Manchester City re-start Melbourne Heart
And just like that, the Melbourne Heart became worth taking note of again. The much-changed Heart offered so much promise at the start of the season but utterly failed to live up to the preseason hope, sliding to the bottom of the ladder and, along the way, casting young coach John Aloisi from the trip.
But from out of the blue (sky blue that is), the competition’s worst team attracted the biggest news story of the season as Premier League heavyweights Manchester City added the Heart to their global stable of clubs. Trust the good old unpredictable A-League huh? The staff and players may be talking about ‘focus’ and ‘aiming for this season’s finals’ but surely the club’s fans must be wondering what lay in store for the future? Especially since the cashed-up Manchester club took an 80 percent controlling interest in the club (the other 20 percent belongs to a group of owners of rugby league team the Melbourne Storm).
Already rumours are spreading that the Heart will be rebranded Melbourne City (Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City... welcome to the portfolio boys!), but what next? A big-name marquee is surely on the horizon -- European transfer whispers had Xavi heading to City’s project in New York -- and the chance for greater partnerships between the two sides could see the next big thing in English football ply his trade in the A-League during his formative years. Even better still, young Australian talent being picked up by a club that is quickly making its mark on world football. Either way, the future just became a little brighter for the red and white in Melbourne. Let’s just hope there aren’t too many Manchester United supporting Heart fans out there.
Leaders hit back
Just when you thought the A-League could throw another spanner in the best efforts of the crystal ball-gazing tipsters, then the status quo of Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers and the Central Coast Mariners go and stamp their collective foot on the back of the competition.
Table-topping Brisbane, despite monstering Sydney and Melbourne on their travels in recent weeks, have found coming home is not as fun, falling to unexpected losses to both Newcastle and Adelaide. So it was with some trepidation that Roar fans welcomed the Wellington Phoenix to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night. And, true to form, a weakened Brisbane looked horribly exposed by the Phoenix, who duly took a first-half lead. But unlike previous weeks, Brisbane found another gear, and claimed another step in the quest for the Minor Premiership. Oh, and they may have discovered a star of the future in Devante Clut at the same time.
Just behind the Roar, the Wanderers have found their malaise is in the constant tinkering by coach Tony Popovic. No doubt with one eye on the forthcoming Asian Champions League, Popovic has rotated his squad like a well-oiled machine, only to find not all the gears fit perfectly together. That was until Perth Glory came to visit on Australia Day. Again Popovic made his changes, but this time the Wanderers purred like a kitten and the Glory returned west bamboozled by the maestro Shinji Ono and his entourage. This is a team that can -- if Popovic curb’s his desire to turn an attacking midfielder into a stop-gap left-back -- rule Australia, and most possibly Asia, on its day.
Meanwhile, quietly stepping out of the shadows of the top two, reigning champions Central Coast Mariners have crept up -- thanks to their five-game undefeated stretch -- to just two points behind the Wanderers in third. The Mariners have had their difficulties this season -- Graham Arnold’s exit anyone? -- but, like they conitually manage to do every season, find a way to nurture and develop young talent. Next on the production line that has so far delivered us Mustafa Amini, Tom Rogic, Michael McGlinchey, Oliver Bozanic, Bernie Ibini-Isei – you know what? I’m just going to stop there okay -- is young midfielder Anthony Caceres. The 21-year-old only signed his first professional contract last season but if his debut goal against Newcastle is a mark of his talent, then it won’t be long before he starts commanding a first-team spot.
The Big Blowout
The Big Blue. The A-League’s great rivalry. A showpiece of attacking skill and defensive might. Well at least one half of that equation was delivered on Australia Day. Sydney FC absolutely destroyed Melbourne Victory to the obvious pleasure of the travelling fans, sinking the Victory to two-straight 5-0 defeats, and grabbing the most important aspect of the day -- bragging rights.
Melbourne can point to a number of key players missing from the line-up, but Sydney’s squad has never been considered ‘strong’ this season. But on Sunday, Sydney looked superb, finding the holes, (and there were plenty of them) in Melbourne’s defence, and ruthlessly taking advantage, shooting (and scoring) at whim. Of course, Alessandro Del Piero led the way with a brace, but there wasn’t one Sydney player that didn’t deserve a mention when announcing the Man of the Match.
For Victory coach Kevin Muscat and his team, the need to find a quick response will be great and the trip to Perth probably can’t come soon enough. Melbourne’s best hope for silverware this season still hold onto fourth spot, but shipping 10 goals for no reply in two straight games does nothing for confidence. However, one piece of good news for the Victory, and Australian fans in general, was the re-introduction of Tom Rogic to the A-League. The gifted attacker is back home from Scottish powerhouse Celtic, looking to find some game time before the World Cup and debuted for his new club against Sydney. It must have been a sobering experience to come on with your side three goals down but one can only think that a Rogic-led Victory will soon have the rest of the league shaking in fear.