Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The A-League in numbers

A-League.
13: Number of Brazilians signed by the eight clubs this season

Around three times the number of Brazilians in the league last season, every club bar the Central Coast Mariners and Perth Glory have signed at least one Samba superstar. History suggests somewhere around 50 per cent will be duds meaning up to half a dozen of football's entertainers might make the grade.

Sydney FC marquee man and former World Cup winner Juninho looks a certainty to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Meanwhile, first impressions indicate that Adelaide's Cassio, a left-back in the mould of Roberto Carlos, has what it takes to succeed while Queensland has high hopes of playmaker Marcinho and Daniel's going down a storm over at Wellington Phoenix.

2: Number of Englishmen signed by the eight clubs this season

They used to be the prevailing import but English recruits are diminishing to such an extent they could be extinct within the next 12 months. Britain's brand of blood-and-guts football has taken a hammering in Australia over recent years. The country that gave the game Charlton, Gascoigne and Rooney hasn't exactly helped itself by sending Deane, Gemmill and Devine over to the A-League.

This season former Chelsea midfielder Joseph Keenan has turned up at the champions and will most likely play as a left wing-back while Perth Glory have agreed terms with former Victory striker James Robinson (who was already playing semi-pro football in Australia anyway). But that's your lot.

12: Size of Melbourne Victory's lead at the top of the table last season

Melbourne were only not leading the A-League table for two rounds right at the beginning of the season and showed their complete and utter dominance by trouncing Adelaide United in the grand final.

This year, though, all indicators point to a tighter affair, especially with the Victory losing Fred to the Major League and classy defender Adrian Leijer to the Premiership. Sydney and Adelaide have recruited well while Queensland have former Socceroos head coach Frank Farina steering the ship from the outset.

Even the league's token New Zealanders - Wellington Phoenix - might not finish bottom.

6: Amount of Socceroos to have jacked in the high life in Europe for a chance to 'give something back' to the local game

It's an impressive rollcall when you consider Queensland marquee signing Craig Moore was captaining the Socceroos this time last year and Melbourne's Ljubo Milicevic remains right in the frame for a national team recall.

Tony Popovic, Paul Agostino, Danny Tiatto and Hayden Foxe all count themselves in the former Socceroos bracket nowadays but that doesn’t mean supporters of Sydney, Adelaide, Queensland and Perth respectively aren't lipping their lips ahead of the upcoming campaign. Football Federation Australia are pretty chuffed too.

3: Number of mandatory players aged 20 or under in every squad

The game's governing body - under constant haranguing for not having already implemented some type of reserve or junior league - have at least increased the compulsory quota of under-20 players per club from two to three.

Of the teenage tyros, Melbourne again seem to have come up trumps with the loan signing of Kaz Patafta. Now it might just be because of his instantly recognisable name but Patafta is one of those players that tends to dominate conversations of this kind.

He joined Portuguese giants Benfica 18 months ago and even played in their first team last season before being loaned back to the A-League for the next nine months. A silky playmaker, Patafta could have Victory fans questioning Fred who? by the end of the year.

1,000,000: Reported yearly salary in Australian dollars of Sydney marquee Juninho

Worth every cent.

20,000: Melbourne Victory membership target for 2007/08

Let's put this in context. It's not just Melbourne's rapid growth in membership - they've mushroomed from 5000 members in 2005 to targeting four times that this season - but their capacity to make a loud statement in this Australian Rules Football-crazed city.

The champions are hot on the heels of the AFL's North Melbourne Kangaroos who have 22,000 members according to latest club reports, but have been in existence since 1869.

Furthermore, the Victory last season smashed Australian football's all-time attendance record when 55,436 fans watched them demolish Adelaide United 6-0 in the A-League grand final.

Soccerphile predictions (despite everything said above)

Champions: Sydney FC
Runners-up: Melbourne Victory
Wooden Spoon: Newcastle Jets

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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