The high profile marquee signings of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono have immensely raised the profile of the A-League, but there are also plenty of intriguing coaching appointments and tactical developments to ensure the upcoming new season will be the most exciting yet.
The A-League has always been ripe with tactical variety, but never before have so many sides offered such difference in shape. Newcastle appear the most fascinating with an unusual 3-4-3 formation, and they will most likely be the only side to consistently play with three at the back. Yet a back four doesn’t limit a managers options, with Melbourne Victory’s experiment with interchanging false nines, the Mariners sticking with the 4-3-1-2 formation which has served them so well despite it’s inherent flaws (while experimenting with a 4-2-3-1), and the Wellington Phoenix have hinted at transitioning to a new 4-1-3-2 system with Paul Ifil on the wing all exciting propositions. Vitor Sobral suggested in his column for The World Game, this week that the ‘tactical revolution’ could be a landmark moment for the league.
A focus on positivity
Hand in hand with this tactical revolution comes an exciting and refreshing focus on positivity, as teams seek not only results but also entertainment. If managers live up to their promises, there should be a number of enthralling, high scoring games to characterize the season. Even Perth, who favoured a more direct approach last season, have signed Michael Thwaite with the aim of building more plays from the back. Contrast this to a few years back when Ernie Merrick and Vítězslav Lavička’s conservative approach dominated the league: now aggressive, attacking football is high on the agenda.
In winning the first ever back-to-back titles, Brisbane Roar set a new benchmark for the league not only in winning but also in entertainment. If imitation is a form of flattery, the fact that so many sides are seeking to emulate their possession based game is a huge compliment. Sydney FC, Newcastle, Adelaide, Heart and Victory are all aiming to retain the ball for extended periods of time. That should see some thrilling tactical battles as sides seek to assert their control, while sides like Perth and Wellington who concede the middle ground in favour of shape and organisation could benefit on the counter attack.
Emphasis on pace
Despite such an overarching emphasis being placed on possession, many sides are still recognising the value of the counter attack. Speed is an essential element of modern football, allowing teams to remain dangerous on the break. Sydney FC’s recruitment has revolved around this attribute, and Joel Chianese and Mitch Mallia should be a vital component to their game plan. Likewise, Brisbane’s new import Do Dong-Hyun is a pacy attacker, as is exciting new Mariners addition Mitchell Duke. Ricki Herbert is raving about teenager Louis Fenton, who may debut against Sydney FC, while Newcastle’s transfer business has emphasised young attackers with a mobile and technical game.
Australian coaches leading the charge
Foreign marquees may be in favour, but A-League boards are (for now) sticking with home grown managers. Ange Postecoglou was the most sought after coach in the country Brisbane before electing for a switch to Melbourne Victory, while Graham Arnold was in a similar tug of war between the Mariners and Sydney FC, an indictment of the work he has done on the Central Coast. John Kosmina, John Aloisi and Gary van Egmond have all pledged proactivity at their respective clubs, while Tony Popovic returned home to assume the reigns of the Wanderers in his first season as a first team coach. Australia hasn’t had a local international manager since Graham Arnold departed after the 2007 Asian Cup. That surely will change.