Although he enjoyed a distinguished playing career – including a 93 game stint at Perth Glory – and risen through the ranks of the national team setup as coach, including stints as National High Performance Consultant and FFA Assistant Technical Director, very little was known about Alistair Edwards’ style when he was appointed coach after the sacking of Iain Ferguson.
In contrast to Iain Ferguson’s more direct, ‘British’ style of play, Edwards stressed possession, and more positive, intricate play in the final third, when he took over. Although he didn’t change formation, he did rejig player positions, with Steven McGarry swapping with Liam Miller, who moved into the no.10 position previously occupied by the Scotsman.
It made Perth a more attractive outfit, more based around ball retention and patience in midfield – but then Edwards showed his pragmatic side in the semi-final against Melbourne Victory, by instructing his side to sit deep without the ball in two banks of four. It nearly worked – if not for Shane Smeltz’s missed penalty, they probably would have upset the favorite, just as they had done in Edwards’ first game, against the Mariners.
His vision for Perth is similar to Van Egmond’s: an emphasis on young, local talent geared towards playing a progressive, proactive style of play across all teams – and Perth’s youth-focused movement over the off-season is testament to Edwards’ vision. The average age of new arrivals is a barely credible 21.8 – with only Evan Berger younger than 25 in the players released, a list which includes relative veterans Miller and Dean Heffernan.
However, the spine of Edwards’ side is still experienced, with the likely centre-back partnership of Ljubo Milicevic and Michael Thwaite an encouraging ball-playing duo (although Steve Pantelidis has started the majority of pre-season games). Protecting them will be tenacious captain Jacob Burns and probably McGarry, while the central striker will be Shane Smeltz – a veteran of 122 A-League games, including 67 goals.
However, he’s injured for the start of the season, meaning Jamie MacLaren will start as the number 9 – a somewhat surprising development having featured out wide for both club and the national side at the recent U20 World Cup. The fact MacLaren was a teenager until a few weeks ago sums up just how youthful Perth will be this season, and that’s without mentioning the exciting 16 year old playmaker, Daniel De Silva.
De Silva will challenge Ryan Edwards for the central attacking role, but the real attacking spark will come from out wide, with the returning Ryo Nagai and new signing Sidnei both excellent in one-on-one situations. Perth might look to exploit this by playing down one particular flank, drawing an opposition defence narrow, and then quickly switching the play to the opposite flank – that’s been a key feature of their pre-season preparation.
Edwards has constructed a solid spine, which should set the platform for the young, creative talents to shine. After becoming stale and predictable under Ferguson, they should be fascinating to watch this season.