Archive for May, 2012

Red Star or Become a Star?

When a young striker is being scouted by a former European giant, one starts to get excited about the unbridled potential the kid must have; throw in the fact that this club is from the youngsters Country of birth and you are ready start to think this is some sort of Disney fairytale.

Then I tell you that this kid is from your beloved Melbourne Heart and is our best scoring option what do you do?
That is the potentially question new Heart head coach John Aloisi could face, albeit during his debut month of his coaching career.

It’s only speculation at this stage, but if all this talk is correct Aloisi has to convince his 20 year old striker Eli Babalj to turn his back on what could be the best offer he could receive in his professional career and remain a Heart regular.

If Babalj remains at the Heart it can only enhance his reputation. The 6’3” striker is still maturing both mentally and physically, he needs playing time to see any dramatic improvements to his game. I’m not convinced travelling half way around the world to sit on the pine is a great career move. Sure the quality on the training pitch will be a dramatic improvement during the week, Babalj is a big confidence player, and game time is a necessity.

Whilst training with a higher calibre squad can improve the core of your game, the bulk of Babalj’s talent is natural, and will increase quicker during 90 minutes on the pitch, rather than 4 hours on a Tuesday afternoon. Anyone who watched Heart games closely last season would have seen a young man who was almost there, but was far too often either caught offside, or a fraction too slow.

Last season Babalj was an ‘almost’ player, this season through the right training Eli will shed this tag.
The similarities between Aloisi and Babalj are uncanny; both are natural goal poachers, relying on the way they read the game, instead of shots from outside the box. Babalj should use this season to learn from a coach who has played in Spain, England & Italy and has represented his nation at World cup level. There is not better man to learn from in this Country.

While only speculation at this stage, Aloisi and chairman Peter Sidwell shouldn’t look at holding onto Babalj as holding the youngster back. Both men need to carefully consider not only the future development of a professional footballer, but those important stakeholders at the club – the members.

Eli Babalj (Melbourne Heart)
Appearances: 35​ Goals: 11
What do you guys think? If Red Star Belgrade offered Eli Babalj a contract would you be happy to see him leave the Yarraside? Let us know on twitter @thehardsword or leave a comment.


Socceroos Stage One – Denmark, Oman & Japan

With a friendly Danish encounter, and the start to the final stage of World Cup qualifying Holger Osieck announced his squad.  Whilst results are not do or die at this stage of the campaign most fans would expect at least four points from the first two games.  Brazil2014 is a very important tournament for the Socceroos, and football in Australia.  Qualification is not an option, but a necessity for the growth of football in this Country.

Only Brett Emerton is a surprise omission, with Osieck correctly choosing the most talented squad available.  I like the look of the squad and know that they can perform at the highest level for Australia.

With only 24 days until our qualification campaign starts here is the 26 man squad announced today.


Player: Mark Schwarzer

Club: Fulham (England)

Caps: 95

@thehardsword says: Australian number one keeper.  Surely in his final national campaign, and will be the glue that holds the defence together.  Will be heavily tested against Japan


Player: Adam Federici

Club: Reading (England)

Caps: 6

@thehardsword says: One of the mainstays of Reading’s promotion campaign. Expect his to watch from the sidelines, but a competent replacement for Schwarzer.  May get a half against Denmark.


Player: Nathan Coe

Club: SonderjyskE (Denmark)

Caps: 3

@thehardsword says: Surprise selection, thought Mitch Langerak would get the nod but has been in good form for his club side.


The Rest

Player: Mark Bresciano

Club:  Al Nasr (UAE)

Caps: 57 (11 goals)

@thehardsword says: Epitomisers the heart and soul of the Socceroos squad, ageing hard work midfielder with a never say die attitude.  Unfortunately hasn’t got the same pace as the 2010 campaign and should be used as an impact player off the bench.


Player: Alex Brosque

Club: Shimizu S-Pulse (Japan)

Caps: 11 (5 goals)

@thehardsword says: A KEY player for the Asian campaign.  Has a great gift for finding the back of the net, and uses his nous well.  I predict he will be out top scorer of our Asian campaign.


Player: Tim Cahill

Club: Everton (England)

Caps: 55 (24 goals)

@thehardsword says: Our best known player is coming off a somewhat average year form wise at Everton, but will always produce the goods for his Country.  The Japanese nemeses will no doubt get under their skin, but Holger and all Australian’s will be hoping Cahill doesn’t go too far.


Player: David Carney

Club: Bunyodkor (Ukraine)

Caps: 39 (6 goals)

@thehardsword says: A much maligned player, but a very important member of our squad.  Carney’s pace will be at the heart of our attacks, but he can also be caught out at the defensive end of the park.  We are a better team when Carney is on the team sheet.


Player: Chris Herd

Club: Aston Villa (England)

Caps: Yet to make debut

@thehardsword says: A rare shining light in a horrid Villa season.  Will be close to make his debut in one of the three games, but also must be patient when he joins the quality squad.  Could become an impact player when the game is there to be won.


Player: Brett Holman

Club: soon to be joining Aston Villa (England)

Caps: 53 (8 goals)

@thehardsword says: The man I dubbed the ‘X factor’ during a friendly against New Zealand in 2010.  A quality player who will only gain more exposure as he plays in England.  A very important player and can lift when others are not performing on the day.


Player: Mile Jedinak

Club: Crystal Palace (England)

Caps: 32 (3 goals)

@thehardsword says: Really must step up to the plate, performance wise.  Has the ability to become a Socceroos regular, but now reaching that point of his career where he cannot be picked on potential.  Must play well to be on the plane to Brazil.


Player: Joshua Kennedy

Club: Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

Caps: 29 (15 goals)

@thehardsword says: Must use his height to dominate small Asian defences.  His goal scoring record speaks for itself, and will be pivotal in the group stage.  Needs to improve his game against better opposition, but we will address that closer to 2014.


Player: Harry Kewell

Club: Melbourne Victory (Australia)

Caps: 56 (17 goals)

@thehardsword says: In his final World Cup campaign, Harry always stands and delivers for his beloved green and gold.  Those who witnessed his performance against Saudi Arabia cannot question his passion for the shirt.  Could be restricted to 60-70 minute performances at international level, but will be a trump card for Holger.


Player: Neil Kilkenny

Club: Bristol (England)

Caps: 13

@thehardsword says: A back up midfielder, who will be reliant on injury or good fortune to add to his 13 caps.


Player: Robbie Kruse

Club: Fortuna Dusseldorf (Germany)

Caps: 14 (2 goals)

@thehardsword says: Will be trying to force himself on the team sheet in front of Kennedy and Brosque.  Lack of matches has will cost him early in the campaign, but his pace is a handy addition when bought on with 10-15 to play.


Player: Matt McKay

Club: Busan IPark (South Korea)

Caps: 23

@thehardsword says: A nightmare move to Rangers has slowed McKay’s career down.  Has shown the ability in a Socceroos jersey, and is a great option for Holger off the bench.


Player: Mark Milligan

Club: JEF United Chiba (Japan)

Caps: 13 (1 goal)

@thehardsword says: Another of the legion of players with Asian experience.  Is a favourite of Holgers, and has played a controlling role very well.  Has the possibility to be a key playmaker in Australia’s campaign.


Player: Lucas Neill

Club: Al Jazira (UAE)

Caps: 80

@thehardsword says: Is the rock of the Australian defence.  Maybe not as suited to playing in Asia due to his lack of pace, but his football knowledge and leadership ensures he is always first on the team sheet.  Still after his first Socceroos goal.


Player: Jade North

Club: Consadole Sapporo (Japan)

Caps: 34

@thehardsword says: Just when you thought the career of North was over, he had been handed a lifeline.  Surely a backup for captain Neill, and Ognenovski in our most fragile position, centre back.  Hopefully we will not need to call upon his services during our campaign.


Player: Sasa Ognenovski

Club: Seongnam (South Korea)

Caps: 13 (1 goal)

@thehardsword says: Must perform well early on the campaign to keep his World Cup fairytale alive.  Works well with Neill, and also creates a giant presence in the box during set plays.


Player: Nikita Rukavytsa

Club: Hertha BSC (Germany)

Caps: 6

@thehardsword says: The outer favour striker has been bought back in from selection wilderness by Holger.  Known for his electric pace Nikita must improve his overall game to increase his worth to the National team.  Gives Holger an option from the bench when opposition defences start to get heavy legs.


Player: Matt Spiranovic

Club: Urawa Reds (Japan)

Caps: 13

@thehardsword says: The backup Centre back is an adequate replacement should Sasa or Lucas struggle early in the campaign.  Has a great future ahead of him, but could also feature prominently in our Brazil 2014 campaign.


Player: Archie Thompson

Club: Melbourne Victory (Australia)

Caps: 34 (21 goals)

@thehardsword says: Most will say a surprise selection, but given his last appearance in a Socceroos strip, a deserved one.  Father time has caught up with Archie in his domestic career, but still he manages that extra level for International appearances.  An uphill battle to be on the plane to Sao Paulo but he has thrown his hat into the selection mix.


Player: Carl Valeri

Club: Sassuolo (Italy)

Caps: 45 (1 goal)

@thehardsword says: An important cog in our midfield.  Valeri mostly goes unnoticed for his defensive hard work, as he isn’t as flashy as others in the squad.


Player: Luke Wilkshire

Club: Dynamo Moscow

Caps: 66 (6 goals)

@thehardsword says: Has made the right back spot his own over the last few years.  A creative outlet, but an extremely good defensive player.  I wouldn’t expect his recent incident in Russia will distract the player from Australian duties.


Player: Rhys Williams

Club: Middlesbrough

Caps: 9

@thehardsword says: A ‘spare parts’ player who gives Holger extra options when opting to play Williams.  Choosing Wales over Australia will ensure he sees plenty of big International tournaments and will be a key player in our 2018 campaign.


Player: Michael Zullo

Club: Utrecht (Netherlands)

Caps: 9

@thehardsword says: Another player for the future, but don’t be surprised if you see ‘Zullo’ on the team sheet.  The accomplished youngster will be awaiting any slip up from Carney to take his Socceroos chance.

Carlos in Red, My Heart says no

So you’ve probably heard the Carols Hernandez to Heart rumour, what do you think Melbourne?  Should the best player in Melbourne Victory’s short history cross the divide to and join the red side of town, after all they are the form Melbourne team.

This is the biggest transfer rumours being thrown around A-League land at the moment, and I have a feeling it won’t go away soon.  Hernandez is obviously unhappy at Victory, limited time on the pitch and a shared spotlight has reduced the Costa Rican’s role (and value) dramatically.  Hernandez is still scoring sublime goals, and winning ‘goal of the year’ titles, but is this enough for the supporters from the Yarraside.

Hernandez is an outstanding talent, and shouldn’t be lost to the A-League, but one must realise his inflated price tag is unrealistic especially in an A-League that is treading water financially.  The coming together of Heart and Hernandez does have a fairy tale feel about it, but I can only see this ending in a messy divorce.

Firstly Hernandez doesn’t fit into the Melbourne Heart philosophy; he appears to be lazy at times and struggles to follow a team ethos.  Melbourne Heart built a season on this last year, and will a young squad will continue to rely on a hard working, less talented squad to achieve any type of success.

Financially I don’t see how the club could lure a player like Carlos to the club without a compromise from his camp.   You look at teams like Sydney & Victory and both have received a great return for their two marquee men Brett Emerton and Harry Kewell.  Carlos just doesn’t have that same pulling power, and his asking price will not correlate with a rise in attendances or results on the pitch.  If Hernandez was a member of the Australian national team he could probably ask for a higher price, we do love the return of our Socceroos heroes.

It wouldn’t be all doom and gloom if new coach John Aloisi was to sign this sublime talent.  A change of club may reignite the career of Hernandez, but also would bring two of the most exciting players in the league together Fred and Hernandez.  Both are in the twilight of their career, but still have plenty to offer our league.  If it was assured that both could stay on the pitch for the majority of the year, football purists would be lining up to purchase a Melbourne Heart membership.

Whatever happens to Carlos, he should excite any football fan in the Country.  Personally I can see new Victory coach Ange Postecoglu becoming a breath of fresh air for the Costa Rican, from then on it’s down to one of the most important area at a football club, the finance department (unless your Manchester City).

I just don’t see Carlos pulling on the red kit of Melbourne just yet.

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ALOISI – Heart’s All Round Package

Melbourne Heart started their second era today, the John Aloisi Era.  With bells and whistles one would expect from a Melbourne sporting press conference chairman Peter Sidwell and CEO Scott Munn sat beside the man they entrusted to steer the Melbourne Heart through their most important years.

On field Aloisi has to fill the shoes left by sophisticated Dutchman John Van’t Schip.  Off field Aloisi will be expected to perform miracles in front of sponsors, media and any organisation willing to give the fledgling Heart money time or input.  When Sidwell announced the Aloisi appointment I got the feeling he will not be judged on results alone.  Like many I thought Ante Milicic was a better technical choice.  The long term assistant coach worked closely with the former coach and knows the current foundations intimately, from the outside looking in; Milicic was a standout candidate, but lacks the charisma Aloisi oozes.

Aloisi has played under a number of World class managers, and has played in some of the best leagues on the planet, but never for a really big name club.  If it wasn’t for Mark Schwarzer penalty heroics and a well taken spot kick many sports fans would struggle to recognise John Aloisi.  That last comment is very harsh to those who follow the game closely, but if you’re not playing in England for long periods of time the commercial airtime is hard to come by.

At today’s press conference Aloisi showed great poise, confidence and a healthy respect for the media.  Aloisi comes across as a student of the game, one who is still learning, but he will find the media far less friendly if staring down a four game losing streak without his key players.  You quickly learn who your friends are in this game, especially when the chips are down.

On field Aloisi’s will be looking towards Milicic at various times through the season, one year coaching a youth team under a restricted rule format is not the best apprenticeship for a senior coach at any level, if youth league experience was paramount former Gold Coast coach Mike Mulvey would be the most sort after man in the A-League.

Last year’s finals appearance will be hard to replicate, one only has to look at two clubs who didn’t see any post season action.  Adelaide has shown in the Asian Champions League they are a very good team, while Ange Postecoglu will be looking for a top four position for his Melbourne Victory.

John Aloisi was a better choice to cement Heart’s place in the ever competitive Melbourne sporting market.  The A-League has followed the younger path of coach the AFL is transfixed on at present.  Heart requires sizable crowds at the commencement of the 2012/13 season and Aloisi seems to be the perfect choice.

I wish John every success in his capacity as Heart coach, and support his appointment 100%.  One just needs to understand that this is a unique role, and he will need all the support he can muster on and off the pitch.

Keeping up Appearances

Australia’s fascination with keepers continued last week when three separate clubs announced their players of the year awards last week.  Sydney and both Melbourne clubs awarded their top gongs to the men between the posts, all three had great years, but I’m not convinced that all three were worthy recipients.  Clint Bolton was consistent, Ante Covic saved Victory from total embarrassment, but Ivan Necevski would be the biggest surprise player of the year in A-League history.

Have a look through the three squads in question and you realise the bounds of talent involved, Kewell, Thompson, Hernandez, Fred, Dugandzic, Emerton & Carle didn’t have great years by their high standards but should have featured more prominently at the post season awards.

Neither Clint Bolton, Ante Covic, or Ivan Necevski were named in the league keeper of the year, yet walked away with the highest honour at their club.  So why? It’s a combination of factors.

Firstly, it’s expected the keeper plays the full 90 minutes, barring injury.  This allows for maximum time on the pitch, unlike teammates who get subbed for various reasons over the course of the season.  Maximum time on the pitch results in higher exposure and a better chance of gaining votes.

Secondly, Australia have an obsession with keepers, we put them on the same pedestal only reserved for strikers in South America, and possibly dour defenders in Italy.  Through time we have produced keepers on a world scale due to our national skill set, and the healthy respect for our keepers.  Growing up in some countries that keeping is only an option after all on field positions have been exhausted.  In Australia we cherish our shot stoppers.

Due to the nature of our league, we have a vast majority of younger players, with a few veterans thrown into the mix.  This doesn’t allow for defensive cohesiveness, again highlighting every successful teams importance on a keeper.  A-League clubs are highly transient, the turnover is immense and doesn’t allow for a consistent structure.  If you look through the great teams of our times, all have a reliable, consistent back four.  A-League defences can be very poor at times, giving the keepers yet another opportunity to shine.

Finally the restrictive salary cap leads to less competition for keepers.  Clubs cannot afford to have to many dollars sitting on the pine week in, week out.  Clubs tend to choose one stand out keeper, with another young apprentice from the state leagues.  This assures the number one keeper is exactly that, number one on the team sheet.

Rating players on a game to game basis, will always lead to a bias when the post season awards roll around, all three abovementioned keepers had great years, but one only has to look at the current Ante Covic situation to observe how much regard some head coaches rate these awards.  Personally I think Ange Postecoglu has made his first error at the Victory, but who am I to judge the man who has won the last two titles, and brought an attacking freshness back to the game.

Australia will always hold keepers in high regard, but sometimes that pedestals just too high.

What a WOYnderful World

Roy (or Woy) Hodgson will soon be appointed to the most prominent position in football, and maybe the world England Manager.  Some say the position of England manager is the second most important in all of England, rated just behind the bloke that lives at 10 Downing street.  So how does a man who couldn’t perform one of the biggest clubs on the planet, Liverpool gain such notoriety in a so little time.

The answer my friends is along the Baggie brick road that leads to The Hawthorns.  Yes you heard me correctly, some of you won’t have paid much attention to the West Bromwich Albion football club over the last few years, but those who have see a well run, organised club that has secured their position in the Barclays Premier League, ditched the ‘yo-yo’ tag that is had earned over the last decade whilst staying financially viable, unlike so many other clubs.

Hodgson has performed miracles at the fan friendly club, ensuring premier league survival, and taking 10 points out of a possible 12 against bitter rivals Aston Villa, and Wolverhampton.  To the adoring fans in the Smethwick end Hodgson is on par with Pep Guardiola and Roberto Mancini, but without the hype or recognition.  Personally for Hodgson his defining moment was performed last month when West Brom took away all three points the Anfield for the first time since 1967, not only was is it pure delight for the travelling Baggies fans, but personally satisfying for Hodgson to get one over his former employer.

The English FA would have experienced many sleepless nights on their decision, ask most people in football and this is the hardest job in football.  Expectations of English fans are some of the most unrealistic in football, if you couldn’t win a World Cup with the golden generation during the late 90’s you are going to struggle with the current crop of players, but some fans don’t see logic when it comes to England playing tournament football.  Hodgson will have to win the fans over quickly, while stamping his authority before EURO 2012 kicks off.

With Hodgson leaving the midlands the question has to be asked, who is Roy’s successor.  Any manager with ambition and fire in the belly should be sticking their hand up for this dream appointment.  Let’s break it down, Albion fans don’t expect much but survival is always key, and with black country rivals Wolverhampton in the Championship survival is paramount.  A win over Aston Villa is always a bonus, but may become an expectation after their horrendous season.  Finally a win over a big 6 club (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, or Tottenham) would be some icing on the cake, it probably won’t happen but you get 12 attempts at it.

Need further convincing, check out the last three gaffers.

Tony Mowbray – Head hunted by Scottish giant Celtic, and straight into European football, currently managing Middlesboro.

Robert Di Matteo – Currently getting his Chelsea squad ready for the Champions League final

Roy Hodgson – Soon to be appointed England manager

I’m pretty sure no candidates would be reading this blog, but it’s a convincing argument if they are.

No matter what happens next at The Hawthorns, Hodgson has layed a great foundation for the next manager, and will do a great job with England.  Public perception would have given the job to Spurs to man Harry Redknapp, but International management is too restrictive for the “wheeler dealer ‘Arry”.

West Bromwich will be a poorer club for the loss of Roy, but a lucky one for his service over the last 15 months.