Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Turning tides

Turning tides.
How the saga involving Jason Culina ends will take its natural course. But the fact an A-League side is holding its own in negotiations with the current PSV and Socceroos midfielder is being lauded as a milestone for the domestic game.

Culina is a first choice for national team coach Pim Verbeek and arguably plays at the highest standard of any of Australia's overseas stars in Eindhoven after appearing for PSV in this year's Champions League.

The 28-year-old son of former Sydney FC coach Branko is rarely injured and was one of the country's outstanding players leading into the 2006 World Cup.

His form over the past 12 months for the national team hasn't perhaps maintained that same level. But he has retained his position in PSV's midfield under coach Huub Stevens and has been offered extended terms to remain with the Dutch club when his current deal ends in June.

Reports suggest Croatian outfit Dinamo Zagreb are the other major European player in the hunt for Culina's silky services. But it's the ballsy ambition of expansion A-Leaguers Gold Coast United which has made the overseas heavyweights sit up and take notice.

United have reportedly offered Culina a three-year $3.6 million deal to become the club's marquee acquisition with Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg believing the fledgling club have presented the most attractive all-round package.

"My understanding is that we are his top choice but if something comes up that interests him more, then I'll accept it," Bleiberg told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

"To date, the only Socceroos players who have come home have been just one step from retirement. With Jason you are looking at a player in his prime.

"Even at a big club like PSV, he still looks outstanding every time I see him. He would provide the gloss and class I am looking for."

Culina aside, United, bankrolled by mining magnate Clive Palmer's billions, are causing shockwaves around the league some seven months before they officially join the competition for the 2009/10 campaign.

Melbourne Victory and fringe Socceroos defender Michael Thwaite has been the latest big name addition to the Coast's inaugural line-up, a group of players looking increasingly likely to deliver on the outspoken Palmer's promise of winning the A-League title in their maiden season.

Thwaite is another local player who's elected to remain in Australia rather than return to Europe. The 25-year-old was loaned to Melbourne by Norwegian champions SK Brann and was expected to return to Scandinavia at the end of the current A-League campaign before joining the Gold Coast.

Livewire Queensland Roar striker Tahj Minniecon has also had his head turned by the Coast's offer of becoming their inaugural under-23 marquee player. He will double his yearly salary by moving to the Roar's nearest neighbours, but the switch does intensify the hostilities between the pair.

Earlier this season, Bleiberg was branded a clown and a liar by Queensland skipper Craig Moore after the colourful manager claimed he hadn’t tapped up a single member of Frank Farina's current Roar squad.

The usually reserved Moore was moved to rubbish Bleiberg's comments and said he knew for certain the former Roar boss had spoken to team-mates. Minniecon's subsequent move suggests Moore was telling the truth.

Palmer and Bleiberg's continued boastful comments seem set to make the Gold Coast the team most rival sides will take aim at when the new season kicks off this coming August.

They previously announced the signings of Wellington's prolific striker Shane Smeltz and Newcastle's Adam Griffiths, plunging those clubs' playoff challenges into crisis.

Another three currently contracted A-League players have made the similar journey to the tourist strip.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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