The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.
Transfer madness begins
The A-League transfer window opened on Monday to a glut of rumours. For the most part, speculation has been centred on players leaving the competition, but what about those coming in?
League leaders the Central Coast Mariners appear certain to be most involved in transfer actitivity. Promising playmaker Tom Rogic was close to a move to the Premier League with relegation-threatened Reading, but has instead opted to trial with SPL giants Celtic. QPR have since tabled an offer of their own and Fulham are said to be keen as well. Rogic's talent will undoubtedly land him a role at a big European club, and the Mariners are right to cash in on their development of the player while they can.
Striker Bernie Ibini, meanwhile, has also flown to Europe, for a trial with Belgian Pro League outfit Club Brugge. The contact made by Brugge over Ibini has since manifested into interest in goalkeeper Mat Ryan, who now has a host of clubs bidding for his services including Tottenham, Danish outfit Randers and Scotland's Rangers. After another top-class showing in Central Coast's 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory on Saturday, it's not difficult to see why Ryan is highly sought after.
For this trio, a move to Europe would not only be indicative of their abilities, but would pay back - quite literally - the faith shown in them by coach Graham Arnold. While in the immediate future Arnold may face the task of replacing the starlets, some much-needed transfer funds would not go astray for the A-League's smallest club. If even a portion of the incoming money can be used on club growth and player recruitment, the Mariners could do more than simply win the title this season.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Heart's Michael Marrone and Erik Paartalu of Brisbane Roar are rumoured to be heading to the Chinese Super League. Paartalu was a pivotal figure in Brisbane's back-to-back titles over the past two years, but his performances thus far this term have been below par.
Take, for example, Paartalu's showing in the 1-0 defeat at Newcastle Jets at the weekend. The Roar became a different looking side when he was substituted for Massimo Murdocca in the second half. Coach Mike Mulvey could surely be forgiven for profiting from Paartalu's past and using the funds to help reconstruct his squad in the middle of a tough campaign.
Players being sold to European clubs should not be seen as a negative for the competition. It is sad for fans to lose their favourite players, but the injection of cash and the opportunities created for other youngsters more than make up for that. So long as it is a move to the right club for the right player, it's win-win. As for players coming into the A-League, well, it's fairly quiet and that's what supporters can rightly be concerned about.
The season started with unprecedented hype due, in most part, to the arrival of Alessandro Del Piero. Links with Michael Ballack, David Beckham and Michael Owen soon followed, and even the A-League's harshest critics must have been envious of the column inches garnered by the division.
However, while it is understandable that Australian clubs cannot pay fortunes in transfer fees, it does seem something of a missed opportunity that talk of big-name players moving Down Under have dried up just as the window has opened.
Uncontracted players Harry Kewell and Juan Riquelme should be high on the wish-list of most coaches, while Ronaldinho is reportedly being shopped around for a short-term stint worth AU$2 million.
Beyond this, there may exist opportunities to snare players unhappy with their current situation. Owen fits that bill, as did Eidur Gudjohnsen before he signed for Club Brugge. And what of Japanese legend Yasuhito Endo, whose J.League side Gamba Osaka have been relegated?
These are the types of considerations supporters want their clubs to be making over the coming weeks.
Sydney show heart at the death
The headlines tell of a dramatic comeback against the odds in rather trying conditions. That it was, but the Sydney FC faithful who braved the rain on Sunday afternoon will be wondering why on earth it takes their team so long to get going.
The Sky Blues displayed such a lack of conviction for the majority of their match at home to Melbourne Heart that it bordered on indolence before they scored two goals in the final five minutes to claim a 2-1 triumph.
Players in the attacking third seem afraid to make penetrating runs or to take on their defender. As a result the opposition are rarely stretched out of shape and space closes down quickly, particularly in midfield.
Added to this lethargy, Del Piero was embroiled in a heated argument with team-mate Ali Abbas in the first half. While the content of the exchange is not fully known, it appeared the smirk on Abbas' face as he was substituted earned the ire of Del Piero. For the World Cup and Champions League winner, the predicament Sydney find themselves in at the moment is no laughing matter.
Though the win does lift Frank Farina's men off the bottom of the table, the rise toward the finals can only begin when they show a little faith in themselves and each other. For the out-of-form veterans in the squad, they could worse than look to match-winner Rhyan Grant on that front.
For the Heart, where has theirs gone? If spectators were questioning Sydney's effort for the first 85 minutes, then what can coach John Aloisi possibly take out of the match? They need a shake up, perhaps in terms of formation, in order to revive their season.
Popovic a Socceroos contender?
After being tactically spot on once more in Western Sydney Wanderers' 2-0 win at Wellington Phoenix, could coach Tony Popovic find himself on the shortlist for the national team job in the future?
Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold may have something to say about that for the time being, but Popovic's rise has been as swift as it has been brilliant to watch.
In New Zealand, Popovic rested star midfielder Shinji Ono after a punishing match the week before, while recalling Labinot Haliti in the No. 9 role. Whether it was this change or Wellington's own poor performance that led to the result is debatable, but the Wanderers - now deeply rooted in the top four - have shown the way for any new clubs entering the A-League.
The fledgling club is winning hearts and minds on and off the pitch with their work at the moment, and Popovic's vision has been pivotal in their early success. It would not surprise to see Football Federation Australia groom him as a future Socceroos manager.
Also on the national team, Dario Vidosic did his chances of a recall no harm in Adelaide's thrilling 3-2 win over Perth Glory. The former FC Nurnberg man played the role of playmaker, setting up two goals for the Reds and generally causing Perth's defence no end of trouble. With World Cup qualifiers coming up in March, Holger Osieck should be looking at the versatile Vidosic as an option after his impressive recent form.