A-League sea­son pre­view

De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons look stronger than ever

World Soccer - - Contents - SI­MON HILL

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

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