After a period of stagnation, the A-League has set rancorous in-fighting over governance behind it and welcomed a first new club to the mix since 2012-13. A lack of marketing fanfare may have engendered a “soft launch” feel but with the winter codes finished things should quickly heat up. Western United will energise Melbourne fans, while the arrival of Robbie Fowler in Queensland could be the biggest thing to unite Brisbane since the Story Bridge.
Ins: Michaël Maria (Charlotte Independence), Riley McGree (Club Brugge), Kristian Opseth (Erzurumspor), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory)
Outs: Baba Diawara (released), Scott Galloway (Melbourne City), Craig Goodwin (Al-Wehda), Ken Ilsø (released), Isaias (Al-Wakrah), Apostolos Stamatelopoulos (Western United), Jordy Thomassen (De Graafschap)
Adelaide should be there or thereabouts again this campaign but the continued lack of quality options in the final third means new coach Gertjan Verbeek’s solid squad may struggle to last the course.
Verbeek has the firm foundations laid by Marco Kurz to build on during his first taste of the A-League. Under their former boss United were solid defensively and hardworking around the ground, but they lacked a cutting edge up front. That problem does not appear to have been rectified conclusively in the transfer window, and not helped by the departure of Craig Goodwin, last season’s top scorer. Even more significantly the Reds have lost their on-field talisman Isaias, one of the most influential leaders in the league during his six-year stint in South Australia.
The list of recruits is short with Michaël Maria and Kristian Opseth headlining the international signings, while Riley McGree’s return ensures the Reds boast one of the country’s brightest midfield prospects.
In the short-term, a home FFA Cup final could provide an early season boost. Looking further down the track, the decision to bring former stars Bruce Djite, Carl Veart and Eugene Galekovic into the fold suggests the club’s football department is in safe hands. (JP)
Ins: Rahmat Akbari (loan return), Tom Aldred (Bury), Aaron Amadi-Holloway (Shrewsbury Town), Max Crocombe (Salford City), Macauley Gillesphey (Carlisle United), Jai Ingham (Central Coast Mariners), Brad Inman (Rochdale), Jake McGing (Wisla Plock), George Mells (Fortuna Sittard), Scott Neville (Perth Glory), Roy O’Donovan (Newcastle Jets), Aiden O’Neill (Burnley – loan), Jay O’Shea (Bury)
Outs: Eli Babalj, Jay Barnett (Melbourne Victory), Eric Bautheac, Joe Caletti, Nick D’Agostino (Perth Glory), Luke DeVere (Wellington Phoenix), Henrique (retired), Brett Holman (retired), Dane Ingham (Perth Glory), Thomas Kristensen, Daniel Leck, Charles Lokolingoy, Alex Lopez, Matt McKay (retired), Tobias Mikkelsen, Stefan Nigro, Ruon Tongyik (Central Coast Mariners), Brendan White
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from Brisbane Roar. After an utterly abject 2018-19 the club has undergone wholesale change – a clean broom through the dressing room and the backroom too, with the well-known but simultaneously unknown “marquee manager” Robbie Fowler taking the reins. It could go spectacularly right. It could also go incredibly wrong.
In the positives column they have snaffled a proven A-League goalscorer. With 39 goals in 78 A-League starts, Roy O’Donovan is your literal one-in-two striker every team craves. Moreover, he could prove the perfect foil for rising star Dylan Wenzel-Halls, the unequivocal bright light amid last season’s drudgery. In midfield especially, Roar look solid. Aidan O’Neill was the diamond in Central Coast’s 2019-20 roughery, Brad Inman and George Mells could prove handy, while after an injury-ravaged last season Stefan Mauk is as good as a new signing.
The massive variable is Fowler’s foreign legion. Centre-back Tom Aldred has been handed the armband so should be sound, and if Aaron Amadi-Holloway, Macauley Gillesphey and Jay O’Shea fire, this team could be very competitive. If they flop though, it could be one of the worst collective use of visa spots the league has seen. On top of all this, the Bakries remain. Let’s hope off-field dysfunction won’t hinder on-field performance; again. (RP)
Central Coast Mariners
Ins: Mark Birighitti (Melbourne City), Daniel De Silva (Sydney FC – loan return), Milan Duric (FK Vojvodina), Dylan Fox (FC Anyang), Giancarlo Gallifuoco (Western Sydney Wanderers), Ziggy Gordon (Hamilton Academic), Kim Eun-sun (Suwon Bluewings), Sam Silvera (Western Sydney Wanderers), Gianni Stensness (Wellington Phoenix), Ruon Tongyik (Brisbane Roar)
Outs: Jonathan Aspropotamitis (Western United), Corey Gameiro, Joe Gauci, Sam Graham (Sheffield United – loan return), Tom Hiariej (FC Emmen), Andrew Hoole, Jem Karacan, Peter Kekeris, Ben Kennedy, Stephen Mallon (Sheffield United – loan return), Matthew Millar (Newcastle Jets), Aiden O’Neill (Brisbane Roar), Connor Pain (Western United)
Almost rivalling Brisbane in the “clean broom” off-season stakes, Central Coast have put behind them one of the worst seasons in A-League history with player, coach and agent disruptions making 2018-19 a train wreck for the faithful. Coach Alen Stajcic put aside his own tumultuous year to steady the ship; now we find out whether his off-season recruitment and pre-season planning have been up to scratch to make the Mariners competitive once again.
Mark Birighitti is a massive in. They either do keepers brilliantly or awfully in Gosford, and the one-time Premier League signing could prove to be worth at least five to 10 points. The prodigiously talented Danny De Silva needs to stamp his mark on the A-League. This is the season to do it. While Giancarlo Gallifuoco, Dylan Fox and Sam Silvera are talented locals who could blossom with regular football.
Ziggy Gordon, Milan Duric and Kim Eun-sun bring much-needed experience, but there’s still the feeling this squad is desperately short up-front. Matt Simon, Jordan Murray and Tommy Oar boasted seven goals between them last season from open play. If they struggle again, it could be another long, long season on the Coast. (RP)
Ins: Dean Bouzanis (PEC Zwolle – loan return), Josh Brillante (Sydney FC), Javier Cabrera (Montevideo Wanderers), Scott Galloway (Adelaide United), Tom Glover (Tottenham Hotspur), Denis Genreau (PEC Zwolle – loan return), Adrian Luna (Veracuz), Craig Noone (Bolton Wanderers), Richard Windbichler (Viborg FF)
Outs: Kearyn Baccus (Kaizer Chiefs), Mark Birighitti (Central Coast Mariners), Luke Brattan (Sydney FC), Joshua Cavallo (Western United), Ritchie De Laet (Aston Villa – end of loan), James Delianov (Western United) Eugene Galekovic (retired), Shayon Harrison (Tottenham Hotspur – end of loan), Iacopo La Rocca (released), Riley McGree (Adelaide United), Dylan Pierias (Western United), Bart Schenkeveld (Panathinaikos), Dario Vidosic (released)
The revolving door at Melbourne City has been spinning furiously since the end of last season with players, coaches and backroom staff coming and going at a rate of knots. This means City begin the new campaign as something of an unknown quantity with a remodelled squad under the guidance of a new gaffer, Erick Mombaerts.
The run to the FFA Cup final has confirmed Jamie Maclaren remains a goalscoring certainty at this level, and that Craig Noone looks among the highest quality signings of the offseason. More broadly, there should be real excitement at the potential minutes afforded to City’s rich crop of young Australians. Connor Metcalfe has been pencilled in as Josh Brillante’s midfield partner while Ramy Najjarine, Nathaniel Atkinson, Denis Genreau and others should all further their development.
Arguably City’s biggest task lies off-field. Last season was a disaster with fans voicing their discontent with the club’s hierarchy. With a new coach and a squad full of youthful promise, this is a golden opportunity for the City Football Group to demonstrate the merits of its ownership model, and bring a community along with them for the ride. (JP)
Ins: Migjen Basha (Aris Thessaloniki), Jay Barnett (Brisbane Roar), Kristijan Dobras (Rheindorf Altach), James Donachie (Jeonnam Dragons), Tim Hoogland (VfL Bochum), Robbie Kruse (Vfl Bochum), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds), Jakob Poulsen (FC Midtjylland), Adama Traore (Göztepe)
Outs: Rahmat Akbari (Brisbane Roar), Terry Antonis (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Raul Baena (Granada – end of loan), Kosta Barbarouses (Sydney FC), Keisuke Honda (released), Jai Ingham (Brisbane Roar), Georg Niedermeier (released), James Troisi (released), Carl Valeri (retired)
For the first time in A-League history Melbourne Victory go into a season without Kevin Muscat’s fingerprints on the team as either a player or coach. That reflects a broader reset with the core of last year’s first XI also moving on to new pastures.
But that doesn’t mean a drop in expectations at the competition’s standard bearers. Proven A-League quality in the form of Andrew Nabbout, Robbie Kruse and Adama Traore have returned to the club, but it is Victory’s visa players that will hold the key to immediate success for new coach Marco Kurz. Kristijan Dobras, Migjen Basha, and Jakob Poulsen will be expected to combine in midfield and provide the ammunition for new skipper Ola Toivonen.
We know from his time at Adelaide that Kurz can organise a defence and with greater attacking talent at his disposal a much-changed Victory should once again be a force to be reckoned with. (JP)
Ins: Abdiel Arroyo (Arabe Unido – loan), Bobby Burns (Hearts – loan), Nick Fitzgerald (Western Sydney Wanderers), Wes Hoolahan (West Bromwich Albion), Matthew Millar (Central Coast Mariners)
Outs: Jake Adelson, Kwabena Appiah-Kubi, Joey Champness (hip-hop), Nick Cowburn, Daniel Georgievski (Western Sydney Wanderers), Jair, Roy O’Donovan (Brisbane), Ronald Vargas, Ivan Vujica (Western United)
There is reason to be worried about Newcastle Jets this season. Roy O’Donovan has flown the coop, Daniel Georgievski and Ronnie Vargas are massive outs, and even rising talent Joey Champness reckons his future is on the mic.
Dimi Petratos could cut an increasingly forlorn attacking presence upfront – especially with the news that star recruit Wes Hoolahan could be out for the best part of half a season due to injury. The ever-wily Merrick may have a late transfer up his sleeve, but there’s a lurking suspicion with a few loan deals and free transfers the only business done so far that owner Martin Lee’s precarious financial situation might limit the veteran coach’s options.
The back seven will remain relatively solid, but the front four remain a huge concern. Let’s hope Abdiel Arroyo can bring Pana-mania to the A-League, not seen since his similarly alliterative countryman Yairo Yau. Otherwise beating the Mariners might be the only joy for the faithful this campaign. (RP)
Ins: Nicholas D’Agostino (Brisbane Roar), Bruno Fornaroli (Melbourne City), Dane Ingham (Brisbane Roar), Kim Soo-beom (Jeju United), Osama Malik (Al-Batin), James Meredith (Millwall), Jacob Tratt (Sydney FC), Riley Warland (Fulham), Gregory Wüthrich (Young Boys)
Outs: Jason Davidson (Ulsan Hyundai), Fabio Ferreira (Adelaide City), Jacob Italiano (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Andy Keogh (Al-Qadsia), Shane Lowry (Al Ahli), Scott Neville (Brisbane Roar), Brendon Santalab (retired), Walter Scott (Wellington Phoenix)
Last season’s premiers boast a squad full of depth and character, a first XI to rival anybody’s, and a coach with a proven winning formula. Perth Glory will be near the top again in 2019-20.
It’s a testament to the Glory administration that departures as potentially painful as Andy Keogh and Jason Davidson have been salved by the recruitment of Bruno Fornaroli and James Meredith, while the loss of Shane Lowry simply means more minutes for Tomi Mrcela.
The Asian Champions League campaign could throw a spanner in the works after Christmas, especially with a squad containing so many players nearer the end of their careers than the start, but that’s nit-picking for a side that displays no obvious weak links, be it in personnel or tactics. (JP)
Ins: Kosta Barbarouses (Melbourne Victory), Alexander Baumjohann (Western Sydney Wanderers), Luke Brattan (Melbourne City), Patrick Flottmann (Air Force United), Ryan McGowan (Bradford City)
Outs: Mitch Austin, Josh Brillante (Melbourne City), Alex Brosque (retired), Aaron Calver (Western United), Alex Cisak, Siem De Jong (Ajax – loan return), Daniel De Silva (Central Coast Mariners – loan return), Cameron Devlin (Wellington Phoenix), Reza Ghoochanneljhad (APOEL), Jacob Tratt (Perth Glory), Jop van der Linden (retired)
A picture of quiet rejuvenation the last three seasons, Sydney FC have been the most consistent in their recruitment, and despite a few big name outs, the business they’ve done has not only improved the squad, but been a finger in the eye to several of their rivals.
Retiring skipper Alex Brosque was always going to leave a hole, but with the signings of Kosta Barbarouses and Alexander Baumjohann they’ve more than able replaced the 35-year-old, as well as the injured-plagued Siem De Jong. Moreover, they’ve also already lit the sky blue touchpaper on the Sydney derby and the Big Blue – look forward to those.
Josh Brillante for Luke Brattan is a high pedigree trade, while the return to Australia of Ryan McGowan is more than a handy replacement for last season’s rare flop, Dutchman Jop van der Linden. With the back office stable and the academy starting to produce consistent young talent, it bodes as another good season for Sydney. And that’s before you even mention Miloš Ninković and Adam Le Fondre. (RP)
Ins: David Ball (Rotherham United), Ulises Davila (Delhi Dynamos), Luke DeVere (Brisbane Roar), Cameron Devlin (Sydney FC), Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi (Auckland City), Stefan Marinovic (Bristol City), Callum McCowatt (Eastern Suburbs), Liam McGing (Sutherland Sharks), Tim Payne (Eastern Suburbs), Reno Piscopo (Renate), Walter Scott (Perth Glory), Jaushua Sotirio (Western Sydney Wanderers), Matti Steinmann (Hamburg SV)
Outs: Max Burgess (Western United), Nathan Burns, Tom Doyle, Andrew Durante (Western United), Anthony Golec, Justin Gulley, Michal Kopczynski, Roy Krishna (ATK), Filip Kurto (Western United), Ryan Lowry, Mandi, Cillian Sheridan, Sarpreet Singh (Bayern Munich II), Gianni Stensness (Central Coast Mariners), David Williams (ATK)
Nobody gave Mark Rudan’s rag-tag gang much of a chance last season; nobody will fancy his good friend Ufuk Talay’s mob this season either. And yet across the ditch there’s a quiet confidence to Phoenix’s off-season recruitment. Matti Steinmann and Ulises Davila come with a pedigree that could take the league by storm, while David Ball is the kind of hardworking striker that thrives in the A-League.
And yet. There’s one cavern-sized hole the Phoenix haven’t – and in truth – might never replace: Roy Krishna. A genuine x-factor, the Johnny Warren medallist could single-handedly turn a contest. Take out David Williams, the mercurial Sarpreet Singh, Max Burgess and the best keeper in the league, Filip Kurto, and last season’s heroics may be hard to repeat.
Australian fans may not be familiar with Stefan Marinovic, but the All Whites keeper is the real deal. If fit, Luke DeVere could form a tough-as-teak centre pairing with new skipper Steven Taylor, while Callum McCowatt and Reno Piscopo are genuine talents. A marquee striker is allegedly on his way: fingers crossed for that. They’re down 35 goals from Krishna, Williams and Singh – they’ll have to come from somewhere. (RP)
Western Sydney Wanderers
Ins: Daniel Georgievski (Newcastle Jets), Matthew Jurman (Al-Ittihad), Daniel Lopar (St. Gallen), Radosław Majewski (Pogoń Szczecin), Dylan McGowan (Vendsyssel), Alexander Meier (FC St. Pauli), Pirmin Schwegler (Hannover 96), Nick Sullivan (Cova da Piedade)
Outs: Alexander Baumjohann (Sydney FC), Roly Bonevacia (Al-Faisaly FC), Mark Bridge (retired), Nick Fitzgerald (Newcastle Jets), Giancarlo Gallifuoco (Central Coast Mariners), Brendan Hamill (Western United), Raul Llorente (released), Rashid Mahazi (Incheon United), Abraham Majok (Central Coast Mariners), Oriol Riera (CF Fuenlabrada), Josh Risdon (Western United), Jaushua Sotirio (Wellington Phoenix), Marc Tokich (released)
Markus Babbel has overhauled the squad that so disappointed during his debut season as coach ahead of a decisive campaign for Western Sydney Wanderers. After three years without a home the Wanderers can finally enjoy the spectacular Bankwest Arena and with it the raucous home support that provided the soundtrack to the club’s early successes – that is if Babbel can entice fans back after poor form and unsatisfactory temporary homes drove plenty away.
Recruitment had to focus on defence and in Daniel Lopar, Daniel Georgievski, Matt Jurman and Dylan McGowan dramatic improvements have been made, while Pirmin Schwegler offers the experienced foil the promising Keanu Baccus requires to flourish in the centre of midfield. In contrast to last season, Babbel’s headaches may now come in the final third following the departure of Alex Baumjohann and the long-term injury to his replacement Radosław Majewski robbing him of an obvious playmaker. Nonetheless, a much stronger Wanderers – and a push for the finals – must be expected. (JP)
Ins: Filip Kurto (Wellington Phoenix), Aaron Calver (Sydney FC), Brendan Hamill (Western Sydney Wanderers), Andrew Durante (Wellington Phoenix), Dylan Pierias (Melbourne City), Connor Chapman (Pohang Steelers), Valentino Yuel (Bentleigh Greens), Panagiotis Kone (Udinese), Apostolos Stamatelopoulos (Adelaide United), Scott McDonald (Partick Thistle), Connor Pain (Central Coast Mariners), Dario Jertec (Varaždin), Ivan Vujica (Newcastle Jets), Max Burgess (Wellington Phoenix), Jonathan Aspropotamitis (Central Coast Mariners), Joshua Cavallo (Melbourne City), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney Wanderers), James Delianov (Melbourne City), Sebastian Pasquali (Ajax), Ersan Gülüm (Whittlesea United), Alessandro Diamanti (Livorno), Besart Berisha (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
The A-League’s newest club have nothing to lose in their opening campaign, and their mere presence has put a spring in the step of the football community. Their true potential will not be realised until their standalone stadium has been built, but there are grounds for optimism before then.
Under the direction of Steve Horvat and Lou Sticca, Western United have snapped up the most impressive young Australian manager going around and handed him a squad with the building blocks for immediate results. There’s experience and character in the likes of Andrew Durante, Ersan Gülüm and Scott McDonald, international class in the shape of Alessandro Diamanti and Panagiotis Kone, proven A-League quality in Filip Kurto, Josh Risdon and Besart Berisha, and a sprinkling of exciting youngsters with Seb Pasquali, Dylan Pierias and Apostolos Stamatelopoulos all stars in the making.
Ups and downs are inevitable in a debut season, but on paper at least Western United have the raw materials to hold their own from the get-go. (JP)