The A-League crystal ball
The Hyundai A-League season eight is soon upon us, so it’s time to consult the crystal ball of sports. James Pennington, plays out future scenarios.
A new team, a new CEO, and some unbelievable new talent all make for a compelling summer of Australian football both on and off the pitch. So how will the season play out?
Sports reporting is given to hyperbole and exaggeration but the significance of Alessandro Del Piero’s arrival at Sydney FC from Italian giants Juventus is impossible to overstate. The midfield artist, a World Cup winner with Italy and the Old Lady of Turin’s record goal-scorer, adds serious star power to the competition. Of course, making a 37-year-old athlete a club record signing is risky business, but Del Piero showed in last season’s Serie A competition that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level of world football.
Provided that he doesn’t view his two-year contract as an extended holiday, there will be some guaranteed excitement at the Allianz Stadium this season. But Del Piero is not the only big-name addition to the league. The Newcastle Jets have brought in Emile Heskey, the ex-Liverpool, Aston Villa and England striker to boost their attacking options, while rumours persist that the former German national captain Michael Ballack could join the Western Sydney Wanderers. His signing would be another major coup for the A-League.
Battling at the top
Del Piero should help push the Sky Blues closer to a third A-League championship – but the Brisbane Roar remains the team to beat this year. Their new coach Rado Vidosic will be driving the Queensland team hard to maintain their attractive passing play and secure a third consecutive title. Other strong performers from recent years such as the Perth Glory and the Central Coast Mariners will be in the mix too, while Melbourne Victory will want to put last year’s disastrous performances behind them and climb back up the league table.
The new boys
The entry of Sydney’s second club to the competition has ducked under the radar in recent weeks, as excitement about the signing of a certain new Italian midfielder took hold. But the evolution of the Western Sydney Wanderers will make for fascinating viewing. Despite their rushed introduction to the league – they were only established in April – the Wanderers appear to be making steady progress. Under the guidance of the level-headed Tony Popovic, a mid-table finish and a place in the finals series will be seen as an excellent opening term for the boys from the west. The possible arrival of Michael Ballack could push them to even greater heights.
Off the pitch
In many ways this will be a defining season for the A-League. Progress on the pitch has improved markedly, and the international imports will further the quality of football on offer. Attendances and club memberships have not risen as quickly as the FFA would have liked, however, and the new CEO David Gallop will need all of his administrative skills to keep the league competitive against Australia’s other major sporting codes. Gallop did an excellent job turning the NRL’s fortunes around over a decade; if he shows similar nous in his new position, the round ball game should be in safe hands. A pile of beautifully crafted goals from the likes of Alessandro Del Piero will certainly keep the suits at FFA headquarters happy.
Overall, though, October 5 and the kick-off between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart cannot come quick enough.