A-League Season 2012-13 Preview
The arrival of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono has ushered in a new era, with the A-League receiving worldwide exposure ahead of the most highly anticipated season yet.
The new campaign kicks off on Friday evening with the Melbourne derby, before Del Piero makes his Sydney FC debut in Wellington on Saturday, while the Western Sydney Wanderers featuring Ono take on the Central Coast Mariners. Heskey and the Newcastle Jets' first task will be against Adelaide on Sunday, with a Grand Final replay between Brisbane and Perth to conclude the opening round.
Ahead of what is shaping as a thrilling season, ESPN runs the rule over each club.
Last season: 9th
Ins: Marcelo Carrusca (San Martin de San Juan, Argentina), Jeronimo Neumann (Independiente Rivadavia, Argentina), Fabio Ferreira (Dulwich Hill FC, NSW), Jake Barker-Daish (Gold Coast United), Daniel Bowles (Gold Coast United), Teeboy Kamara, Evan Kostopoulos.
Outs: Francisco Usucar (Tecnico Universitario, Ecuador), Daniel Mullen (Dalian Aerbin, China), Spase Dilevski (Melbourne Victory), Ricardo da Silva (released), Evegeny Levchenko (released), Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets).
Key player: Eugene Galekovic. The 31-year-old goalkeeper will hold the key to Adelaide's hopes of a revival. The Reds have performed admirably in the Asian Champions League, but their last A-League campaign was one to forget. In order to climb the ladder this term, they will need Galekovic and the defenders in front of him to lay a solid defensive platform.
Verdict: Adelaide's three new foreign signings are something of a mystery, and their ability to adapt to the A-League will be crucial. In particular, striker Jeronimo Neumann and midfielder Marcelo Carrusca could provide an x-factor for John Kosmina's men, but it appears they still have their work cut out to challenge for silverware this season.
Last season: 2nd
Ins: Yuji Takahashi (Kyoto Sanga, Japan), Do Dong-Hyun (South Korea), Ben Halloran (Gold Coast United), Matt Acton
Outs: Sayed Mohammed Adnan (Al Arabi, Qatar), Kofi Danning (CS Vise, Belgium), Andrew Redmayne (Melbourne Heart), Issey Nakajima-Farran (AEK Larnaca, Cyprus), Matt Mundy (Rochedale Rovers).
Key player: All eyes will be on Rado Vidosic after taking over from duel Championship-winning coach Ange Postecoglou. The Roar have set the benchmark over the past two seasons, with an attractive possession-based game paving the way for back-to-back Grand Final triumphs. Vidosic will no doubt look to implement his own style, while at the same time making the most of the unique talents of playmaker Thomas Broich.
Verdict: Will the players respond to Vidosic the same way they did Postecoglou? As a rookie coach it may be a bridge too far to suggest he can guide Brisbane to a "three-peat", but with the likes of Broich, Besart Berisha and Erik Paartalu they should still be contenders and should at least qualify for the finals.
Central Coast Mariners:
Last season: 1st
Ins: Nick Montgomery (Sheffield United, England), Brent Griffiths (Heidelberg United), Mile Sterjovski (Dalian Aerbin, China), Zac Anderson (Gold Coast United), Anthony Caceres, Mitchell Duke, James Oates
Out: Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Motors, South Korea), Brad Porter (retired), Stuart Musialik (released), John Sutton (Heart of Midlothian, Scotland), Sam Gallagher (Melbourne Victory).
Key player: Tom Rogic. The teenager burst onto the scene last season, and appears at first viewing to be one of Australia's most exciting young talents. With Mustafa Amini now plying his trade with Borussia Dortmund, Rogic will have the stage to himself as he looks to cement his spot in the starting XI. Playing slightly withdrawn from former Socceroo striker Mile Sterjovski seems another positive for the starlet.
Verdict: A club known for minimising changes has seen inaugural captain Alex Wilkinson depart. A change in personel will likely force Graham Arnold into a midfield resctructure, with John Hutchinson and Nick Montgomery charged with controlling the game from the middle. It's unusual ground for the Mariners to find themselves on, but you fancy Arnold can once again get the most out of this group and vie for what has been an elusive title for the club.
Last season: 6th
Ins: Richard Garcia (Hull City, England), David Vrankovic (Sydney FC NYL), Dylan MacAllister, Golgol Mebrahtu (Gold Coast United), Josip Tadic (Lechia Gdansk, Poland), Patrick Gerhardt (Zeljeznicar, Bosnia), Steven Gray (Oakleigh Cannons), Andrew Redmayne (Brisbane Roar).
Outs: Curtis Good (Newcastle United, England), Brendan Hamill (Seongnam, South Korea), Eli Babalj (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia), Adrian Zahra (Perth Glory), Craig Goodwin (Newcastle Jets), Rutger Worm (released), Alex Terra (released), Wayne Srhoj (released), Kristian Sarkies (released), Kamal Ibrahim (released), Kliment Taseski (released), Maycon (released), Nikola Roganovic (released).
Key player: Richard Garcia.The forward has returned home after spending 15 years in England with the likes of West Ham and Hull City. Garcia is fortunate to have Brazilian No. 10 Fred supplying him this season, but the 14-time Socceroo will need to play his part by hitting the target. His experience could prove a steadying influence on the club's relatively youthful squad.
Verdict: For the Heart to continue their climb toward the A-League summit, they will, of course, need to be solid in defence. Their squad appears a little thin at the back and major injuries to key defenders Simon Colosimo or Michael Marrone could unhinge John Aloisi's team. but if they can send out a solid back four throughout the season, the finals once again look within their reach.
Last season: 8th
Ins: Mark Milligan (JEF United, Japan), Marcos Flores (Henan Jianye, China), Theo Markelis (Vicenza, Italy), Guilherme Finkler (Criciuma, Brazil), Adama Traore (Gold Coast United), Sam Gallagher (Central Coast Mariners), Jonathan Bru (Moreirense, Portugal), Spase Dilevski (Adelaide United).
Outs: Harry Kewell (released), Ante Covic (Western Sydney Wanderers), Carlos Hernandez (Prayag United, India), Grant Brebner (Moreland Zebras), Rodrigo Vargas (Green Gully Cavaliers), Tom Pondeljak (St Albans Saints), Matthew Kemp (retired).
Key player: Marcos Flores. The Argentinian was hailed as one of the greatest imports in the competition's brief history while at Adelaide. A mercurial playmaker who can open up any defence, Flores' flair and ability to create scoring opportunities for Archie Thompson is key. Ange Postecoglou is sure to get the best out of Flores.
Verdict: Postecoglou has a task on his hands in transforming the potential of this club into on-field results, but the spine looks strong with the inclusion of Flores and Socceroo defender Mark Milligan. After a disappointing season last term, the Victory supports will be demanding success this campaign and the club have recruited well in response. They may just lack the depth to challenge for silverware but surely a return to the finals beckons.
Last season: 7th
Ins: Emile Heskey (Aston Villa, England), Bernardo Ribeiro (Skenderbeu Korcem, Albania), Dominik Ritter (Winterthur, Switzerland), Josh Mitchell (Perth Glory), Adam Taggart (Perth Glory), Scott Neville (Perth Glory), Mark Birighitti (Adelaide United), Mitch Cooper, Josh Brillante, James Brown (all Gold Coast United), Craig Goodwin (Melbourne Heart), Mitch Oxborrow, Connor Chapman
Outs: Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Western Sydney Wanderers), Tarek Elrich (Western Sydney Wanderers), Labinot Haliti (Western Sydney Wanderers), Ali Abbas (Sydney FC), Jeremy Brockie (Wellington Phoenix), Kasey Wehrman (released), Byun Sung-Hwan (Seongnam, South Korea), Francis Jeffers (released), Mario Simic (released), Matthew Nash (released), Chris Payne (released).
Key player: Emile Heskey. The former England and Liverpool striker has been employed as Gary van Egmond's ideal target man. Heskey may not overcome his reputation for not scoring enough goals, but he will give the Jets a fulcrum from which to pivot their attack. If Heskey can hold the ball up and bring Ryan Griffiths and Craig Goodwin into play, they could be hard to keep out.
Verdict: It's a new-look team for Newcastle after dispensing with 11 players from last season. The team have the potential to do well, but it may only come in time as the squad members get to know each other. Van Egmond has also created a young squad and a run of injuries could prove more detrimental to their chances than most teams. The Jets, though, appear finals-bound after two seasons out of the mix.
Last season: 3rd
Ins: Adrian Zahra (Melbourne Heart), Michael Thwaite (Gold Coast United), Scott Jamieson (Sydney FC), Chris Harold (Gold Coast United), Nick Ward (Wellington Phoenix), Brandon O'Neill, Ndumba Makeche
Outs: Trent McClenahan (Sydney FC), Josh Mitchell (Newcastle Jets), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), Scott Neville (Newcastle Jets), Andrezinho (released), Todd Howarth (retired), Viktor Sikora (retired), Chris Coyne (retired).
Key player: Liam Miller. Stacked with ability, Miller at times went missing last season. The former Manchester United midfielder will be required to step up his involvement in order to push the Glory one step further than last campaign. Young midfielder Kearyn Baccus is also one to watch as Perth aim to put the agony of last year's Grand Final loss behind them.
Verdict: It was a watershed season for Glory last term, and Ian Ferguson has strengthened his squad with a host of proven A-League players. Nick Ward, Adrian Zahra and Michael Thwaite will provide stability for Perth, who have a deep squad and should prove difficult to beat. The title is not beyond their reach but, as always, they must win away from home on a more regular basis.
Last season: 5th
Ins: Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus, Italy), Kruno Lovrek (Qingdao Jonoon, China), Yairo Yao (Sporting San Miguelito, Panama), Adam Griffiths (Hangzhou, China), Fabio (Melbourne Victory), Ali Abbas (Newcastle Jets), Trent Mycenaean (Perth Glory), Paul Reid (Police United, Thailand), Blake Powell, Daniel Petkovski, Hagi Gligor, Mitch Mallia, Vedran Janjetovic
Outs: Nick Carle (loan, Baniyas, UAE), Mark Bridge, Michael Beauchamp, Shannon Cole (Western Sydney Wanderers), Bruno Cazarine (released), Scott Jamieson (Perth Glory), Karol Kisel (Slavia Prague, Czech Rep), Juho Makela (HJK, Finland), Liam Reddy (Esteghlal, Iran), Jamie Coyne (Sriwajaya, Indonesia).
Key player: Guess who? Alessandro Del Piero. The Juventus icon has taken the game to new heights off the pitch in Australia and he will get the chance to show why he has developed such a profile when he takes to the field. Del Piero's combination with youngster Terry Antonis is likely to be a key feature of Sydney's play. Hopefully, the Italian also takes set-pieces in the A-League up a notch, as it is an area of the game that has been of poor quality in recent years.
Verdict: The challenge for coach Ian Crook will come in finding the right combination in the middle of the park. Captain Terry McFlynn will start the season in central midfield but will need to give better distribution than he did last season. Adam Griffiths could be another answer as a defensive midfielder, but regardless the Sky Blues should have enough talent to get themselves into contention.
Last season: 4th
Ins: Stein Huysegems (Lierse, Belgium), Michael Boxall (Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada), Jeremy Brockie (Newcastle Jets), Glen Moss (Gold Coast United), Benjamin Totori (Koloale, Solomon Islands), Ricardo Clarke (Loan - Sporting San Miguelito).
Outs: Chris Greenacre (retired), Tim Brown (retired), Nick Ward (Perth Glory), Daniel (Police United, Thailand), Tony Warner (released).
Key player: Stein Huysegems. The former Lierse striker will line up alongside Paul Ifill and Jeremy Brockie to give Wellington a lethal attacking line-up. Capped 15 times for Belgium, Huysegems is a significant capture for the Phoenix who will once again be difficult to beat in New Zealand.
Verdict: It is a strong attacking side, but they will need to take their chances - particularly away from home - in order to challenge for a finals berth. The top six is a possibility again this term, despite the loss of Kiwi international midfielder Tim Brown.
Western Sydney Wanderers:
Last season: N/A
Key player: Shinji Ono. One of the best players in Asia throghout his career, Ono will be one to watch during the season. His eye for a well-angled pass will help the Wanderers unlock opposition defence's in their inaugural season. The 33-year-old can also play mentor to talented young midfielder Aaron Mooy.
Verdict: Tony Popovic has brought together a defensively sound squad, which should provide the platform for them to be competitive. Mooy and Ono will provide the link-up play, but much rests on the shoulders of the midfielders netting their share of goals while strikers such as Dino Kresinger will need to get on the scoresheet on a regular basis also. Like Melbourne Heart in their first season, the Wanderers will be aiming to get their share of wins as they build toward success in the future.