Wellington hasn’t ever been seen as a proponent of ‘modern’, attacking football, but with two consecutive finals appearance, this didn’t seem to be a huge problem. A Ricki Herbert side was always strong defensively, physical and organised, and most importantly, produced results. That was, until recently, when the new owner Gareth Morgan recently discussed his desire for the side to play a more entertaining style.
“The important thing is we want a style of football that the club is known for and we will essentially hire coaches that give us that style,” he said. “So in other words the style of football will be determined by the club, not by the coach.”
As an excellent article by Brett Taylor notes, Morgan’s comments are somewhat unfounded. “For starters, Mr Morgan,” he memorably states, “you probably will win the league by being the best defensive team.”
The result is that Herbert and the squad are torn between two styles of football – the pragmatic system, and the supposed ‘Total Football’ enforced by Morgan, and there’s been a distinct and alarming drop in form since the controversy emerged.
It feels like it’s been said repeatedly, but there’s no getting away from the main story: in the space of half a year, the Western Sydney Wanderers was born, Tony Popovic has built a cohesive and integrated squad with a clearly identifiable system and a realistic chance of success in the finals, meaning thousands of fans have flocked to Parramatta to see what all the fuss is about.
Popovic played under Graham Arnold when the latter was Socceroos coach, and has borrowed many of his ideas in building his side on principles of structure, discipline and hard work. The beauty of such a system is in its simplicity, allowing for rotation and meaning new players can easily adapt to the rigorous demands of life in Western Sydney – which makes perfect sense, considering the majority of the squad are/were on one-year contracts.
The last few years have been nothing short of disaster for Newcastle – there has been an identity crisis both on and off the pitch, most notably with their change in jersey colour, and more importantly, there has been an attempted change in style under Gary van Egmond.
While it was initially difficult for the former Premiership winning coach to establish his own mark on a side given he took over a few weeks into a new season following the controversial departure of Branko Culin, but his profile was stamped all over the club’s off-season business: there was a clear focus on signing young, technically proficient young talent that would mould into Van Egmond’s preferred style of play. He wants a high-tempo, possession-based game, inspired by the success of Brisbane.
“We’re pretty close to having the largest clean-out from last year’s squad to this year’s in A-League terms,” said Van Egmond. “That reflects the type of football we are trying to play – based on possession, mobility, targeting age groups that can be effective. But also, we have one eye on three to five years down the line, when these younger players are going to be very good indeed. I think that’s important, the long-term plan – Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
In terms of starting XI, this is one of the more difficult sides to predict, with a number of versatile players meaning spots are always up for grabs. This impacts upon the ability to define the Melbourne Heart style – in short, they’re not particularly good at any particular system, and that, in turn, has probably had an influence on their perplexing consistency. One week that might pull off an impressive win, and fail to muster up a shot on target in the following game. They’re especially poor away from home, and they’re yet to win outside Melbourne this season.
Therefore, they’re unlikely to have an extended run in the finals if they do qualify, but if they spring a surprise, it’ll be through their energy and mobility, especially on the flanks.
Ange Postecoglou’s arrival at the Melbourne Victory – at least until the storm of marquees – was the most promising development of the off-season. Not only did he build a dual-championship winning side at the Brisbane Roar, he did so with an unprecedented (in Australia, at least) possession-based style that combined ruthless defensive qualities with marvellously attractive attacking football. With their distinctive short passing game and an incessant focus on dominating the ball, Postecoglou established a reputation as an extraordinarily talented coach with a very defined way of playing.
Not only that, Postecoglou became known as a ‘club builder’, having transformed a floundering club into the country’s most polished, efficient and aesthetically pleasing outfit. In basic terms, he was a very good fit for a Melbourne Victory that was lacking direction and in desperate need of an overhaul in playing style.
After two wildly successful seasons, watching their side drastically underachieve must be a strange feeling for Brisbane Roar fans. But with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps this wasn’t unexpected – Ange Postecoglou is a fine coach who must take the majority of the credit for transforming Brisbane’s fortunes, and in his absence, the squad has struggled to hit the heights of their dual championship winning seasons.
Back in December, I discussed the problems at Brisbane in the immediate aftermath of Rado Vidosic’s ‘elevation’ to technical director, identifying seven key areas that have led to their poor performances. They were the coach, a loss of set patterns of play, more midfield freedom, Besart Berisha’s ineffectiveness as a false nine, the disappointing Ben Halloran, the loss of Sayed Mohamed Adnan and physical preparation, and without wanting to go over old ground; these have continued to plague the squad seven games into Mulvey’s tenure.
The perennial cliché about the Central Coast is that it always ‘slips under the radar’ – but it’s hard not to describe the Mariners in any other way. Despite topping the table for most of the season, all the talk has been about other clubs, while recent discussion has only focused around the loss of Rogic and other impending departures.
But Arnold has quietly assembled a Premiership winning squad that should cope well with the loss of their star players. As well as becoming the team to beat, their structure will serve them well in the Asian Champions League – and crucially, they’ve been able to rotate most of the squad, which will have freshened tired legs and left them primed for their end of season continental commitments.
“Before last weekend we had been first or second in the league and were recognised as a good football team. However, apart from survival, I can see no clear direction. There is no vision. Decision-making at management level is reactive and impulsive at best, and there is no consistency in managerial procedure.”
“There is far too much whispering in corridors and around corners. I feel sorry for Rob Gerrard, and I also feel for directors Richard Noble and Phil Lounder – people I trust. But I simply cannot, and will not, work in an environment which otherwise lacks trust.”
This statement doesn’t bode well for the future of Adelaide United – having enjoyed a fine start to the season, a prolonged slump in form and a rumoured breakdown in communication between the coach and the board has led to the shock resignation of Kosmina, a popular figure at the club, despite firmly playing a role in the side’s slide down the table.