Friday, August 25, 2006

A-League 2006-07 Season Preview Part 2

Soccerphile completes its round-up of last year's Hyundai A-League finalists. Marc Fox reports.

Newcastle Jets

Despite falling at last season's semi-final stage, few Newcastle supporters were sad to see the sacking of previous coach Richard Money. The Englishman was a stickler for preparation with plenty of Jets fans deriding the side under Money as dour and regimented.

In a bid to freshen Newcastle's image in the close season, the club bought in the attack-minded, but not universally popular, Nick Theodorakopoulos as replacement. Theodorakopoulos' first task was to dispense with old foe Liam Reddy although the recruitment of an alternative first-choice keeper has dragged to the point 19-year-old Ben Kennedy is the sole option when the season starts this weekend.

However, Theodorakopoulos' other transfer business must be applauded. Former Socceroo captain Paul Okon, New Zealand's all-time record goalscorer Vaughan Coveny, fellow Kiwi international defender Steven Old and somewhat unknown Colombian striker Milton Rodriguez have all arrived in traditional low-key fashion.

But the icing on the cake has been convincing current national team striker Joel Griffiths to return home - albeit in an attempt to jump-start a stuttering overseas career. Griffiths was mismanaged at Leeds United following a drawn out switch from the Swiss league and hopes goals aplenty back home will see the European scouts start circling again.

Last season: 4th

Major arrivals: Paul Okon (Apoel Nicosia, Cyprus), Joel Griffiths (Leeds United, England), Milton Rodriguez (Chonbuk Hyundai Motors, South Korea)

Major departures: Ante Milicic and Liam Reddy (both Queensland Roar), Richard Johnson (New Zealand Knights)

Key man: Vaughan Coveny

One to watch: Stuart Musialik

Coach: Nick Theodorakopoulos (first season)


Central Coast Mariners
Mariners boss Lawrie McKinna is the most popular coach in the A-League for good reason. He never spouts or pontificates and is refreshingly honest with the media - but supporters from across the country have warmed to the amiable Scotsman most because his tactics are completely fathomable.

McKinna managed a squad with few household names to the grand final last year, the testament to his coaching skills turning around the club's fortunes after slipping to second-bottom in the table halfway through the campaign. From that point on, the only match the Mariners lost was the showpiece decider against Sydney FC.

Having lost defenders Dean Heffernan and Michael Beauchamp to the Bundesliga where the pair have joined Nuremberg on season-long loans, McKinna signed Socceroo legend Tony Vidmar with typically little flag-waving. Vidmar is the perfect capture for the Central Coast: intelligent, a true team player and gritty as they come.

The former Rangers and Middlesbrough man, although now 36, may feel he has a point to prove to local football fans after withdrawing from Guus Hiddink's World Cup squad following a heart scare on the eve of the tournament.

Last season: 3rd

Major arrivals: Tony Vidmar (NAC Breda, Holland)

Major departures: Michael Beauchamp & Dean Heffernan (Nuremberg, Germany)

Key man: Tom Pondeljak

One to watch: Adam Kwasnik

Coach: Lawrie McKinna (second season)


Sydney FC

The reigning champions have bolstered their already-enviable stocks in pre-season under the stewardship of incoming manager Terry Butcher. Although the former England captain played no role in encouraging young guns Alex Brosque and Jeremy Brockie to the club (they signed before he arrived), he has instantly recognised a system to suit their talents and adjusted accordingly.

Butcher, derided by the anti-English brigade before touching down in Sydney, has shown an immediate astuteness by plumping for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Socceroo striker Sasho Petrovski the lone striker. Petrovski, last season's leading scorer with nine goals, will face competition from David Zdrilic.

But it's just behind the main striker where Butcher's abundance of riches reveals itself. He has the excellent, free-roving David Carney, left-footed dasher Brosque, the tenacious Brockie, veteran Steve Corica and new signing Ruben Zadkovich all contesting the three supplementary positions. Oh, and Dwight Yorke who's seen no pre-season action because of a groin strain.

Sydney's wealth has left commentators wondering whether the amount of potential Socceroos in the side (eight for the recent Asian Cup qualifier against Kuwait) might be their only chink. But rival managers are wishing, more than expecting, Sydney's stars to tire during the domestic campaign.

Last season: Champions (after finishing second)

Major arrivals: Alex Brosque (Queensland Roar), Jeremy Brockie (New Zealand Knights)

Major departures: Andrew Packer (Queensland Roar)

Key man: Dwight Yorke

One to watch: David Carney

Coach: Terry Butcher (first season)


Adelaide United

After galloping away with the league title last term, Adelaide supporters are still seething over the way their side threw away two chances of making the all-important grand final. In some respects, winning the premiership with three rounds to spare was a false blessing as John Kosmina's side appeared to enter the finals series in too relaxed a manner.

Consolidation has been Kosmina's close season strategy with some tireless behind-the-scenes effort delivering its just desserts. Adelaide has lost none of its premiership-winning squad after Kosmina convinced ex-China international striker Shengqing Qu of an eleventh-hour return to the A-League. Qu had initially returned home for family reasons before deciding the second tier of China's domestic league wasn’t much of an alternative.

He should rekindle his previously effective forward partnership with Brazilian Fernando Rech although privately the coach feels he has enough backup in under-20 international Nathan Burns to offer cover and competition for places.

Bobby Petta is the Reds' major acquisition after an initial trial in Queensland didn't work out. Kosmina turned his attentions to Petta after Stan Lazaridis elected to join hometown Perth Glory, yet despite the club's assertions that Petta is a more worth addition on the left side of midfield, concerns over his application remain.

Last season: Premiers

Major arrivals: Bobby Petta (Bradford City, England)

Major departures: None

Key man: Fernando Rech

One to watch: Greg Owens

Coach: John Kosmina (second season)


Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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