STATE OF UNCERTAINTY
It’s a tough ask to confidently predict which of our NSW teams will flourish and who looks set to flounder this season, writes
A YEAR, it turns out, is a very, very long time in football.
Twelve months ago, things looked very different for supporters of Sydney FC, Western Sydney, Newcastle and even the Central Coast Mariners.
A week before the start of the previous campaign, Sydney FC under Graham Arnold were champions and, with an almost unchanged squad, were ready to continue their success. Western Sydney had completed Tony Popovic’s best preseason and recruited powerfully, we thought, until Popovic blew it all up by walking out with days to go.
At Newcastle, the opposite was true with expectations minimal under a new coach and a stack of new faces. How little we knew. Suddenly, NSW is, in a football sense, a state of uncertainty.
A year on, so many questions hang over our local clubs. In a league with only 10 teams, the lack of certainty is hugely welcome for the neutral.
No doubt Steve Corica is ready for the questioning of his readiness to build on Arnold’s success at Sydney, eight years after he hung up his boots as a player in sky blue.
In some ways, the unexpec-
ted departures of star men Bobo and Adrian Mierzejewski has given Corica the chance to refashion the team in his own right, though both Adam Le Fondre and Siem de Jong have substantial shoes to fill in replacing Golden Boot winner and Johnny Warren medallist respectively.
Guiding his team to the FFA Cup final, beating Western Sydney along the way, has been a boon for Corica but he needs a solid start in the A-League to confirm there remains a steady hand at the tiller.
Likewise Markus Babbel at Western Sydney, though for different reasons. The German inherited a mess in succeeding Josep Gombau: a dressing room severely disillusioned with life under the Spaniard, incoming players signed by the outgoing coach, and a club still homeless for another year.
But he has made a handful of signings, including compatriots Alexander Baumjohann and Patrick Ziegler, though the suspicion remains the German isn’t overly impressed with some of his charges.
He will be without Ziegler for the first three rounds due to a meniscus injury that is already testing the depth of Babbel’s squad and much depends on how quickly Baumjohann gels with marquee striker Oriol Rieira, scorer of 15 goals last season.
That figure was more than half Central Coast Mariners managed last year, in a season that began with optimism but quickly faded to dust.
Paul Okon’s decision to walk away opened the door for an ALeague return for Mike Mulvey, four years after he won the league with Brisbane but this represents a very different challenge.
Not the least of it has been the circus of Usain Bolt’s trial but, beyond that, Mulvey has — on the surface at least — recruited nimbly. Adding Tommy Oar and Ross McCormack should bolster the Mariners’ scoring potential but Mulvey is well aware plugging the concession of cheap goals is the priority for a side that hasn’t finished above eighth for four years.
Up the F3, there lies NSW’s beacon of stability, a preposterous concept a year ago. So adroitly did Ernie Merrick guide a squad that finished bottom the year before, they could overcome serious injuries to their main striker and marquee import and still be runner up for both the Premiers’ Plate and the championship.
Expectations are very different now, of course, putting a different kind of pressure on the Jets. Roy O’Donovan’s self-inflicted absence for the first third of the season won’t help, nor will the injury to Joe Champness.
But signing Dimi Petratos to an extended contract is a huge bonus and there is confidence bubbling away in the Hunter that Newcastle can back up their unexpected success last year. In the space of 12 months, the Jets have become the one team in NSW with runs on the board; even the famously taciturn Merrick will see the funny side of that.
Sydney FC’s Siem de Jong has big shoes to fill this season. Picture: AAP
Wanderers players Brendan Hamill and Vedran JJanjetovicjti withith fans f Callum Garbers, 9, and brother, Harrison, 11.