Thursday, February 05, 2009

TRBA's A-League gongs, season 4

IT's been a frantic few days in the football world, here and aboard, with players and coaches, big and small, coming and going, but a few moments to reflect on the major gongs from the A-League's night of nights on Monday, where TRBA was on hand at The Ivy.

Johnny Warren medal; the evenness of the teams and the evenness of the playing standard meant this year was perhaps the hardest to pick the winner since the inaugural one, when Bobby Despotovski surprised many. Nick Carle and Joel Griffiths were lay-down miseres in versions 2 and 3, but this season there was a far more even spread, with the quality of football and the quality of the footballers far improved. For the record, I felt Craig Moore might just sneak it, which isn't to say the golden boot wasn't a deserving winner. Indeed, too often Smeltz stood out for the 'Nix, and clearly he did it all with enough class to impress the opposition. Speaking to Billy Celeski on the red carpet ahead of the announcement, he felt the Queensland duo Moore and Miller would be right in the mix, while one could also have made strong cases for the likes of Galekovic, Ognenovski, Jamieson, Reid, Dodd, Celeski himself, Cassio, Jedinak, Simon, Caceres, Rukavystya, van Dijk, Murdocca, Dadi, Pellegrino, Cole, Sigmund and a fair few more. Anyway, congratulations to the Johnny Warren medalist on an outstanding season and a deserved award.

Goal of the season; Earlier in season, within the space of 24 hours, we saw two clear candidates for goal of the season, one a brilliant individual goal, the other an even better team goal. Not surprisingly it was the individual goal which won, a trend we see right around the English speaking world. For me, as great as Smeltz's goal was, it doesn't touch Rukavytsya's team goal, not even close. Perth involved a touch from every outfield player. Anyway, after receiving the award I asked Smeltz if he'd had whisper into the ear of the player he'd burnt in taking his goal of the season, or whether he'd wait for the pre-season, when he and Michael Thwaite would be teammates (or will they?). Smeltz, not hinting of any move to Turkey, said he might have a quiet word in the pre-season, but modestly noted that few defenders would have been able to do anything about his spin. Too true.

Rising star; in an excellent year for the kids, Jamieson stood out just above Rukavytsya for mine, as much for his consistency as his class coming forward. At one stage, before he tapered off in the final five or so rounds, I felt he was right in the running for player of the season, not that someone his age was likely to win that. While Rukavystya was at times breathtaking in the second half of the season, Jamieson was the more consistent. The others to really impress were Jets duo Elrich and Kantarovski, Roar trio DeVere, Zullo and Minniecon, and Adelaide kids Barbiero and Mullen (and what about the performance of Michael Marone in the final round?), who came from nowhere. Dumped John Kosmina unearthed a number of exciting kids in Ryan Grant, Brendan Gan and Kofi Danning.

Goalkeeper of the year; easy choice that of Eugene Galekovic, a key part of the A-League's meanest defence.

Coach of the year; ditto, Aurelio Vidmar was the obvious choice. Hard to believe that a year ago, having missed the finals in his first year, there were calls for his head. As I've noted numerous times on this blog, this is when he started building from the back, and it has been some wonderful construction over the past 12 months. One of the biggest features of his work is the fact he isn't afraid to make the tough calls by getting rid of the likes of Petta, Costanzo, Spagnuolo and Diego, at a time when others (especially Sydney) have stuck for too long. It is a point I asked him about after he claimed the award. He admitted it was the toughest part of the game, but in the manner that is fast becoming characteristic matter-of-fact Vidmar, he said it had to be done (in a nice way, of course). His ability to build and rejuvenate has been impressive.

Import of the year; this was by far the best crop of imports yet. Last year everyone went Brazilian. Prior to that it was far too British (remember the quality of the likes of Sean Devine and Steve McMahon Jr?). While there is room for so many more Asians (the likes of Thonglao, so impressive at the Asian Cup), at least this season there was something resembling an even spread, and the (far from) wee Scot Charile Miller is a deserving winner. Earlier in the season he was the Roar's front third, until the likes of van Dijk, Zullo, Minniecon and Nichols took over in the final third of the campaign. Van Dijk has been killing 'em of late, while Adelaide's Brazilians Cassio, Cristiano and Diego impressed at various times, as did Ney Fabiano before that spitting incident. Sydney's Terry McFlynn was outstanding in the front half of the season.

Referee of the year; Matthew Breeze won it, but for me the best was Strebre Delovski, who demonstrated that you don't have to run around brandishing cards, and that all A-League games don't need to resemble a heavyweight bout (take note Ben Williams). Breeze singled out his "friend" for praise after receiving his award, and the fact Delovski gets the major semi this weekend means he's being highly thought of by the new referees boss.

So there are a few thoughts from yours truly on what I believe has been the best A-League season yet as far as playing standards are concerned. Perhaps all the off-field dramas are for another day (we might need a month), but it's crystal clear the buzz around the league has dipped markedly in season 4. Thankfully the early signs for season 5 are good, with the likes of Miron, Fowler, Palmer, Milicevic, Culina (x2), Okon, de Groot, Traktovenko, Barlow, Mattheson and Lavicka (and Zach) offering plenty of intrigue, even if others take flight to Asia. In the meantime though there's a finals campaign to follow, and on current form it's hard to look past the top three, who look too close to split. Who's been practising their penalties?


Anonymous sir alex said...

sounds like you enjoyed yourself at the awards ceremony. good on ya. also keep up the good work. your writing style has a come a long way in four years.
ps. eagerly awaiting an epl update, esp fa

Fri. Feb. 06, 01:23:00 am AEDT  
Blogger john said...

Great post Tony

Sat. Feb. 07, 06:47:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi tony,

think i read somewhere around the traps that barbiero is 24 or so ... so not really a rising star, but a very good debutant.

with player losses to asia / opportunities arising in asia (depending on your viewpoint, and mine is the latter), a-league clubs are gonna have to scout the state leagues better. guys like barbiero, bojic, cole and gan make me feel very confident that the talent is there waiting to come through.


Mon. Feb. 09, 10:06:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the past couple of weeks Delovski has reinstated my faith in refs. His performance in the Melbourne vs Wellington match in the final round (one of only two games I've seen live this season) was brilliant. Almost no mistakes and a disciplined game despite few cards (a rarity in the A-League).

His performance in the major semi first leg was again impressive. He missed one or two things (i.e. Vargas' push) but at least was confident enough to keep cards in his pocket for as long as possible. Great to see and hope he gets the GF to avoid a farce like the end of last year's that I still reckon had a bit to do with Shield. Breeze would be even worse!

Tue. Feb. 10, 04:43:00 pm AEDT  

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