After seemingly settling into somewhat of an equilibrium, Australian football exploded into life this past week with enough news to fill a plane large enough to transport all the players that have signed in India. A perfect time for another ESPN Australia and New Zealand football wrap!
The Good, the Bad and the Dirty
When it comes to Australian football, one should always expect the unexpected. But if anyone did see Western Sydney Wanderers' shock decision to axe coach Jean-Paul de Marigny coming, this writer humbly suggests they use their powers of predication to pursue more gainful endeavours such predicting next week's lottery numbers. De Marigny had been appointed as the Wanderers' permanent boss less than three months prior to his sacking; awarded the gig on a full-time basis after overseeing a slight uptick in results after taking over as a caretaker in the wake of the (inevitable) departure of Markus Babbel.
The club unveiled former Newcastle Jets head coach Carl Robinson as the 56-year-old's replacement on Thursday, and, from a pure football perspective, it's an excellent appointment.
The ex-Wales international quickly adapted to life in the A-League following his arrival at the Jets halfway through 2019-20 season and his side, highlighted by midfield duo Angus Thurgate and Steven Ugarkovic, were playing some great football as the form team of the competition following the post-COVID break.
The 44-year-old's record of balancing youth development and pursuing results in a salary capped, closed league as coach Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS should benefit WSW, but a coach very rarely makes a club, and Robinson won't be able to turn around the Wanderers on his own.
With chairman Paul Lederer insistent that the quality assembled at the club could challenge for the title last season, the Wanderers instituted a review of their footballing operations following the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign and, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, part of that report may have played into the decision to move on from De Marigny. Though the addition of Robinson will undoubtedly help turn their fortunes around, unless that review carries sufficient depth and vigour, and the lessons from it are willingly embraced, his job may ultimately be much harder than it needs to be.
Because, quite simply, being the Western Sydney Wanderers should not be as difficult as the club has made it look in recent seasons. Not exactly hurting for cash, significant investment has been poured into some of the finest training facilities in the country -- of any code -- in recent years and their new stadium is the finest in the land. The club has a unique and passionate fanbase (albeit one that, although not blameless, has waned as successive heavy-handed missteps by club and FFA alienated active support) and sits in a fertile area of top-class young talent.
Of course, a wildly successful foundation coach leaving for the Turkish Super Lig on the eve of a season is hardly beneficial for club stability, but the Wanderers' backsliding results since the departure of Tony Popovic -- seventh in 2017-18, eighth in 2018-19, and ninth in 2019-20 -- has occurred under the watch of multiple mentors; suggesting there's more to what ails the club than just who occupies the dugout.
A few months back, this column noted that Melbourne Victory was a big A-League club that carried itself as simply a big club, and that they needed to make good decisions to turn that belief into reality. The Wanderers sit in a similar boat -- but at least Victory has four A-League titles to fall back on.
Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks
The departure of Robinson, while a win for the Wanderers, represents another kick in the guts for the Jets in an offseason that has seemingly presented them with one body blow after another. Incoming players were sent on loan without playing a single game, other important contributors were sold or loaned out and the club, yet again, discovered that believing a player was committed to returning to the Jets and the player actually being committed to returning were two very different things.
On top of this, the club's financial position is a growing existential threat; chairman Martin Lee unable to fund the club and potential buyer Sky Jade Capital -- a Melbourne-based firm with links to China -- reportedly deciding to withdraw from the purchasing the club's licence while the FFA was performing their due diligence.
Club CEO Lawrie McKinna told Fox Sports on Wednesday that "we've got an active buyer at FFA at the moment" and assured fans that the Jets would be playing in 2020-21, but the possibility that other A-League clubs, who are set to take over the running of the competition in the coming weeks, perhaps needing to take over the club has been floated. As unfortunate as it may be, a collapse cannot be ruled by out.
And now Robinson leaves. Ouch.
Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time
If Western Sydney is seeking to ascend to the peak of Australian football with Robinson at the helm, they will have to knock off Sydney FC to do so.
The Harboursiders have separated themselves on an organisational level from the rest of the league in recent years, fostering a winning culture across the A-League, W-League, youth and even eSports fronts. Seeking to close the facilities gap that exists between themselves and their rivals -- one of the few areas the club can be genuinely said to lag -- the club is constructing a Centre of Excellence and will move into the newly completed Sydney Football Stadium in 2022, part of an overall push to become the "best sporting team in the country of any code."
And, according to club CEO Danny Townsend, the coming unbundling of the leagues from the FFA represents a further opportunity for the club to stretch its wings: Greater control over its marketing and identity allowing it to push ahead with making the club's name and branding iconic.
"We've always wanted to do that, we feel that our brand ... we represent the biggest city in the country and Sydney being an aspirational, global city, it's something we've always felt could be leveraged," Townsend told ESPN. "But I think what's most important is to improve the league we play in. For us to be the biggest sporting club in Australia we've got to be part of a flourishing league.
"Unbundling and taking a bit more control over the direction and the way the league is marketed is a real key part of that. And we're focused on working together with the other clubs to ensure that our league becomes a much more appealing league and grows. And with that, our club will grow.
"We've made a full strategy for the four leagues [A, W, Y and E-Leagues] that sit under the unbundling process. Those four leagues have got 100+ page strategies for each of them that revolve around growing the game and ensuring that all those four leagues flourish. We've got a lot of plans on the structure of those leagues but equally on the way those leagues are presented to the market -- with a digital-first type of approach to play into our strengths of a real youth demographic skew. That will be a key part of our plan."
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London Beckoned Songs About Money Written by Machines
The Socceroos, it appears, are set to resume hostilities with a familiar foe in November, with multiple outlets in Australian and the United Kingdom reporting that negotiations to organise a friendly match between Graham Arnold's side and England are at an advanced stage.
Already seeking a friendly against the United States next month, Australia's team for those fixtures should they go ahead would likely be made up entirely of European-based players -- sparing Asian and Australian based players from having to undergo quarantine at key points in their seasons.
Moves to select European-based players would seemingly open the door for Daniel Arzani, who has been regularly coming of the bench for FC Utrecht, to make a long-awaited return to the national stage and potentially provide a perfect opportunity for Jackson Irvine, who remains a free agent, to demonstrate his skills for potential employers should he have not yet found a club. Former Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas, who recently moved to Danish side SonderjyskE, would also loom as a potential recipient of his first cap.
With an Olympic Games on the horizon, Arnold may also use the opportunity -- as he has previously done with the likes of Denis Genreau and John Iredale -- to bring a number of youngsters into camp to expose them to the senior national setup; players such as Borussia Monchengladbach's Jacob Italiano or even Hoffenheim's Noah Botic potentially fitting the bill.
Uncertainty may surround the future of their ownership, chairman Mike Charlesworth still seeking a buyer for the club after initially putting the club on the market in August, but it certainly can't be said that the academy of the Central Coast Mariners doesn't present a bright spot.
On Saturday, Mariners' NPL sides secured both senior and Under-20 crowns in NSW's NPL2 competition; the U20s doing it easy in dispatching Hakoah Sydney City East 5-1 -- with Reuben Awaritefe, the son of PFA Chair and former NSL legend Francis Awaritefe, getting on the scoresheet -- before the seniors recorded a dramatic comeback to secure a 6-2 AET win over Northern Tigers.
Alou Kuol, who made headlines around the league for both his spirited debut and entertaining post-match interview during the 2019-20 season, fired home in that contest, while captain Dan Hall -- who is rated highly by staff at the club -- was adjudged best afield.
At a time when the league is looking to introduce a domestic transfer market and increase the number of outgoing transfers made by the competition, the presence of a bevy of young talent in Gosford -- many of whom are under contract for multiple seasons -- represents a potential boon for the traditionally impecunious club. Already this offseason, the Mariners received a fee for the services of attacker Samuel Silvera, who had already trialled with MLS side LAFC, after the teenager moved to Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira.
The Piano Knows Something I Don't Know
If there's one trend from the A-League offseason, apart from all the chaos, it's been the growing exodus of players to India, and reports recently emerged from the subcontinent that Western United's Connor Pain, who was named as runner up in the club's inaugural best and fairest awards, was set to become the latest to follow this trend and sign with Indian Super League side Jamshedpur FC.
But speaking to ESPN, Western United CEO Chris Pehlivanis denied those rumours; saying that the wing-back remained an important part of Western's plans going forward.
"He's signed with us, he was the first one to put pen to paper on a new deal," Pehlivanis said. "Connor's important to us, he fills that position on the left side. As of [Wednesday], I haven't spoken to anyone in India."
Max Burgess also appears set to stay in Melbourne's west as well, despite his management reportedly shopping him around to clubs in his home state of NSW, after Western Sydney rejected his an offer for his services for appearance reasons -- the same agency that represents Burgess also represents Robinson -- and United signalled they were unwilling to release the talented 25-year-old to an A-League rival.
United players are due back at the club's Caroline Springs training base this week for fitness and health testing, ahead of a planned resumption of preseason training next week. Though the club has been able to largely retain the bulk of their playing group, it's understood that side is still open to adding to their stocks with a potential marquee-level player before next season.
Perth Glory players are also likely to resume training next week, with the club expected to reverse its player standowns in the coming days.
The Greatest Show
Death, taxes and EA Sports releasing a new iteration of FIFA every year.
One of the most venerable franchises in all of video gaming, EA Sports released their latest iteration of the footballing series last week and, not only did it force A-League clubs to hurry up and reveal their new kits, it also represented an important marker for competitors in the E-League.
"Approaching a new FIFA is more about putting the time in than anything else; learning the game mechanics, the flaws, what works, and what doesn't work anymore," Mouad Zwed, who has represented Melbourne Victory in every iteration of the E-League, told ESPN.
"The more you play the more you adapt to the new system -- because it's all a muscle memory. You need to try to get rid of old habits that used to work on the previous FIFA. From what I've played so far the new game is very promising. There are quite a few [flaws] that need to get patched as soon as possible, but there are more positives than negatives. I'm looking forward to the year ahead and, of course, the new E-League season."
Aside from a brief cameo from an injured Mitch Austin in year one of the competition, Zwed stands out from his fellow E-League competitors in that he plays the non-digital variant of football at a high level -- the Polish-born Libyan star also signed to NPL Victoria side Kingston City.
"There's pretty much is no offseason," Zwed, who regularly streams his sessions to his fans on Twitch, explained. "FIFA is being played weekly or even daily by most E league players. The only time we take off is a month or so before the release of a new FIFA title to recharge mentally."
Rare as it may be, traditional clubs in Victoria are not unaccustomed to having international stars surface as coaches. Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas had a three-season stint in charge of South Melbourne in the late 80s and early 90s, while Croatian legend Aljosa Asanovic coached Melbourne Knights in 2018.
Now joining the list is Essendon Royals, founded as Triestina in 1959, who on Monday announced that 36-time Brazilian international Mineiro was set to take charge of the club's senior women's side. The midfielder won the 2007 Copa America with Brazil, a Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup with Sao Paulo in 2005 and spent time with Hertha Berlin, Chelsea and Schalke 04 throughout his career and has been living in Australia for roughly a year after first venturing Down Under to deliver football camps.
Having been recruited to the Royals' post by former South Melbourne legend and New Zealand international Vaughan Coveny, the Brazilian told ESPN that while he was hoping to instil some of the lessons he had learned during his playing career, it was important to balance that with the needs of his squad.
"I think the most important thing is to keep the drive for the girls to be there," he said. "Importantly, I also want to keep Australian culture. I want to support the girls also with a bit of the style of European football that I have learned as well as a bit of the Brazilian style -- to be happy and creative and have fun -- but I also like to keep what the girls have learned in their own culture.
"I want to be close to the girls and support the girls in all the ways that I can. I would like to build a family. To be close and support the girls so they can do the best on the field.
"I have already heard that Essendon already works as a family so it's a good start."