The Heart Of The Matter
By Ed Wyatt
It was always going to be difficult for Melbourne Heart, the city’s second team. Not only did Melbourne Victory have a five-year head start, but Victory are two-time Grand Final winners and are the strongest franchise in the league in terms of branding and attendance.
Further complicating Heart’s situation is the fact that unlike the Western Sydney Wanderers, it has no specific geographic location to target. Heart supporters tend to be those who don’t like Victory or those who initially chose to remain neutral. Heart did a superb job of reaching out to the community but it still lags way behind Victory in terms of supporters.
Heart’s first two seasons saw them finish 8th and 6th under former Dutch international John van’t Schip. When van’t Schip’s two-year deal ended, he departed and former Socceroo John Aloisi was hired, his first-ever head coaching job.
Suffice to say it’s been a maddening year for Aloisi. Although the club opened the season with a win over arch-rivals Victory and have been strong at home, they haven’t won away from Melbourne since December of 2011.
Two consecutive losses, including last week’s blasé effort at home against Adelaide, have Heart on the verge of elimination from finals contention. In all likelihood, they’ll need to win their last three matches to reach the post-season, and based on current form, that’s a big ask.
Off the field, despite its low attendance – in the 8,000 range – Heart is apparently close to meeting its goal of breaking even financially. They’ve been able to do that by not paying big dollars outside the salary cap and selling off youngsters to European and Asian clubs. Deals for defenders Curtis Good (Newcastle, on loan at Bradford City), Michael Marrone (Shanghai Shenxin) and Aziz Behich (Bursaspor), as well as forward Eli Babalj (who has since returned from Red Star Belgrade) have helped balance the ledgers.
But the on-field business model is suffering and with a number of senior players – Fred (age 33), Matt Thompson (30), Simon Colosimo (34), Clint Bolton (37) and former Hull City winger Richard Garcia (31) – all out of contract at the end of the season, there will be plenty of new faces next year.
For now, Aloisi knows what his team needs to do. It’s an uphill battle starting with the dominant Wanderers on Saturday. But at least the game is at home. After that it’s Brisbane home and Central Coast away. Not easy, but not impossible.
Six Pack From Down Under
1 Bad news for Melbourne Victory, with young defender Adama Traore out for at least three matches – and he could potentially miss the rest of the season – after sustaining an ankle injury in last week’s 1-1 draw at Brisbane. Traore has been among Victory’s best players and, in fact, the team is 0-4 when he doesn’t play a full 90 minutes. Victory officials say an MRI revealed no broken bones, but there is ligament damage and it could be bad enough to force season-ending surgery.
2 Wellington’s Jeremy Brockie scored in his club’s 2-1 loss to Western Sydney last weekend. It was the prolific striker’s 15th goal and keeps him tied with Central Coast’s Daniel McBreen in the race for the Golden Boot. Melbourne Victory’s Marco Rojas is third on 14 goals, while Sydney FC’s Alessandro Del Piero and Brisbane’s Besart Berisha have scored 12 goals apiece.
3 Newcastle Jets striker Emile Heskey gave an exclusive interview to SBS network’s The World Game programme and the former Leicester and Liverpool man says he’s very happy at Newcastle. Heskey acknowledged that the city is similar to Leicester (albeit with a beach), with its blue-collar population and that the club has a “family feel” like those Leicester City teams he was part of. Heskey, who is battling a calf injury, said he spoke with Robbie Fowler before making the move and that Fowler spoke very highly of the A-League. Heskey also had words of praise for fellow marquee men Shinji Ono and Alessandro Del Piero, saying “Del Piero has shown his magic every week, he’s been brilliant. Everyone thinks you get to a certain age and you can’t do it anymore, but he’s shown you can turn back the clock.”
4 Perth Glory has turned its season around after sacking Ian Ferguson and putting Alistair Edwards in charge. Edwards, who also coaches Australia’s Under 17 side, has the Glory playing much more expansive football and the team has won three of its past four matches. Once considered candidates for finishing last, the Glory can now climb as high as fifth place – depending on other results – with a win at home against lowly Wellington.
5 There could be some venue availability problems for the A-League Grand Final, depending on who makes it. The higher seeded team hosts and if it’s Melbourne Victory, both of the city’s bigger venues – the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Etihad Stadium – are booked for AFL matches, so AAMI Park (30,000 max) would have to suffice. If a Sydney team hosts, Allianz Stadium is available, although it’s the home ground of Sydney FC; the Western Sydney Wanderers play at Parramatta Stadium, which only seats about 20,000. And spare a thought for the Central Coast Mariners, who play in 20,000-seat Bluetongue Stadium. When the Mariners were the top seed in 2008 they were forced to play in Sydney, and I’d imagine that scenario would repeat itself if the Mariners make the 2013 Grand Final as the host club.
6 And finally, it didn’t take long for the Wayne Rooney to Australia rumours to surface, but obviously – like David Beckham – this is just wishful thinking on the part of A-League fans who are puffing out their chests a bit after landing Del Piero.
Round 25 Fixtures
Adelaide United v Newcastle Jets
Melbourne Heart v Western Sydney Wanderers
Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Perth Glory v Wellington Phoenix
Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar