Gary Van Egmond was responsible for Newcastle’s stunning surge to the 2008-09 A-League title, but his return to the club has not inspired them back to such lofty heights. He’s now the second longest serving coach at a current club in the league (behind Graham Arnold), but he’s many people’s choice for first sacked, illustrating the pressure he’s under this season after last year’s frustrating inconsistency.
Despite assembling an impressive collection of young talents mixed with experienced A-League players, and the marquee arrival of Emile Heskey, Newcastle rarely felt like a cohesive unit last season, failing to match their ambitious plans for a high-tempo playing style with the more classic centre-forward play of Heskey. In many ways, Newcastle suffered for having too many attacking options, with Van Egmond often rotating the first team to accommodate the likes of Bernardo, James Brown, James Virgili, and towards the end of the season, Michael Bridges.
They improved significantly thanks to the combination between the latter and Heskey – Bridges drifted between the lines and timed his forward runs intelligently, but it wasn’t enough to secure a finals place.
That was a disappointing result for a season of so much promise, and although Van Egmond continues to emphasise the importance of the long-term work he is doing at the club in establishing the Emerging Jets program, performances must improve this season. There is a talk of a switch to 3-4-3, but that seems to be the case every season, and besides, it’s not really obvious how that suits the plethora of attacking midfielders at the club.
It feels more likely that a 4-2-3-1 will be preferred, with Nathan Burns upfront whilst Heskey is injured, and one of Josh Brillante, Zenon Caravella or Ben Kantarovski dovetailing with Ruben Zadkovich in midfield – but regardless of formation, Newcastle need to become the sum of their parts, rather than a disparate group of individuals.