A-League season preview
Defending champions look stronger than ever
When the going get tough, the tough must get going. And embattled employees of Australian football’s governing body, the FFA, have certainly had it tough over the last few months. The battle for control of the game – the FFA has been at loggerheads with A-League clubs for the best part of three years – has had a big impact on public interest in the game, so reviving its fortunes is of the utmost importance.
The signs, however, are promising, and a reworked central marquee fund had its first major success, with Keisuke Honda arriving at defending champions Melbourne Victory. Honda will double up his playing role with a coaching position with Cambodia’s national team and the arrival of the Japanese star is probably the A-League’s biggest coup since Alessandro Del Piero joined Sydney in 2012.
Not content with one World Cup player, Victory quickly added a second, with Swedish striker Ola Toivonen refusing overtures from Swansea City to move down under. They also signed ex-Stuttgart defender Georg Neidermeier and look well equipped for another title tilt, even allowing for the loss of the A-League’s record goalscorer, Besart Berisha.
Victory’s perennial rivals Sydney lost last year’s golden boot winner Bobo and player of the season Adrian Mierzejewski. However, midfielder Siem De Jong has arrived from Ajax and if he can stay fit he looks an able replacement for Mierzejewski. The Sky Blues wanted Fernando Torres to replace Bobo but the Spanish striker opted for Japanese football instead, so coach Steve Corica brought in Adam Le Fondre from Bolton Wanderers. In the heart of the defence Jop Van Der Linden replaces Dutch compatriot Jordy Buijs.
Grand Finalists last year, Newcastle Jets have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, but the arrival of Brazilian forward Jair, who scored regularly in the K-League for Jeonnam Dragons, should ensure Roy O’Donovan is adequately replaced in the early part of the season. The Irishman is serving a lengthy ban for a high boot to the face of goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas in the Grand Final loss to Victory in May.
Despite the riches of the City Football Group, Melbourne City have refused to copy neighbours Victory in chasing big-name marquees, but they do have some useful-looking additions, including former Manchester United defender Ritchie De Laet, exRangers striker Michael O’Halloran, French midfielder Florin Berenguer and Mark Birighitti.
Adelaide United will look to build on a promising first season under Marco Kurz without the influential
Central Coast Mariners raised eyebrows by inviting world sprint legend Usain Bolt to trial at the club...but he appears some way off the standard required
Arrivals...Sydney newcomers Siem De Jong (left) and Adam Le Fondre
Trial...Usain Bolt tries to impress