Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Right on Q – A great get for the A-League

OF all the news to emerge from this long, at times tumultuous A-League off-season, perhaps the best came over the past few days, when the defending minor premiers, Adelaide United, were able to confirm the re-signing of Chinese striker Shengqing Qu (pictured right, courtesy of www.adelaideunited.com.au) for at least the next season.

Initially said to be home-sick (at least his wife was), he is now apparently missing the city of churches, agreeing to come back a few weeks out from the start of the campaign.

Whatever his reasons for returning, there is no doubt it is a great coupe for an A-League that took a couple of heavy knocks earlier in the off season when two of the other standouts from season one, Michael Beauchamp and Dean Heffernan, departed for the ‘greener pastures’ of a professional European contract.

While there is no denying players in their prime the opportunity to test themselves at a higher level, and the A-League is almost powerless to stop this, the loss of Beauchamp and Heffernan does pose a few headaches for the administrators. At the very least these players became instantly recognised as the ‘new breed’ of ‘new footballer’, charming and engaging characters in a game that has historically lacked the appeal to create profiles of players.

It was the same with Qu, a player who’s talent the A-League is better off with than without. As John Kosmina has found, it is never easy trying to replace players of his calibre.

In the pre-season Kosmina had spoken of ‘how good the big Chinese boy up front looked’. He was spot on, Qu becoming an instant hero of his teammates, United’s faithful and fans around the country, playing the game in a physical manner, but with an incredible appetite for success.

Some of his strikes were a sight to behold for Australian football followers more accustomed to seeing this sort of quality only on TV. One sublime finish with the outside of the left foot at Aussie Stadium, when he toyed with young Mark Milligan, will live in the memory.

Naturally it was sad to hear, towards the end of last season, that Qu would be taking the family back to China. This turnaround is great news for a league that should be hiring more talent from our neighbours in Asia.

Indeed, FFA’s move into the Asian confederation should be a spring-board for this type of transaction in the future. As more and more contacts are made, more Oriental and Arabic players should be given the opportunity, helping break down stereotypes both on and off the field.

Not all will be successful. Last season there were four players from Oriental Asia -Qu, Hyuk Su Seo at Queensland Roar, Hiroyuki Ishida at Perth and Xiaobin Zhang at New Zealand. While Ishida was given little opportunity at Perth, only Zhang was out of his depth, not a bad strike-rate in anyone’s language.

The message is out, Asia has talent, and it’s waiting to be tapped into. Perhaps disappointingly, the message hasn’t been heeded for season two. Qu and Seo are back, but there haven’t been any other additions from the region.

Fortunately the return of Qu isn’t the only good news for season two. The return of Stan ‘the Man’ Lazaridis is fantastic news and a nice add-on to the return from Europe of Kevin Muscat at the start of season one. Others have been mooted to return, but not surprisingly money might still be the sticking point. Tony Popovic has chosen the cashed-up Qatar league, while Tony Vidmar might still be persuaded to come home if someone can come up with the right offer.

These returning heroes have much to offer the game, both from a marketing and technical perspective, and the FFA’s idea of a fighting fund to bring them home by topping-up their wages has substantial merit.

Elsewhere the purchase of three young Brazilians by the Melbourne Victory offers intrigue and excitement. If it proves successful, expect other clubs to copy the Victory and send a representative to a region flush with talent, one that has already brought us Fernando Rech.

Meanwhile, there are signs the New Zealand Knights are learning from their mistakes of the first season where they admittedly underestimated the strength of the league, signing highly credentialed Paul Nevin as manager and spreading their purchasing around to include some good Aussies in Richard Johnson and Michael Turnbull. The pity for Nevin, New Zealand and possibly the league as a whole is that they couldn’t persuade local youngsters like Jeremy Brockie, Leo Bertos and Jeremy Christie to stay at home alongside experienced defender Che Bunce. If the team is winning and the fans continue to stay away, the lack of a local angle might be part of the reason.

Most of the other clubs have stuck with the tried and tested, players that impressed at other clubs in the A-league (Sydney signed Alex Brosque and Brockie, Melbourne snapped up the impressive Adrian Cacares, NZ have grabbed Johnson and Jonti Richter, Perth were impressed with Jeremy Christie and Queensland signed experience in Liam Reddy, Ante Milicic and Andrew Packer) or in the state leagues (Greg Owens has been signed for good by Adelaide, Lawrie McKinna picked up Vuko Tomasevic from Marconi, Melbourne signed experienced utility defender Rodrigo Vargas, NZ picked up some untapped youngsters from NSW, Victoria and home, Newcastle went on a NSW premier league shopping spree by picking up Tony Faria, Adam D’Apuzzo and Tolgay Ozbey, Perth signed local Josip Magdic, Queensland picked up former Melbourne Knights defender Sasa Ognenovski from the Victoria premier league and local youngsters Dario Vidosic and Tim Smits, while Sydney have youth international Nikolai Topor-Stanley on the books for now at least).

Perhaps this fairly conservative work in the transfer market is still an indication that the game is not yet flush with the funds or expertise to identify and compete for talent far and wide, but, ahead of only its second season, the signs are encouraging.


Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

Good to see A-league clubs giving state league players a go. Now it is up to A-league coaches to further develop these youngsters.

However I think some clubs have weaker playing rosters than last year.

Wed. Jul. 26, 08:50:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Soo Beni said...

I expect a lot more 'attaking' football in the second season of the A-league. On paper the squads may appear weaker but the injection of new (and younger) players will add to the excitement.
Can't wait for the comp to begin.

Keep up the good work Tony.

Wed. Jul. 26, 04:15:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Polly Kalla said...

I hope the standard of play is at least maintained to continue to entice new supporters to the games.
People pay to be entertained by quality football on the pitch. And will return if this is the case.

Bring on the new season!

Wed. Jul. 26, 04:56:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article TT, nice to see a round up of what's going on in the A-League in the way of player movement.

Keep it up


Wed. Jul. 26, 05:24:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks all for your ongoing support and comments, it really is great to see the Australian domestic competition attracting the attention it deserves, and I have every confidence it will continue to get bigger and better.

Season two really is about consolidating on the great work in season one, not taking anything for granted and ensuring the post world cup momentum builds.

Some of the crowd figures at the pre-season cup games suggests the 'lets see what all the fuss is about' element remains high.

If last season's A-League proper is any indication, most will come back.

As O'Neill said in his National Press Conference address today, expansion is inevitable if this momentum continues, but first the existing clubs need a sound financial footing. Season one meant many up front costs, knocking the balance sheets out a bit, but season two is about steady progress on and off the field.

I agree with the sentiments above that the clubs need to continue looking at their rosters, continue adding players who will 'entertain' and excite. Managers are also reponsible for ensuring their teams approach games in a positive mind-frame and for that reason it is great to see someone like Miron Bleiberg retained by Brisbane. In an ideal world all the teams will be positive, thus meaning there is no need to encourage attacking play via a bonus point scheme, but the FFA experiement should be encouraged if, like the world cup, the A-League is taken over by pragmatism. The challenge, as always, is for teams to play winning attractive football.

One of the features of season one was the closeness of the competition (bar NZ), ensuring that most games had plenty of interest deep into stoppage time. This proved to a new breed of footballer follower that the game can be exciting edge of the seat stuff regardless of its low-scoring nature.

Season two appears set to be even closer, witnessed by half the eight pre-season games ending in draws. The other four games have been decided by no more than a goal.

The quality wasn't always the greatest last season, but it was fierce, competitive and had a real buzz to it. May that continue.

Thanks again for your comments.

Wed. Jul. 26, 09:51:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog site and have to say what a fantastic job you are doing.
I will dierct all my mates to your site.

Scott B

Thu. Jul. 27, 10:02:00 am AEST  
Anonymous said said...

Bring on the Brazilians.
Go the Victory.

Thu. Jul. 27, 10:07:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Guido said...

Again terrific article.

As a Victory supporter I have mixed feelings with the Brasilian signings.

One one hand it's terrific that we have players who come from such a great football culture, and it will be great to see how the shape the team.

On the other hand it is important that those players at the state level that can go further are given an opportunity.

Inevitably if they are good, they will go overseas. There is nothing we can do about that. However it will be great to note that future socceroos were plying their trade in the A-League, and that hopefully one day they will return to finish their carrers there.

Thu. Jul. 27, 01:02:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Scott B, Said and Guido, thanks for your comments and interest.

For Victory fans these certainly are exciting but interesting times. I'm sure that nothing short of a semi final spot will keep Victory fans happy and keep Merrick employed, so there is a great deal of pressure for everyone to produce the goods. I have to say I enjoyed the signings of Roddy Vargas, the Brazilians and Adrian Cacares, but perhaps the most crucial might be Brebner.

That area of the park, central midfield, is the one I felt Victory struggled with last season. Pantelidis did ok, but too often he'd drop too far into defence and the Victory would lose their shape as a result, meaning they struggled to control games. If Brebner, along with Muscat, can give them steel and shape in the middle, than the attackers like Fred and Cacares can have their freedom.

Allsopp is also critical this season, it's obvious he must be more efficient than last season, where he had all the chances but kept missing.

Stay tuned closer to the start of the season where I'll preview all eight teams, including your Victory.

Sat. Jul. 29, 12:24:00 pm AEST  

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