A-League Can't Shake Old Worries
It’s been a banner year for the A-League in many ways. Attendances and television ratings are up, media awareness is at an all time high and the on-field product is the best it’s ever been.
But as we steam towards the post-season, a couple of old worries have started to creep up. The news that the Central Coast Mariners are late on payments to players and staff re-ignited worries about the Gosford-based club. As good as the Mariners have been on the pitch, their off-field situation has always been tenuous.
Now it appears that things have reached crisis status, as the FFA is negotiating with English businessman Michael Charlesworth in hopes that he can take over from Peter Turnbull who has put at least $4 million into the club. There are also rumours of a Russian consortium wanting to get involved.
At the moment, players are prepared to play this weekend’s match against Adelaide. But if they aren’t paid soon, there’s a good chance they may go on strike and that’s the last thing the FFA and the A-League need right now.
It brings back bad memories of two clubs that folded, the North Queensland Fury in 2011 and Gold Coast United last season. The FFA cannot afford to lose another club (for one thing the lucrative TV deal would be in jeopardy) but is heavily committed to financing the Western Sydney Wanderers.
The other issue that just won’t go away is crowd trouble. Last weekend, Fox Sports cameras caught a spectator at the Melbourne Heart/Western Sydney match cold-cocking a Wanderers supporter. The vision, later put on YouTube, has inspired a manhunt for the culprit and of course, re-started the usual debate about how safe it is at A-League grounds.
While there’s no doubt a violent punch like this is a rarity, the fact that a Melbourne Heart supporters’ group allegedly got up en masse and moved closer towards the visiting Western Sydney supporters during the match is a worry for the FFA as it tries to get a handle on what has been a contentious issue for years.
Six Pack From Down Under
1 Fox Sports caller Brenton Speed did his best to bury the Newcastle Jets last week during their 1-1 draw with Adelaide, all but insisting the Jets had to win to keep their hopes alive. But football is a funny game and with Brisbane and Perth both losing, Newcastle is very much in the finals hunt. Admittedly, it’s an uphill climb, with three other competing teams – Sydney FC, Brisbane and Perth – all having a game in hand. But the Jets are on 31 points, level with Sydney, two ahead of the Roar and one ahead of the Glory, with a home game against Western Sydney – who may play an understrength side – to end the season.
2 It appears that Melbourne Heart are going out with a whimper after a 3-1 loss to the Western Sydney Wanderers. That in itself was no disgrace, as the Wanderers are on a 10-match winning streak, but Heart – in a must-win game – showed very little fight. In addition, captain Simon Colosimo, guilty of ball-watching on a Wanderers’ goal, picked up a second yellow card on a silly two-footed challenge that left Heart a man down against the best team in the competition.
3 Sydney FC’s 1-1 draw with Melbourne Victory last weekend was one of the matches of the year. Victory had numerous chances to win, but fill-in keeper Ivan Necevski made some huge saves, two or three of them on breakaway opportunities. Not to be outdone, Victory keeper Nathan Coe saved an Alessandro Del Piero penalty, before Panamanian Yairo Yao grabbed the equaliser in the 85th minute. Believe it or not, Necevski got the start in goal because regular keeper Vedran Janjetovic got stuck in Sydney’s infamous traffic and was late to the ground.
4 With the top four already set and the Wanderers all but assured of the title, Central Coast Mariners’ coach Graham Arnold has gone on record saying he’s going to play a weakened squad in the club’s two remaining matches. The Mariners have already clinched at least second place (and a first round bye in the finals) and with two important Asian Champions League matches against Guizhou Renhe coming up, few will take issue with Arnold’s thinking.
5 Western Sydney can clinch the Premiers’ Plate as regular season champions this weekend in the Sydney Derby against Sydney FC. But Wanderers head coach Tony Popovic will be fielding a less-experienced side, with defender Jerome Polenz, young gun Aaron Mooy and exciting attacker Youssouf Hersi out through injury or suspension. The good news is that marquee man Shiji Ono should be fit again after missing last week’s game with a sore hamstring.
6 It wasn’t that long ago that Michael Owen’s name was being bandied about as a potential marquee player for this A-League season. The Owen-to-Perth Glory rumour mill started churning after Glory striker Billy Mehmet departed for Thailand, but as we all know, the former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle, Man United and Stoke striker has just called time on his career.
Round 26 Fixtures
Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory
Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC
Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Heart
Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners