Archive for April, 2012

Victory Fans, Here’s your ANGEswer

When Ange Postecoglu walked out on his back to back Championship team yesterday he confirmed something that many were saying for weeks, he’s off to Melbourne Victory.  No one was surprised, but Brisbane Roar fans would be disappointed, as it may bring their all conquering dynasty to a close.

So why the move? Why would any self respecting coach move from the most watchable and successful in the league over the next two years?  Most say money, some say it’s a chance to return home; I say it’s a combination of both with a kicker, the chance to work with Australia’s best player of the last decade Harry Kewell.

Season 2011/12 was horrendous to say the least for the most popular club in the league.  With all their perceived firepower (Kewell, Thompson, Hernandez & Allsopp) it was expected Victory players would be competing for a title in April, instead of collecting passport stamps for their end of season trip.  Next season the board will be under immense pressure, shocking results, little or no communication with member, and mind boggling decisions have the Victory fans demanding more from their club.

Finally Victory has made a step in the right direction.  Sacking Ernie Merrick was a mistake, the appointment of Mehmet Durakovic compounded this error, and appointing Jim Magilton was a left field decision that didn’t pan out.  The A-League provides a unique complex coaching opportunity for International mangers.  It provides some obstacles that would have never been considered in a coaching career.  Firstly we play in summer, our squad talent is restrained by a salary cap, and on game day you are restricted by three on field substitutions on the bench.  These three scenarios require either a very experienced/adaptable manager or someone who has previous A-League experience.

So what is expected from Ange at the Victory next season, while it would be great to see the messiah build another team from the ground up, I see the board, fans and a certain player demanding a top 3 finish next year.  Kewell is in his last few years of professional football and is a true champion with a competitive instinct.  Second isn’t good enough for him, and another failed year would see him enforce his ‘walk out’ policy on the controversial contract.

Ange has a very good core of players to work with, but will need to hard on the defensive side of the squad, and instil his never say die attitude into the player’s minds.  Too many times this season Victory gave up leads, and hope.  Losing from winning positions seemed second nature to Victory nearing the end of the season, and may have proved them a finals place.

One thing is for sure next season, many questions will be answered of the Victory next season, and fortunately for the blue half of Melbourne, this man has all the ANGEswers.

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The Seven year itch – Season 2011/12 Timeline

 

With Season 2011/12 finally over I look back at some of the more significant dates of a controversially season.  The season ended with yet another PR disaster, and one can only hope we have reached of darkest days.  The inclusion of Western Sydney looks a good one, but Frank Lowy, Ben Buckley and the FFA will have to work significant overtime to win the fans back in their droves.  Hopefully through hard work, on and off the field, combined with a few good Socceroos results the turnstiles will continue to turn when Season 2012/13 kicks off in October.

Until then hopefully you keep reading my blogs and we get a bit more positive press over the off season.

21st June 2011 – Fred signs for Melbourne Heart

Former Victory superstar Fred signs on with bitter rival Melbourne Heart.  It is announces through a bizarre video link, but gets the big signings rolling.

20th August 2011 – Harry Kewell signs for Melbourne Victory

Will he, or won’t he.  After weeks of innuendo Harry finally announces he will play for Melbourne Victory.  A massive coup for not only the biggest club in the league, but for football in Australia in its entireity.

25th August 2011 – Brett Emerton signs for SydneyFC

Wait, first Harry, now Emmo.  Emerton signs for glamour club SydneyFC, and everything is looking rosy for the A-League.  Two of the biggest names in the code sign for the two biggest cities.  Gee I wish we could go back to this day, Football and the A-League was splashed all over the front and back pages for all the RIGHT reasons.

8th October 2011 – A-League kicks off

Finally after months of waiting football is finally back.  Clubs have all signed big names in the pursuit of the all conquering Brisbane Roar.

18th December 2011 – Rini Coolen is sacked by Adelaide United, with John Kosmina taking over the role

Heavy expectations combined with disappointing results end in Coolen being the first coach on the chopping block.

1st February 2012 – John Van’t Schip announces he will not seek another term on his Melbourne Heart contract

The man given the task of taking of building a club from scratch decides to move on at the end of the season.  JVS would continue his tenure with Heart and not only experience Derby success, but would finish ahead of the higher fancied Victory.

3rd February 2012 – Vítězslav Lavička and SydneyFC announce they will part ways at the end of the season

A third coaching casualty, Lavicka finds the going too tough even with the Carle/Emerton combination.  Both parties finish on good terms, with SydneyFC making it through to the second week of finals football.

19th February 2012 – Miron Bleiberg walks out/sacked from Gold Coast United

Give a 17 year old the captains arm band and this is what happens.  No one is completely sure what happened in the weeks leading up to Bleiberg’s departure but he did not see eye to eye with Palmer, and this was the beginning of the end for the club on the beaches of the Gold Coast.

29th February 2012 – FFA strip Clive Palmer of his Gold Coast Licence

This where it starts going bad, the ‘freedom of speech’ kit is the final straw for the FFA as they strip Billionaire Clive Palmer of his licence.  Palmer threatens substantial legal action, but this is quashed early in the courts system.  We haven’t heard the end of Clive Palmer involvements in Football, but one can only hope his next tenure is more successful.

17th March 2012 – Melbourne Heart seal their debut Finals appearance

Just thought I would throw this date in as a personal favourite.  Most of you who read my blog will know I’m a passionate Melbourne Heart fan.  Knowing we would be part of finals action was a credit to JVS, Scott Munn and our growing supporter base.

25th March 2012 – Central Coast seal their Premiers Plate title with a win over Wellington

Graham Arnold and his men were duly rewarded for all their hard efforts.  Winning the Premiers plate was a reward for their consistent season.  CCM showed no frills and a hard work ethic could pay off against bigger, better financed clubs.

4th April 2012 – FFA announce a team from Western Sydney in the 2012/13 season

Twitter was going nuts, there were whispers all over the place, but finally Julia Gillard and her bystander Ben Buckley announced significant funding and a new team in Football’s heartland.  At present no names, colours or players have been announced but I think the right steps have been taken.

5th April 2012 – FFA announce the demise of Gold Coast United

#SAVEGCU wasn’t enough for those who run the FFA.  This day it was announced that Gold Coast would no longer take part in the A-League.  Personally, I think it was the correct decision, but the timing and the way it was handled was poor to say the least.  How to win friends and influence people isn’t at the FFA library shelves.

10th April 2012 – Nathan Tinkler hands back Newcastle A-League licence

In a shock to all, Newcastle owner Tinkler handed back his club licence.  There were many reasons behind this decision but the inability to trust those running the FFA was the ultimate decider.  This issue is still ongoing, and I cannot see this being resolved in the near future.

14th April 2012 – Perth Glory make their first Grand Final appearance since the final NSL season after defeating Central Coast in the Grand Final qualifier

In a shock to most, Ian Fergusson’s Perth Glory were Brisvegas bound and heading towards their first grand final.  For the first time all season Central Coast lose three matches on the trot and were eliminated in straight sets.  It was a sad exit for the resilient Mariners.

22nd April 2012 – Brisbane complete back to back titles with a controversial last minute penalty win over Perth Glory.  FFA complete their horror season by announcing incorrect Marston Medallist

Wow, I’m not going to lay the boot in like most, but a day where 50,000 fans turn up to watch football in this Country should be a good one.  2,500 fans travel from west to east coast, paying hundreds (if not thousands) to see their beloved team in the big dance.  Once again thanks to poor refereeing and a three stooges administration error football is again a laughing stock to the countries media departments.  Referee Gillett performed admirably for 95 minutes, unfortunately he will only ever be judged on one incorrect call.

Let’s all take a step back for a moment, take a deep breath and think about things before we take one big swipe at the game.  Without us, the fans the game is nothing.  Football is having a hard enough time as it is, and those who love the game must ride these dark times out.  The inclusion of West Sydney excites me, and who knows what Socceroos will be making a return home, hey Chippers.

 

Roaring all the way to the bank

When Brisbane Roar secured their second consecutive A-League bean counters would have been calling for the cognac and cigars.  The centrepiece will be played in front of 50,000 adoring fans in one of the best football stadiums in the Country.  This is not taking a swipe at Central Coast fans, but a disappointing 7572 fans turned up for a do or die Grand Final qualifier at Bluetongue stadium last week.

Football fans all over the country will remember the 2010/11 grand final for a few reasons, mainly the astonishing comeback from the never say die Brisbane Roar, but the atmosphere created by the 50,000+ crowd who witnessed history that day.  Another bumper crowd will not only be a fantastic advertisement for the game, but will give the FFA some much needed finances after the beating the accountants have taken this year.

Over the last few months the A-League has been battered from just about anyone, whether the criticism has been fairly warranted or not, the FFA are the only thing in Australia that is less popular than the Queensland Labour party.  This Sunday presents the FFA with an opportunity to close the chapter on a season best forgotten for the most part, finishing on the best possible note; A cracker of a Grand Final played in front of a sold out crowd.

Many fans, particularly those in Western Sydney are already looking forward to Season 8, but the book has not closed on Season 7 just yet.

Both Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory are playing free flowing attacking football at the moment, and this game is a stand out for the neutral.  Fans all over Australia should be looking forward to this game, and watching a shootout between the best two scorers in erratic livewire Besart Berisha and classy Kiwi Shane Smeltz.  This Sunday supporters will have experience a rollercoaster of emotions, but the match will be a delight for the neutral.  Something we couldn’t say when watching the dour defences of Graham Arnold’s Central Coast Mariners.

Ideally back in October the FFA would have preferred the Kewell v Emerton match up throughout Grand final week, but will happily cash in their chips, and watch their Fox Sports ratings when Brisbane meet Perth on Sunday.

Look out for my preview over the next few days and follow me on twitter @thehardsword or check out thehardsword facebook page.

My Ten Commandments for the 2012/13 A-League Fixture

Whilst I don’t think I need to grow a beard, climb a mountain and call myself Moses, I do have a few commandments that the FFA should follow when drawing up the 2012/13 A-League fixture.

1.       Use the Big City derbies wisely

For the first time we have cross time rivals in Melbourne and Sydney.  The Melbourne Derby is now a ‘must do’ on the Melbourne sporting calendar and the Sydney Derby will play a major role in the success of the @NewSydneyClub.  The A-League now has six key dates in their two biggest cities and need to use this wisely.  One key game every 3-4 weeks will keep the A-League in the media attention.

2.       Public Holidays are your friend

Last year the A-League tried ‘Big Wednesday’.  This was a success for both fans and Foxtel subscribers all over the Country.  In 2013 January 26th falls on a Saturday and the FFA need to take advantage of this.  I’m not sure if you go with five games all on the one day but I would like to see Victory v Sydney, @NewSydneyClub v Heart, and Perth v Adelaide (in Perth) all played on our national public holiday.  Brisbane could play Central Coast on the night before, and Wellington v Newcastle as a standalone game on the Sunday.  Melbourne Heart should play host to a Melbourne Cup eve match (Monday night) to take advantage of the influx of people who either visit the city or take advantage of the four day weekend.

3.       Thursday Night Opener

There will be much fanfare surrounding the @NewSydneyClub so let’s kick off the season with them.  We should take something from the AFL that they do so well, the Richmond v Carlton season opener schedule.  I think it would be a mistake to use a ‘Sydney derby’ trump card so early, but a game opposing the new team to Newcastle would be perfect.  Not only would it create buzz around the city buy would give Newcastle fans some much needed exposure from the FFA

4.       One midweek home game for all

Fans vote with their feet, and not warmed to midweek kickoffs.  Our timeframe and television commitments mean that we need to play at least two full rounds during the week so let’s spread the burden.  Every club should play one midweek home game to spread the weaker attendances throughout the league.  Who knows maybe this could present a corporate opportunity or a member ‘bring a friend’ night.

5.       Consistent game times for the fans

One of my major gripes with the A-League is their varied time slots fans/members have to work with.  If we give fans a more regular kickoff time most weeks I am convinced that you will see a rise in attendances and membership numbers.  Let’s be smarter about our scheduling and copy things that work in other sports.  AFL fans tend to be drawn to Friday night football, whereas NRL fans prefer Saturday nights.  Why don’t we look at this more wisely and use it to grow our game.  Friday nights could see Adelaide, Perth, and Heart home matches.  Saturday evening (around 5pm) could be a family friendly kickoff for Newcastle/Central Coast, and Saturday nights would see Victory, and the two Sydney clubs share the spotlight.  Brisbane and Wellington would be given the bulk of the Sunday games.  As the two biggest supported clubs Victory and Sydney would be given the prime time Saturday night slot.

6.       One Melbourne, One Sydney match every week

Yes you may be coming to the conclusion that I am pro Sydney/Melbourne, but these are the two biggest markets.  One game every week would establish a firmer market share in both these cities and continue to keep the league on the back pages (or as close as possible).  This would also become more attractive for a bigger TV deal with Foxtel, or dare I say it a free to air network.

7.       Keep it at 27 games, and put the FFA Cup on Ice

As much as I would love an FA Cup style competition, next season isn’t the time to introduce it.  Next season is about the successful introduction of the @NewSydneyclub and the stability of every club in the A-League.  Playing every club three times provides for some irregular fixturing, but it sure beats the alternative that other football codes are faced with.  All clubs play each other and even amount of times and that is one salvaging feature about the current fixture.  18 games (play twice) doesn’t provide clubs with enough income opportunities, and a 36 game (play four) fixture would create monotony and boredom for everyone except those very loyal fans.

8.       Use NYL games as curtain raisers

Now that every team has a youth team (except Wellington) we should be playing these games before the main game.  The AIS team could replace Wellington for the purpose of the NYL schedule, and the younger players would get the opportunity to play on the more prestigious grounds, and the fans would also be able to see younger players progressing through or an old favourite coming back from injury.

9.       Include a ‘Grassroots Round’

The A-League and FFA continue to excel in promoting grassroots football and the local clubs around the area but need to get more back from this.  Why not sell this message to the Australian sporting public and have a specific round for Grassroots football.  This would generate positive publicity for the game and may increase the involvement with local clubs.  I know all clubs perform outstandingly when it comes to grassroots level; this round would merely become a branded week to sell the A-League message to those who are involved in football at every level in Australia and New Zealand.

10.   Ask the fans what they want

With Billionaire owners retreating quicker than the French during a war, maybe it’s time to for the powers that be ask those stakeholders who will always be there, the fans.  This may seem an unusual step for a national sporting organisation but let’s face it, the A-League needs bums on seats.  I have 10 ideas here, and they might be rubbish, but the league may receive a few great ideas from some fans out there.  I understand you can’t please everyone and TV deals and Corporate sponsors keep the game going, but who knows what you might uncover if you simply ask.

Central Choke Mariners Tag unfair

 

In any other league in the world (except USA) the Central Coast players would be celebrating their league title as worthy winners of the 2011/12 Hyundai A-League.  That is, if it wasn’t for Australia’s obsession from finals football.

Graham Arnold instead has been battered from pillar to post as he watched his team lose three straight games which resulted in a premature playoff exit.  On the flip side Perth Glory have won their last three matches launching them into their first Grand Final appearance since their triumphant back to back titles in the NSL (2002-2004).

Arnold has performed wonderfully over the course of the 2011/12 season.  Up against bigger clubs with more extensive budgets, preparing for an Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign and having to say goodbye to the key goal scorer Matt Simon midway through the season.  Under these circumstances reaching the top 4 would have been a great effort, but finishing the season two points clear of the superior Brisbane Roar was simply outstanding.

Throughout the season Central Coast weren’t the best team during the season, but the most consistent.  Capitalising on a bizarre five game winless stretch from Brisbane, the Mariners went top of the table, and never relinquished that spot.

Central Coast grinds out wins better than all other clubs in the league.  NINE of their wins this season were by only one goal, compare that to Brisbane’s SIX.  Graham Arnold’s men know how to win but do not have the ability to put teams away, like counterparts Brisbane.  A driving force behind the Mariners becoming A-League Premiers was young keeper Matt Ryan.  Ryan deservedly won the keeper of the year award, and has a bright future ahead of him.  Central Coast only conceded 24 goals in 27 games throughout the season.  Unfortunately for Central Coast and the A-League he will soon be lost to Europe on his footballing journey.

I think Saturday night also marked the end of the ‘Graham Arnold’ era.  The vultures of SydneyFC are circling, and are better financed and resourced.  I feel the timing is right for Arnold to make a coaching move.

Central Coast may not have been the best team of the 2011/12 season, but they finished top of the A-League table after the regular season.  An ACL spot is just reward for their successful season, but won’t lessen the post season pain for fans.

To all of you who have thrown the chocker tag around, I think over achievers is a fairer comment.

Three Strikes and you’re OUT

Strike One – North Queensland Fury

Strike Two – Gold Coast United

Strike Three

The new Western Sydney franchise is not just about the people of Blacktown, Parramatta or Penrith; it’s about the entire football loving population of Australia.  The A-League has lost two footballing franchises in the last two years, and one more could possibly see the end of the league.

Fans around the country have lost faith in those responsible in running the competition.  The new Sydney club presents the FFA with their final roll of the dice, too many people have been burnt in the last 24 months and the competition is quickly losing face in the Australian sporting market.

For many years the Western Sydney has been referred to as the heartland of Australian football.  Many of Australia’s best footballers have come from this area, but why has it taken 9 years for the FFA to establish a team in the football stronghold.

The A-League now has an ideal footballing model, in my opinion.  We have two teams representing our two biggest cities, with the remaining six teams spread throughout Australasia.  A Sydney derby will be the perfect tonic for a city of football fans, who seem to have fallen out of love with the local league.  As a Melburnian I know how good a local derby can be, and how much it have revitalised football in Melbourne.

The FFA need to put all their available resources into a successful Western Sydney outfit.  The next six months will be as important as the time leading up to the commencement of the league.  The league now has ten teams that must survive and flourish.  All teams now have established fan bases and crowd numbers on slowly on the rise.  Ratings have never been better, and most clubs are recording more consistent crowd figures.

I like the idea of community engagement when it comes to team names, colours and other fan based involvements, but when it comes to on field matters the FFA need to step in and appoint the best available people.  Miron Bleibreg would make a great head coach; he is an experienced campaigner, and an excellent media performer.  Scott Chipperfield has already expressed interest in returning to Australia to finish his career in the A-League.

The new Sydney club need to work smart, and very fast.  Over the next few months the FFA must make every post a winner.  Fans all around the country must embrace the new club, make a continued effort to support the national competition and encourage others to come through the turnstiles.

I see the future brighter than ever for all ten clubs involved in the 2012/13 A-League season.  We must all sing from the same page of the hymn book to see the league progress in one of the toughest sporting markets in the World.

No more TERRA-rising the Yarraside

Unfortunately player turnover is a harsh reality of the Hyundai A-League.  Management are limited by a small squad size and a salary cap, something very unique to world of football.  Fans in the terraces get to know the players intimately, and come the end of the season we have to say goodbye to players we have watched shine.

For me two players stand out in particular, Rutger Worm & Alex Terra.  Both players were integral parts of Melbourne Heart season 1, but whether it was through lack of form, opportunity or injury 2011/12 wasn’t kind to either player.

Alex Terra will always be the plucky little Brazilian who scored ‘that’ goal, the incredible bicycle kick on the other side of the country.  For that moment in time Terra was on back pages around the country, there was even some silly talk comparing the goal to Wayne Rooney’s stunning Derby goal.

Rutger Worm would be the first to admit he struggled this year.  On his day Worm could dance around opposition midfield’s and bedazzle with his skills, unfortunately on his bad day’s Worm looked more like a park footballer.  Luckily those days were few and far between.  From day one Rutger was my favourite heart player, involving himself with fans at every chance.  Once even driving through the city Rutger managed a wave and a toot of the horn, even though the team had suffered an agonising loss earlier that night.

The Yarraside will be a solemn place tonight with today’s announcement.  Both players were fan favourites, and gave back as much to the fans, and those in the stands gave Rutger and Alex.  Both will be missed by the Heart faithful, and will always be fondly remembered.

Of the other players Kristian Sarkies could consider himself a little unlucky.  A plethora of midfield options kept Sarkies out of the team throughout the year.  Kamal Ibrahim, Kliment Taseski & Nikola Roganovic will all be out to impress before the new Western Sydney franchise, and I expect Maycon to make a return to South America.

All seven players will go down in history as part of the first Melbourne Heart squad to make the playoffs.   As a member, and avid supporter thanks for the memories, and I wish you all great fortune for the remainder of your careers.