With one win in our last five games, Sunday afternoon is looking more concerning than a mid-season City fan would have thought.
Lacking what arguably has been our ‘spine’ across the park in Socceroos Jamie Maclaren, Connor Metcalfe and Curtis Good, it has been a difficult period. On our worst goal-scoring run this season, we have only scored twice in three games…
The Socceroos were once again heavily adjusted for a match which was expected to be their seventh victory in as many games in this stage of the road to Qatar. Despite the Nepalese putting up a strong fight with heavy challenges and gutsy pressing, it was in fact the favourites who prevailed in this hard-fought encounter.
Australia continued the theme that has preluded them, scoring within the first 15 minutes to take the lead for the seventh time in seven games, through a gorgeously whipped ball from ex-Melbourne Heart player Aziz Behich to Melbourne City’s newest arrival, Mathew Leckie. The strong header was more than enough to see the Nepal goalkeeper slip and watch joylessly as the ball rippled the back of the net.
The next 30 minutes of play portrayed a Socceroos team who were looking to perfect their structure, going forward with care most of the time, but not afraid to reset play when the pressure became too hot to handle. On a pitch which a seasoned rugby field would best, the ball bounced and bobbled its way to the shins of each Australian player, who had to find their way to bring it down purposefully.
However, this did not stop goal scorer Leckie from skipping past his man and cutting back an inch-perfect pass to Croatian born Fran Karacic for his first goal in the green and gold. The expertly placed finish was met with a flurry of Socceroo celebrants, getting around the 25-year-old for his first international goal, for a country he is yet to step foot in.
Shortly after the 38th minute goal, Leckie played Martin Boyle through on goal, only for the Hibernian man to be brought down by a slight touch from Rohit Chand of Nepal. Chand was shown the red card for his challenge, which made the night considerably more difficult for the Nepalese squad.
Another goal 12 minutes into the second half ensured the Socceroos win as absolute, as Boyle made a smart run to get on the end of a curling pass from fellow Hibernian Jackson Irvine in the six-yard box. The tap in was all she wrote on a scoring front, as the match finished 3-0. However, due to the abundance of chances, it could have been more; goalkeeper Kiran Chemjong surely proving his monopoly of the goalkeeper spot for Nepal.
Olympics-bound Connor Metcalfe was in pure control of the defensive midfield position, cleanly winning the ball on multiple occasions, orchestrating the return of the ball to the forward players in practiced style. Alongside Irvine, the two looked to have the ball on a string, with Metcalfe almost getting on the scoresheet late on if it wasn’t for the dedication of Chemjong in goal.
In a game which saw Laurence Thomas make his debut at the age of 29, coming on for Andrew Redmayne late in the second half, the Aussies made simple work of their Nepalese opponents in the end. In a great hit out before their last and arguably the toughest game against Jordan, coach Graham Arnold will look at bringing out his strongest side now that the squad has been considerably rotated over the past three games.
If the Socceroos are to beat Jordan, it will have to be more convincing and ruthless of a display. Nevertheless, this was a match which secured top place for the Australian outfit, and a top seed for the next round of qualification – moving towards a hopeful qualification to Qatar 2022.
The final regular-season fixture is upon us, with our City boys finally taking on the cellar-dwelling Newcastle Jets in what looms as a must-win matchup for the Jets if they are to avoid their fourth wooden spoon in little over a decade…
After so long, Australian fans only had to wait another four days to see their Socceroos in action yet again. With World Cup Qualifiers coming thick and fast, we saw a tall defender’s favourite opponent on the pitch yet again – after comfortably winning 7-1 in our last outing against Chinese Taipei – in matchday six of the second round of World Cup Qualifiers.
Despite being on top during the opening minutes of the game, the Socceroos found it difficult to get a meaningful shot on goal with Brandon Borrello heading high, followed by Riley McGree and Jamie Maclaren trading blocked shots. This issue was unsurprisingly rectified in a corner by McGree, which found the towering Harry Souttar for his 5th goal in just 3 games – which for a centre-back, is unheard of.
Danny Vukovic had to be sharp, pulling off a smart save to his near post shortly after Harry’s header, as Chinese Taipei did not look the type to just lay down and watch the match go by. This was, of course, prior to Maclaren proving his worth by stealing the ball up field and promptly winning a penalty – which was dispatched with the confidence of a man who has just won his third A-League golden boot. Practically playing a training match at this point, the Socceroos looked complacent in general play as it took another set piece for Trent Sainsbury to find the back of the net from a simple header at the back post.
Other than terrific possession and strong set pieces, the Socceroos looked rather lethargic against opposition which manager Graham Arnold would demand domination against. In the second half, this was quickly addressed, as Borrello finds an otherwise absent Mitchell Duke for a guided header against the advancing goalkeeper after no more than 19 seconds into the half.
Despite Genreau pulling the strings from midfield, Australia found it difficult to break through against a resolute defence – in which Chinese Taipei took full advantage – scoring what seemed to be a defendable chance, after Wei-Jie Gao finds acres of space in the penalty area on his second match for his country to slice the ball into the side netting.
Gladly, Mitchell Duke was able to get a second goal, to ensure the victory was more convincing after Ajdin Hrustic finds fellow substitute Nikita Rukavytsya with an outrageous ball, who cuts it back to the ‘Duke of Wanderland’.
Other than the concerning performance in the second half, it was a feel-good kind of night – with Curtis Good making his return to the national team after more than 7 years. Not to mention, debutants Denis Genreau, Connor Metcalfe signified the importance of an established academy – both being Melbourne City youngsters in their junior careers, now Socceroos. Ruon Tongyik made his debut as well, coming on after struggling to establish his career for a few years, the strong defender is now an important part for a fantastic Central Coast side. Hoping to see more from these boys, fans should note it is an exciting transitional period for the Australian squad.
At 5-1, the score line may flatter Australia as it very well could have been more, with Australia officially registering 78% of the possession and 29 shots. To further the point, Mitchell Duke states in his post-match interview that the performance could “have been more polished”.
By all means, the squad can be forgiven with only limited time together and plenty of fresh faces; but with Nepal and Jordan on the horizon, Graham Arnold must be looking at establishing a clear first 11 and working quickly on ironing out those creases.
Only a few clubs have excelled at providing young players with valuable minutes. The landscape of the league depicts that young players must perform from the start or look down the barrel of a short contract or being shipped back to the NPL. This is due to salary cap restrictions, and the lack of incentive clubs have at selling on their home-made products, due to the current lack of a domestic transfer system.
However, at City Football Group (CFG) club Melbourne City, developing home grown players is key; they have made a considerable statement of intent, throwing down money to build a state of the art training centre in the South East of Melbourne, which is arguably one of the most football driven areas of the country.
Max Caputo is one of their newest inductees into the professional environment with the club, at only 15 years of age. Being only the second player to don the City kit at that age, alongside Idrus Abdulahi, Max Caputo has made a strong start to senior football life scoring 9 goals in 8 games in the NPL 3 for Melbourne City NPL. Incredibly, the youngster scored the same amount of goals in U18s at the age of 13 back in 2019, which exhibits that he was always destined to play at a higher level at a young age.
Having played for Essendon Royals and Caroline Springs George Cross FC and most recently Melbourne City in his junior years, Max Caputo looks to be well on track to continue with his professional career after recently signing a two year scholarship deal which begins on July 1st of this year.
Jorge Gero, Football Technical Director and Coach at Caroline Springs George Cross FC who coached Max Caputo for a season, stated on a LinkedIn post that Caputo has a “bright future ahead of him”. Essendon Royals also published an article celebrating Caputo’s scholarship contract, which depicts their involvement in the young players development. This goes to show that young players can benefit from clubs and coaches being closely involved in their progress.
After a couple of smart touches in his first few minutes of professional football, Melbourne City’s faithful will be watching the young striker closely as he looks to push for more minutes in an increasingly competitive Melbourne City environment.
After a wait no one expected us to endure, the Socceroos have prevailed in a top of the group clash against Kuwait in a World Cup Qualifier. Kicking off at 5am AEST, Australian fans were lively on social media, with the match commencing at 10pm locally. After so long without the Socceroo boys seeing one another, there were questions about whether the team would gel together after only having limited time in camp.
However, it took no longer than 55 seconds for those questions to be answered, as the Socceroos got off to a flier, with captain Mathew Leckie leaping high to guide a lovely header into the bottom left corner. The squad would have no doubt felt calm seeing the ball hit the back of the net that early in the game, which paid dividends as the Socceroos had chance after chance. Ajdin Hrustic poked the ball past a defender in his fourth appearance for the nation, winning a penalty as he was tripped on the follow through in the 22nd minute of the match.
The Hibernian connection was on point, supposedly, as Martin Boyle’s original shot was saved – but gladly his club mate Jackson Irvine was there to smash home the spoils. A few more chances went amiss in the first half, with Aziz Behich certainly wishing to have that chance again after stabbing a volley just wide of the post. Mathew Ryan looked right at ease despite being nothing more than a backup keeper at club football this season, sweeping the final third and rushing oncoming Kuwaiti forwards with confidence and decisiveness.
In a stop-start second half due to free kicks and injuries, Australia rarely let off the gas, despite the uncomfortable conditions. Ajdin Hrustic, who went on to be Player of the Match, stood over the ball from well outside the box, and dispatched a rocket of a free kick, nicking the inside of the post before making its way to the opposite side netting. Showing his top-class quality in the Bundesliga this season, Hrustic made a critical impact in his first start for the Socceroos; which won’t be his last.
The Socceroos have had their years where they have lacked talent, and this morning’s side was limited due to other players coming into the camp late. However, the boys seemed to click well, creating smart passing lanes and multiple attacking points from range, out wide and in the box.
Notably, Riley McGree got the nod in his debut off the bench at only 22. Looking like a “different specimen”, as Graham Arnold stated earlier this week, McGree had a few intricate touches and seems hungry to challenge for a spot in this increasingly talented side. Kenny Dougall also came on for his debut after being the hero for Blackpool, scoring twice at Wembley Stadium at the weekend to push his side up to the EFL Championship in England. Fran Karacic played 90 minutes at right back in his debut for the nation as well, looking to take on Rhyan Grant in that department.
With so many fresh faces, only time will tell who will step up, but it is exciting times for Australian football if the squad continues with this form and style.
A fortnight off? No worries. Instead of venturing forward with no obvious direction, we saw the front three reinvigorated by a direct Nabbout, highly confident Noone and sharp-shooting Maclaren, who on another day would have bagged a hat-trick. Seemingly focused on strong pressing defence and intricate, direct counter attacking play, the playing group has taken to Kisnorbo’s tactical approach – which is to not let up, press hard, play harder. That is of course a basis of the City Football Group as well, brought to fruition by Mombaerts himself last season.
Sydney FC coach Steve Corica stated after the game that Sydney “didn’t deserve getting a point”. While I wholeheartedly want to agree, the fact that we let off the gas after the 70 minute mark really showcases exactly why complacency cannot enter a players mind this season – there is too much at stake, too much that can go wrong. The score line did flatter Sydney, of course, as we totally outplayed them. While online presence is indicating that our complacency came from Luna being substituted, I believe it points to something a bit more straightforward. Kisnorbo used one substitute prior to the 90th minute. By this time, Nabbout and Noone looked wrecked (and rightly so, they ran all night!)
Now, don’t get me wrong, Nabbout had an absolute stellar game, but he was certainly exhausted by the end of it all. The injection of a young player, such as Tilio or Colakovski is necessary around the 70th minute mark. This can improve the ability to get back in defence and go forward as quickly, which shown last night, works! Of course, you want the manager to put trust in the starting 11 for the entire game, but when it is not feasible to keep a man on who has just come back from injury – take him off.
Either way, whatever the score may have ended up being last night, it is hard to disagree on one thing; City have what it takes! We surely do, it is just all down to the ability to manage games for both the players and the backroom staff. Once that gets down pat, consistency, confidence and all the C’s will come – champions, maybe? At the end of the day, it was a fantastic win and an even better performance against the defending champions who have arguably been one of the best sides for the past 5 years in the league.
Only disappointment from last night was the crowd – but who can blame City fans for not showing? Coming out of a lockdown, midweek and overbearing AAMI Park regulations bring doubt into the minds of an on-the-fence fan, or even a die hard. If you have been living under a rock, AAMI Park have brought in regulations banning active support, singing, standing and compulsory masks (even if you are 20 metres away from the next group of people). Despite these regulations, which will surely be looked at again shortly, the night was a brilliant way to end a dismal February robbed of matches.
This has absolutely been our worst start to a season in years. This performance indicates hope, and I am incredibly keen to see where we go from here.
Ever since our inaugural season as Melbourne Heart, we have shown glimpses of having what it takes to be champions of the league. Many times, however, we fall short in a lacklustre or tiresome performance – often giving up dodgy leads. Although, change is happening in the league. Mariners are on top, Victory seem to be lacking ‘it’ (about time) and the two new kids on the block are making a nuisance of themselves. But with two red cards and a loss away at Adelaide in the opening three games, maybe things aren’t so different after all.
Arguably, our best season was the 19/20 season. Surely we can build on that? Unfortunately, we lost the match-winning Mombaerts, who took us to our first ever Grand Final in our 10th season. While that was a bit of a blow, we have been left in more than capable hands – Paddy Kisnorbo! Has arms as attractive as his resume, of course captaining us as a player and taking our Women’s team to the 2018 championship. Pretty impressive, and it even seems like he prioritises youth, which is becoming an increasingly important strategy in Australian football.
One strategy that will be important in Asia too. With our preliminary AFC Champions League play-off coming up against Burmese club Shan United on April 7th, in the midst of the A-League season, youngsters must prevail as there will most certainly be players rested and injured. This being said, if all of our visa players are first-team players by then, we will in fact have to drop one due to the 3+1 rule. In case you’ve been living in a rock (like our club has in Asia), this only allows three foreign players ‘plus’ an Asian player to promote competitiveness and domestic development.
With an increasing focus on performances and actually winning titles, we can turn ourselves into a real powerhouse of the league – especially if this transfer system ever arrives, we all know how much the City Football Group loves their money. An advantage which may come to prosper, as more dosh flowing around means a greater focus on player development. I’m not mad at that.
Am I hoping for too much? Yes. But our ambitions must be higher if we are going to strive for greatness. Hopefully, on Sunday night against Perth, we’ll see a bit more conviction in our play-style and show the league what we can really do.
It’s a famous line, one that sticks with football fans all around the world. This is something that must have been engraved into the way of Australian football, particularly during the height of older-than-most marquee players in the league. The 2016/17 season boasted mature squads, with Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City all averaging above the average age of 28.
However, the tides seem to be changing. As of round 4 of the A-League’s current season, newcomers Macarthur Bulls sit pretty at the top of the table, joined by Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City in the top 3. While Macarthur have the third oldest squad at 26.86 average age, Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City claim the youngest squads of the season at 24.26 and 24.34 respectively.
While the pandemic has been a tragedy, it has in a way reinvigorated the A-League’s stance on utilising younger players other than the next half-retired marquee to boot. We have been shocked by Nieuwenhof’s thunderbolt, Lachie Rose’s deft touch and Metcalfe’s barnstorming runs just to name a few. Already, the reduction of the salary cap has sparked a move away from older marquees. Don’t get me wrong, those huge players such as Del Piero, David Villa and Alessandro Diamanti offer a substantial benefit in quality and certainly bring in the crowds, but what else do they offer? Not much in the way of improving quality of Australian youngsters.
In Melbourne City’s win against Western United, Patrick Kisnorbo fielded a team with an average age of 23 – 9 of which were 21 or under. The substitutions made in the late stages of the game proved to be cause of the game-winning Maclaren goal, as the youngsters burst onto the scene, with Colakovski providing the assist.
With the A-League looking to continue with their reduced salary cap, Melbourne City building a new ‘Centre of Excellence’ and Sydney FC with a similar announcement immanent, the future is looking bright for these budding superstars. Who knows, maybe teams around the globe will be itching to sign a 35 year old Stefan Colakovski – rather than us hosting the later years.
A loan deal in Australia. Words we have only been familiar with since 2018 when the FFA decided to allow loans, under the presumption that young players will play greater minutes, which would assist in young player development. Otherwise, since 2005, our national league has restricted the ability for clubs to loan, pay for or simply transfer players between each other.
This has left us in quite a pickle.
In FIFA’s Global Transfer Market Report (2019), they have stated Australia had received only $1.9 million (USD) in transfer fees, which evidently was a 62% decrease from the previous year of 2018. This amount has left Australia sitting at 8th in the Asian Football Confederation market, well below our greatest competitors. Japan had $29.4 million (USD) outgoing, a 75.5% increase from 2018. Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, $26.6 million (USD) and $22.2 million (USD) respectively. How can we improve upon our national team and strive for greatness once again, as we achieved in the 2015 Asian Cup triumph, without substantial improvements in our development? It will take a lot more than u23 domestic loan deals.
Ramy Najjarine, Moudi Najjar, Joey Champness and Noah James are the only domestic loans transferred this season between our 12 professional clubs. Loan deals certainly excite the football landscape in Australia and most definitely spark development, but are they enough? Not on their own. Within a salary capped league, clubs are still forced to choose between maturity, which can win titles, or persist with youth, which can build the future. Clubs, unable to keep multiple players on the books, must make a choice. Maturity normally brings success and therefore financial stability – more often than young players. I mean, you can’t win anything with kids… right?
How are clubs meant to persist with young players at a senior level without the consideration to do so? We have seen players break into the professional scene of Australian football, just to fall back into an NPL or State League standard, just because of the lack of contract opportunities. Wade Dekker for one, plays a few games off the bench for Melbourne City, scores a well finished goal against Sydney FC – then nothing. Back to Victorian NPL.
Al-Duhail, the domestic reigning champions of Qatar currently have 11 Qatari players on loan. Newcastle Jets have the most players out on loan in Australia, with two out in the A-League and another two overseas. If the champions of Qatar can prioritise youth development, why can’t A-League clubs? To further my point, who won the most recent Asian Cup again?
As the newly rebranded Football Australia consult and discuss the addition of a “fit-for-purpose” transfer system, we need to hold them accountable and ensure that these major flaws in Australian development are acknowledged and addressed appropriately.
This is imperative for the future of Australian Football.