A-League’s maturity brings problems
Season kick-off clashes with vital World Cup play-off
Gaining traction in a crowded – and occasionally hostile – sporting market is not easy for Australia’s A-League. And as the young competition hits its teenage years, the landscape has been further complicated by some self-inflicted wounds.
The ongoing row over the make-up of the Football Federation Australia (FFA) congress is threatening to drag on until late November, with representatives from FIFA and the AFC having arrived and left without being able to broker a compromise between the warring factions. A-League club owners and the FFA are at loggerheads over how many seats the former should have in a newly expanded assembly, along with conflicting views on the distribution of money from a recently signed TV deal that is worth $346million over six years.
In addition, the national team, which has so often been a unifying force, somehow stumbled out of the
automatic World Cup qualifying spots and has to go through the play-offs in a bid to make the finals in Russia. Unfortunately for the domestic game, the hugely important two-legged game against Syria begins on the A-League’s opening weekend.
However, leaving aside all those distractions, the 10-team competition should be as competitive as ever, even if the big city clubs are once again expected to be the front runners.
Reigning champions Sydney have done well to avoid the annual cherry-picking of successful teams by richer overseas clubs. Only goalkeeper Danny Vukovic has departed by choice, joining Belgian side Genk, but coach Graham Arnold has a handy replacement in former Leyton Orient stopper Alex Cisak. Arnold has also added former Socceroo full-back Luke Wilkshire and Polish international midfielder Adrian Mierzejewski, while retaining Brazilian striker Bobo and Milos Ninkovic, who won the Johnny Warren Medal last season as the league’s best player.
Beaten in the Grand Final, Melbourne Victory will be expected to push Sydney all the way. Kevin Muscat has brought home current Socceroo midfielder Mark Milligan and re-signed winger Kosta Barbarouses to replace Marco Rojas, who left for Heerenveen in Holland.
After plenty of wrangling, Victory also held onto current international midfielder James Troisi, and with promising 20-year-old defender Thomas Deng back from a loan spell at PSV and Rhys Williams arriving from Perth Glory, Muscat’s team have the potential to go one better this time around.
Western Sydney Wanderers had their annual mass turnover, with 14 players departing and 10 coming the other way at the last count. Spanish
Potential...victory boss Kevin Muscat (left) with new boy Mark Milligan
team-mates... new Sydney recruit luke Wilkshire (left) and Bobo