderers got themselves back to within a win of the Roar thanks to a team effort that was simply sublime. Whilst the Mariners were not that bad the likes of Hersi, Ono, Spiranovic, Polenz, Covic, D’Apuzzo, La Rocca, Poljak and most importantly a returning Tomi Juric issued a huge statement in playing aggressive, confident and ultimately winning football. The game flowed freely from the beginning with most chances coming from the home team, however t took a moment of Juric magic to break the deadlock. His goal scored from a scissor kick was possibly the best of all season for the entire A-League, particularly when one considers this was his first game back in five weeks. His brilliance up front was paralleled by Spiranovic’s goal line save of a Flores shot on goal, and the RBB and other Wanderers faithful at Wanderland were blessed to see Ono set up Hersi for the second goal well before the half time break. For the Mariners no one really starred per se though they were at times very competent. Yet for every forward motion from the visitors the back four in red and black made certain the Mariners’ efforts came to nothing. Polenz was excellent and in front of him Poljak and La Rocca did great work with Aaron Mooy out. No goals came in the second half as the Wanderers stood solid, whilst Phil Moss must have looked at Tony Popovic and wondered how he could match the ex-Socceroo’s coaching skill. Easily this was the best game for the Wanderers all season.

Best Game: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners (not only were the Wanderers brilliant and the general standard of play from both teams high, the atmosphere at Wanderland was unequalled…again).

Best Goal: Tomi Juric (Western Sydney Wanderers: clinical, confident, brutal, balletic, brilliant…he must be taken to Brazil 2014 at least for the experience)

Best Team: Western Sydney Wanderers (not a single player had a bad game)

Worst Team: Sydney FC (Whilst there is no shame in losing against Wellington at their home, and yes the Heart are in a worse place on the table, Sydney FC demonstrated all the faults that marked their stumbling defeats earlier this season and no one can honestly say they have learnt or grown as a team under Farina after this round’s effort).

A-League 2013/14: Round Eleven Preview

Thursday 19th December: Central Coast Mariners vs Wellington Phoenix (North Sydney Oval – Round 6 Delayed Game)

The ghost of the NSL’s spectacular boom to bust club, the Northern Spirit will hang very heavy over their old home ground in this delayed game from Round Six. The Mariners have come down the M1 to what might be considered Sydney FC territory in an avowed move to appease northern Sydney fans of the yellow and blue, plus some cynics and conspiracy theorists would argue it is the first step in an abandoning of Blue Tongue and Gosford by owner Mike Charlesworth. To make matters even more murky CCM are coming into this game on the back of a thumping from Adelaide, uneven performances all season, the potential departure or Michael McGlinchey to follow old coach Graham Arnold to Japan. With only 5 days rest under the belt since the massacre at Coopers Stadium, if ever the Mariners were vulnerable to the Phoenix then this will be the game. However, considering the insipid and faulty performance of Wellington last round at home it is going to be most likely that the cracks in the Mariners’ make up will be papered over with a win.

My Prediction: 1-0 win Mariners

Friday 20th December: Brisbane Roar vs Newcastle United (Suncorp Stadium)

Last week’s game between the Jets and the Wanderers was perhaps a good indication of where this match at the Roar’s home will go, as the Newcastle team are again without Heskey and Burns, and to be honest the Roar are a grinding out their results just like the Wanderers have been. The defensive structures of the Roar may not be as efficient as the Wanderers in some respects however they should be enough to keep out Newcastle. The man who has been key to the recent run of good form for Gary Van Egmond, Adam Taggart, has been MIA in terms of goals over the last few rounds, and whilst this wasn’t felt so badly in their win against the Victory when Nathan Burns stepped up, without his cover Taggart may need to get his act together again if the Jets are to have a hope. The Roar on the other hand are getting great mileage out of Franjic, Berisha, Brattan and Mackay and they will challenge the visitors’ defence. Regan, Jalens and Pepper need to keep Birighitti protected from the best attack in the current A-League season so far.

My Prediction: 2-0 win Roar

Saturday 21st December: Melbourne Heart vs Melbourne Victory (AAMI Park)

Kevin Muscat’s charges showed last week against Perth that they can and will do the deed against an opposition that isn’t firing on all cylinders, and the Heart have all the hallmarks of just such an outfit. Harry Kewell is back in the starting line up for John Aloisi’s team, and he will be looking to atone for his abysmal penalty shot against Sydney FC. However he is not the cure all for a team that loses games through porous defenders going to sleep and strikers who can’t score goals. Kisnorbo is a key part of that faulty equation down the back whilst up front Michael Mifsud is the bane of everyone supporting the home team. In soe respects he reminds me of Dino Kresinger from last season’s Wanderers’ squad, in that his goals have been almost non-existent. However unlike the lumbering Croat Mifsud’s wayward shooting isn’t being supplanted by other players in the Heart line up plus he can’t perform the same pressing role for the Heart’s transition from defence to attack. Victory have a full complement and with several of the usual suspects ready to help out with shots on goal (i.e. Pain, Troisi, Thompson, Nichols, Barbarouses), or stay solid at the back (Traore, Leijer and in goal Coe) I can’t see them being beaten. Here’s hoping that the second big Victorian derby of  2013/14 is far more entertaining than that match which opened the 2013/14 season.

My Prediction: 2-1 win Melbourne Victory

Sunday 22nd December: Wellington Phoenix vs Sydney FC (Westpac Stadium)

If ever two sides should be convicted for crimes against enjoyable football from last round it should be these two. The Kiwi team butchered chances on the Roar’s goal, earned a penalty through what most people would say was a dive, and have generally through this season failed to deliver. Sydney FC were effectively reliant on two players for about two minutes of decent football to get them the win last week against the Heart, and even their coach Frank Farina believed that the drab effort from his players was not in itself worthy of the win. Now in past rounds I’ve looked at the Phoenix and thought they had a fair fist of a win, particularly with a relatively full complement of their so-called ‘stars’ plus playing at home. However to be blunt Merrick has a team that only excels at disappointing, and their innocuous attack is only equaled by their generally porous defence. It says a lot about the Phoenix that their best player this season has probably been keeper Glen Moss. Sydney FC will have several of their best players available, including most importantly del Piero and Despotovic. Goalie Vedran Janjetovic is becoming the quiet achiever of this team so whilst his protective screen can and does fail on a regular basis he is very competent in keeping out most shots. The sky blues are riding their luck against all teams except those that are ahead of them on the ladder this season, so I can’t see this pattern of results not repeating in this round.

My Prediction: 1-0 win Sydney FC

Sunday 22nd December: Perth Glory vs Adelaide United (nib Stadium)

Well the last week has been one where the Perth Glory have decided that internal staff dysfunction and player mutinies are the way forward, and coach Ally Edwards has been given the arse as a result of a power-play between himself, Tony Sage and key senior players in the Glory squad (particularly Jacob Burns). Which leaves us in the strange situation of casting an eye over Gombau’s team and seeing them as a paradigm for unity, form and style. As they say, football is a funny old game and the Reds are extracting themselves out of a mire of criticism and negative press thanks to good football and a much welcome win against the Mariners. I would argue that this is effectively due to one man, and that isn;t the coach. Bruce Djite is the catalyst for the Reds reversal of bad results and bad football, and whilst Cirio, Isaias and Carrusca have all played their part if it wasn’t for the sometime Socceroo bringing clarity and drive to the Adelaide offensive structures then it may have been Gombau’s neck on the block. For the home team they may rally around Burns and other veterans who have led the anti-Edwards push, such as Vukovic and Thwaite, or they may collapse in a seething rabble of squabbling factions. The two Edwards boys must be considered lame duck members of the team and I can’t believe they will have any important future role with the squad. Gallas looks to be out again, making his signing look as valuable for the Glory as Heskey’s has been for the Jets this season, though at least he has got on the park (unlike Heart’s Engelaar). Sidnei is back for the home team and he could be the link between the cranky old bastards who facilitated Edwards’ sacking and the younger players like Jamie Maclaren who Edwards was brought in to develop. However I can’t see the funk of internal division and controversy parting enough to defy the visitors.

My Prediction: 2-0 win Adelaide United

Monday 23rd December: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Central Coast Mariners (Pirtek Stadium)

In the first meeting between the two grand finalists back at Wanderland since the last defeat for the Wanderers at home, the pressure will be on the Mariners to repeat the dose. With a short turnaround since their game on Thursday night against Wellington there is every expectation that the Mariners will find it hard to maintain their intensity over the full 90 minutes. Whilst they went on to win against the Phoenix they are still nowhere near the same quality of team that kept out the Wanderers from winning the premiership and grand final for 2012/13. Having said that the home team is also not without issues, with injuries to Mooy and Santalab nominally keeping them out of the squad. Tomi Juric may play although I don;t expect this to happen until late in the game if at all. The two major overseas players yet to secure new contracts with the red and black, i.e. Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi will need to do very well and whilst there may be some thought from Popa to return Michael Beauchamp I’m sure he will stick with Mat Spiranovic to partner Polenz, Topor-Stanley and D’Apuzzo at the back. For the visitors McBreen has been merely adequate this season and if they are to win they will need big games from him, McGlinchey and Flores. Reddy’s goal keeping has been up and down so if someone like Hersi, Haliti or Juric do threaten he will need to be at his best, whilst for the Wanderers I expect Covic to again keep better than his own exacting standards.

My Prediction: 2-0 win Wanderers

A-League 2013/14: Round Ten Review

Melbourne Victory Vs Perth Glory (2-0 Victory Win)

It was literally mission impossible with a implosion chaser for the visitors to AAMI Park, with Perth Glory finally being on the end of Muscat’s team finally taking their chances. Sans Gallas, Jamieson, Sidnei, Smeltz and most controversially Burns Perth were simply outclassed by a team that had the best of the game. Traore’s goal in the first half was a pearler, and whilst Thompson was out as long as there are possible threats coming from someone like the Ivorian back, let alone Nichols, Barbarouses and Troisi then the Victory fans will be well happy. Jamie Maclaren and Ryo Nagai were possibly the only players from Edwards’ team to come out of the game with any part of their reputation intact, whilst for the opposition Contreras was again less than impressive as a major marquee. Coe had a decent game in goal if not exactly threatened, but it was up front and in the middle where the Victory were supreme. Finkler did well to close out the win and he is certainly of value to Muscat as a sub. Ally Edwards is in deep merde however with his squad and probably with Tony Sage as the player’s revolt over his sons and the make-up of the starting line-up reached boiling point after the final whistle.

Wellington Phoenix Vs Brisbane Roar (2-1 Roar Win)

If there was ever a moment that defined the home team’s season it was the one in this match at the 23rd minute when Jeremy Brockie had a wide open Roar goal mouth in front of him, only requiring a simple tap in, and instead he sprayed the ball way over the cross bar like an epileptic taking a piss. Sadly the Ernie Merrick coached Phoenix were either outclassed or did themselves in when it mattered in this game, and it is almost getting beyond a joke how they can play well one week and not win then play shithouse the next and still lose.  Cunngham’s dive and the resultant penalty goal from Hernandez helped redress the earlier goal from Mat Smith, however there was no doubt that the Roar were the superior team. Berisha was a little off in his shots on goal, with Moss saving a reciprocal penalty shot from the gun Albanian striker, however the man who I believe has been the best player for Mike Mulvey all season, Ivan Franjic, finished off the win with a delicious curling top right floater that defeated Moss. Right now the Phoenix are in a neck and neck battle with the Heart for the wooden spoon this A-League season and they don’t look to be surpassing Aloisi’s team in the competency stakes.

Adelaide United Vs Central Coast Mariners (4-0 Adelaide Win)

After a tumultuous week for coach Gombau, with a very nasty spat between him and one of the local News Limited reporters blowing up, it must’ve felt like Christmas had come eleven days early after the Reds massacred a faltering Mariners. Having said that there was a very early chance for the visitors to go ahead which could’ve put an entirely different complexion on the game. With an open goal in front of him Daniel McBreen butchered the shot, echoing the lack of accuracy demonstrated by fellow 2012/13 season ace, Jeremy Brockie from the Phoenix. The defensive lapse from Adelaide was negated by some much awaited forward creativity with Cirio, Djite, Carrusca, Lustica and Ferreira all firing up. The introduction of Bruce Djite into the squad has definitely lifted Gombau’s men, and he has helped give the possession game of ‘Barcelaide’ some real presence in attack. On the other side of the fence Phil Moss must be wondering how the Mariners have become so uneven in terms of performance. Aside from McBreen not scoring Reddy helped contribute to the horrid result by letting Cirio take the ball off him on the goal line and then (whilst it may arguably have been out) score an embarrassing goal against the Mariners. Combined with being outplayed two weeks ago at home by the Victory and both losing Graham Arnold and potentially Michael McGlinchey things are not so bright for the Mariners. The Reds will obviously need to win more games to really start turning their season around however such a result is an impressive launching pad.

Newcastle United vs Western Sydney Wanderers (1-0 Wanderers win)

The machine that is the Wanderers has been stuttering a little the last few games however the trip up the M1 to Newcastle was a great way to reboot the team, with a well-earned win coming their way after Mark Bridge got his radar working again. The Jets got off to a flyer and for the first twenty minutes of the game were very much on top, particularly through the left side of the visitors. If it hadn’t been for Ante Covic the RBB would’ve been behind the Squadron in bragging rights, and almost immediately after the home team was repulsed the Wanderers started to move up a gear and take control. Birighitti could’ve gifted the Wanderers a goal and his own send off after collecting the ball in his hands outside the box, however Ono couldn’t score from the resultant kick and the ref gave out a yellow only. Then with the right flank combo of Polenz and Hersi working with the Japanese marquee to get more offensive opportunities against the Jets, the goal came with a nice header from Bridge against his old team. From thereon whilst the Jets showed some potential the Wanderers defence was always on top, and Van Egmond could not get the result his attacking subs hoped for. Missing Nathan Burns and Emile Heskey was a problem however with no one from the Wanderers failing to at least equal if not master their opposite number the Jets can only ponder what it will take to bridge the gap between promise and delivery, consistency and inconsistency.

Sydney FC vs Melbourne Heart (2-1 Sydney FC Win)

The incompetent Heart returned to grace the A-league in Round 10, after demonstrating last week against the Wanderers they were actually capable of playing football. With neither side willing to do anything beyond try some training exercises for the first forty odd minutes of the game, it took the class of Alessandro del Piero to get the match going. His one man run on goal exposed the usual failures of the Heart defensively, with Kisnorbo particularly in the wrong. Then to make things worse for the visitors Despotovich delivered on his acquisition by Farina for the Sky Blues scoring another goal. Whilst the home team dominated the last few minutes of the first half in the second half it was a resurgent yet faltering Heart who tried to steal back at least a draw. Sydney FC keeper Janjetovic had a few solid saves under his belt however he has the indignity of being the first A-league goalie to let in the under performing Maltese striker Michael Mifsud for a goal. Yet this is nothing contrasted to the shame of Harry Kewell, who was brought on by a hopeful John Aloisi earlier in the game. A penalty awarded to the visitors in the 65th minute was simply butchered by one of the worst spot kicks ever taken in professional Australian football. Kewell sprayed the ball so wide it almost hit the corner post. From there excluding the momentary success of Mifsud it was a similar story for both teams; the Sydney FC defence was shonky but hung on desperately whilst the Heart through Mebrahtu, Mifsud and Williams couldn’t have hit a cow in the bum with a bag of wheat. By the end of the match Aloisi’s coaching career was again being put in the danger zone and Farina was guiltily apologising for the theft of a draw from the Heart.

Best Game: Adelaide United vs Central Coast Mariners (any game where there are plenty of goals and Gombau’s possession/Latin style of play actually works is worth a peek).

Best Goal: Ivan Franjic (whilst Glen Moss could’ve done more Franjic has demonstrated again his beautiful touch in taking curling long range goals…he will definitely be in the Socceroos squad for Brazil 2014)

Best Team: Adelaide United (knocking off last year’s grand final winners with a 4-0 result is worthy of commednation)

Worst Team: Melbourne Heart (running the Mariners and Phoenix very close, but very deserving due to the consistent inability of Aloisi’s squad in either keeping their goal protected and taking chances in the opposition’s box).

Youssouf Hersi: The Half a Million Man?

Youssouf Hersi: Western Sydney Wanderers’ Dutch Star

In recent news there has been much speculation as to the ongoing contract negotiations between the Wanderers’ key Dutch player, Youssouf Hersi and the club over the potential renewal of his contract for at least the next A-League season. The Daily Telegraph has noted as a byline for a recent article “Western Sydney Wanderers won’t be bounced into re-signing Youssouf Hersi as the Dutch winger seeks a deal of more than $500,000 to stay with the Premiers next season”, and combined with previously touted stories from the Sydney Morning Herald and other media outlets regarding Hersi being sought by Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets plenty of Wanderers faithful (including myself) are wondering what is going on. Will Hersi stay and if so will he get the half a million contract? Is he worth that much? Is it more in the club’s interest to keep him no matter the cost, or return the potential dollars to club juniors or perhaps another overseas player. How realistic or truthful are the stories being spread in both traditional and new media? I’d like to use this post to ponder some potential answers to these questions, and give an opinion on the conundrum presented by the basic premise of these stories. Should Hersi be re-signed, and if so for how much?

First off let’s consider the actual value of Youssouf Hersi as a player. There is no denying that in the 2012/13 season and for those games he has played fully fit in the current season that Hersi is one the Wanderers’ most prolific and exceptional talents. For a relatively small and lithe man he has a remarkable ability to combine ball control, tactical vision, determination and both defensive and offensive aggression. I would argue he is in the same category of player as Mesut Özil, though obviously not as talented or as well positioned in terms of national team or European league status. In almost every game he has played for the Wanderers he has been a key outlet for attacking movements on the right flank, and his combination with German back Jerome Polenz is simply sublime. More often than not you will see Polenz and Hersi pass between themselves in their own half at the end of some defensive phase, then Hersi will drive foward with Polenz outside him in support. Then depending upon the situation Hersi will either drive into the centre himself and take on the opposition defenders or feed Polenz for a cross or perhaps even more central passing. Again and again since they were first paired the Dutchman and the German have taken the Wanderers out of defence and back into attack.

Then there is Hersi’s speed and individual positional awareness. Whether it’s floating out on the extreme right flank waiting for that cross channel lobbed pass from the left, or darting into the midfield all elbows and knees, a whirlwind of activity trying to stem the other team’s forward progress, he keeps the attention of everyone at the game. This in turn has led to some of his less than happiest moments, both in terms of injury and discipline issues. Small and wiry, Youssouf has been prone to being targeted either fairly or unfairly by the opposite team and he has picked up both season-troubling knocks and suspensions as a result. In an away game against Perth Glory in 2012/13 he was marched after being niggled and fouled by Scott Jamieson. There was also his two yellow card performance in the semi against Brisbane which led to him missing the 2012/13 grand final due to suspension (and arguably costing the Wanderers a chance of a championship win in their debut A-League season). His travails in the current season have been no less troubled, though this time it has been due to injury (losing four weeks after a nasty foot injury in the derby against Sydney FC). Right now he is only into his third round of playing since receiving that blow, and having been sorely missed particularly in the loss against the Roar in Brisbane three rounds ago his work on the field against the Jets tonight will be crucial for the Wanderers.

So there is very little to be said against Hersi as a valued player for the Western Sydney Wanderers. His history of five goal in 2012/13, his impact on the field plus (and this hasn’t been mentioned as yet) his popularity among the Wanderers’ faithful is almost without equal in the club. Yet with rumours of a $500,000 fee to re-sign it’s only fair to ask questions over his continued presence in the red and black.

I would argue that he has demonstrated considerable value as a player and in light of that his potential asking price has to be given long and serious consideration. Of course I have some serious reservations first off over the actual dollar values being touted as well as the dynamics of the contract negotiations. The Daily Telegraph is hardly the most credible organ for journalism in general, and for whatever reason (whether it be editorial bias, general journalism weaknesses, the usual flaws in non-dedicated football coverage, etc) I would usually be very sceptical of such a story as that cited above. In fact generally stories about contract negotiations in any sport (or indeed any commercial activity) need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. I do however find the reporter for this story, i.e. Tom Smithies, one of the better journalists in football in Australia, so I think we can safely say he is not pushing some editorial barrow.

The next question is whether the $500,000 figure has come from Hersi and/or his agent, or if it’s from Lyall Gorman and the Wanderers’ managerial group. If the former it could been as an ambit claim, a statement of intent not just to the Wanderers but also for other clubs (in the A-League or indeed internationally), or a bargaining position aimed to express his sense of self-worth. Alternatively it could’ve been a dollar value has been leaked by Gorman etc as a means to either brace the supporters for the expense of Hersi’s re-signing or perhaps start to prepare the popular opinion about potentially discharging him at season’s end. The Wanderers’ main demographic are not the kind of people who would love a player who is worth huge sums of money (unlike say the Sydney FC supporters who do revel even if they deny it on the ‘Bling Factor’ of players like Alessandro del Piero, Dwight Yorke etc). The Wanderers’ fans and members would most likely see such a huge investment the clubs’ players’ salaries as perhaps problematic if it meant Hersi’s contract gobbled up too much of the other players’ wages. There is also the potential impact on investment in youth, or indeed the burden of such a big re-signing fee for any prospective buyer of the Wanderers.

In all honesty I am leaning towards the ambit claim side when considering this contract issue, with much of it being driven by Hersi’s agent perhaps looking at a future move for Youssouf away from the A-League to richer fields in Asia (specifically China’s CSL, possibly the J-League in Japan or one of the petro-dollar rich Middle Eastern leagues such as the UAE, Qatari or Saudi competitions). Personally I don;t think Youssouf wants to leave the Wanderers nor do I think the club wants him to go. However this is a professional sport where a man who relies on football to drive his income has possibly reached an optimum position later in his career when it comes to the ability to earn big dollars. At 31 years old and with a legacy of injury (particularly during his Eredivise and pre-Wanderers’ career) it makes fiscal sense to strike hard for the best bucks.

Now does that mean the Wanderers should contemplate forking out half a million without too much thought? Or do they just say ‘Piss off’ and spend a fraction of the $500,000 on either a new overseas player or perhaps invest in someone like Kwabena Appiah-Kubi? Of course for Gorman to splash out almost 10% of the club’s salary cap on on player is almost impossible to contemplate, so either the asking price will need  come down or it will be ‘Bye Bye Youssef’. Obtaining a cheaper alternative player to Hersi is arguably a real crap shoot; whilst Popovic and Gorman have done exceedingly well in signing up players who have been excellent value on and off the pitch, there are no guarantees lightning will strike twice. For every Shinji Ono and Youssouf Hersi in the world of A-League overseas recruits there are plenty of players like Pablo Contreras and Michael Mifsud (i.e. over-expensive international duds). I am reasonably optimistic that looking to either reinvest in youth or perhaps bulking up the financial state of a domestic or pre-existing Wanderers’ player would be very helpful as an alternative. Kwabena should flashes of Hersi-esque brilliance last season and in some ways is like a mini-Youssouf. Perhaps NYL player Martin Lo may also be an option down the road. Of course this again is a policy fraught with concern and with no guarantees of success. Yet the reassuring aspect of such a path is that it keeps the development and costs in-house.

Kwabena Appiah-Kubi: A Potential Replacement for Youssouf Hersi?

There are so many variables in play right now so it is impossible to do more than speculate and hypothesize as to how Youssouf Hersi’s negotiations will progress. I think I may be speaking for the bulk of Western Sydney Wanderers members and fans when I say we do not want to see Hersi lost to the club. We also do not want his cost to retain be so egregiously expensive that it detracts from the overall health, wealth and harmony of the club. No player no matter how good is either indispensable nor affordable at all costs. The Wanderers are not Barcelona, Chelsea, Bayern or indeed even Sydney FC when it comes to chequebook player acquisition. However we all respect and understand that professionalism dictates Hersi’s contract is negotiated with all variables on the table, and each one up for discussion. If in 2014/15 Youssouf is back in the red and black and playing to the limit of his talent in a team that consistently wins, without any financial disaster waiting in the wings, well I will be exceedingly happy. Having said that if Hersi departs at the close of this season I can and will respect that decision from all parties. Bottom line, Youssouf was and is and forever will be a part of the Wanderers, and that in itself is inestimable of value for player, club and fan alike.