Like an impending first date with a beautiful woman, next Monday’s unveiling of Western Sydney’s name, logo and colours is looming large on my mind. Could this finally be the one? Could this team sweep me off my feet? Could I finally pledge my allegiance to an A-League club after years of melancholy in the stands?
Thousands of Sydneysiders like me are frothing at a local alternative to the uninspiring Sydney FC. I won’t harp on about their inadequacies, but any team that installs Terry McFlynn as a captain is always going to have trouble playing an attractive, inspiring style of football.
In order to guarantee mine, and thousands of others’ support, the balance and talent of the inaugural squad is going to be THE major factor on whether FFA’s gamble will indeed be a success.
So without further ado, let me present to you my blueprint for the new Western Sydney team.
First of all, let’s take the anticipated signings of Mark Bridge, Michael Beauchamp, Tarek Elrich, Ante Covic, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Scott Chipperfield and Aaron Mooy as a given. This will give us a good start – between Bridge, Beauchamp, Elrich, Topor-Stanley and Covic there is a couple of hundred A-League games of experience; whilst Chipperfield and Mooy bring the European flavour in the form of a wisened veteran and an aspiring youngster.
Chipperfield will most likely demand wages a cut above the rest so I think it is fair to assume that he will fill the Australian Marquee spot.
So that is 7 of our 23 spots already filled.
Before starting our recruitment drive, it is probably best to settle on a formation. 4-3-3 not only falls into line with the national curriculum, but also with the dominant teams in world football – Chelsea, Bayern and Barca to name a few.
Each position has their own unique role to play, and therefore recruitment needs to be focused on the qualities that each position demands.
No A-League club has used the international spots to the absolute maximum of their potential yet. Brisbane has perhaps set the standard with Berisha, Brioch and to a lesser extent Adnan. These spots should be used to make up the spine of our team – importing a technical quality that is hard to find on these shores. The team is allowed 5 Visa positions (of which one must be from the Asian confederation). The 5 recruits will be a centreback, a midfield enforcer, a technically gifted passer, a maverick and a proven marksman – I will go into more detail below.
The Keepers (2)
To support the veteran Covic, there needs to be an up and coming keeper that will push Covic for a starting place, but also be able to learn from his vast experience. Dean Bouzanis has been mentioned as a possible recruit – and IMO would be a good choice. He is young, a local lad, and has clearly got some raw talent that just needs some honing. Australia has a proven record of developing world class keepers and finding a young understudy shouldn’t be a hassle – this is probably the easiest spot to fill on the roster.
The Centre-backs (4)
Beauchamp, Topor-Stanley, Experienced Player, Import
Topor-Stanley is versatile and can play anywhere across the back four, and Beauchamp is a solid recruit – both having been some of the shining stars in the earlier days of the A-League. These two should be paired up with another experienced campaigner. Ryan Nelson has unfortunately just been snapped up by QPR, because he would have fitted the bill perfectly. Michael Thwaite put in some impressive performances for an ailing GCU last year and would have also been a great signing – good on the Glory for picking him up. Chris Coyne has been released by the Glory and pending fitness could be a decent recruit perhaps? Either way, an experienced veteran who can slot in and perform their duties with minimum fuss would be ideal. (Note: Lucas Neill would be a great signing, but IMO would not be worth the salary cap dollars)
The final centre-back spot should be left for an import. Ideally the import would add finesse to Beauchamp’s and Experienced Player’s brawn. Something in the mould of a Pique – someone who adds pace and technique to be paired with a more aggressive physical player. A local example would be a Simon Colosimo.
The Wing-backs (3)
Elrich, NSW PL Player, Youth
The key to this 4-3-3 is having a pair physically fit players that are able to get up and down the field for 90 minutes. Whilst our wingers and Mavericks will be controlling most of the attacking play, these wing-backs are pivotal in providing a go-to point on each wing – being there for the one two pass or the overlapping run. Ivan Franjic and Josh Rose play these roles particularly well – and we must follow the Roar and Mariners lead and recruit our Wing-backs from the local talent pool. The NSW PL surely will have a number of players that fit the mould of a 22-26 year old with a number of years experience who have always been on the fringe of a pro-contract. Think of it as a an AFL style mature age recruit.
Our midfield is vitally important. These players will dictate our style of play and therefore our attractiveness to neutral and potential fans. Therefore we need to breakdown each position even further. The best midfield systems that have ever been deployed are made up of 3 important player types. The Enforcer, The Metronome and The Maverick. Have a think about it – some of the most successful teams in history follow this blueprint. Having a look at some of the past WC winners reinforces this – Brazil 2002: Gilberto Silva (Enforcer), Kleberson (Metronome), Ronaldinho (Maverick), Italy 2006: Gattuso (Enforcer), Pirlo (Metronome) Totti (Maverick). Even Spain/Barca use this methodology, but have some gifted players that can actually shift between these roles – Busquets (Enforcer/Metronome), Xavi (Metronome), Iniesta (Metronome/Maverick).
Perhaps the best example is Newcastle United’s signings from last year. In Tiote (Enforcer), Cabaye (Metronome) and Ben Arfa (Maverick) they found three players who have very good records at playing the key positions in a competitive league and were available at bargain prices. The fact that they all speak French is an added bonus as they were able to form combinations and adapt quickly.
The Enforcer (3)
Import, Local, Local
Our midfield wrecking ball, the player that opposing fans love to hate, but we will adopt as our cult hero. Think Gattuso, think Kevin Muscat. His sole role is to break up the oppositions midfield play. Like Nigel De Jong in the World Cup final, this player will always tread the fine line between in-your-face defending and kung-fu. Once the ball is won, he filters the ball to our metronome…
The Metronome (3)
Culina, AFC Import (Marquee), Youth
Perhaps the most important player on the field, the Metronome sets the tone for each game. Passing completion is always in the high 90’s – and the joy of his game is not scoring goals, but keeping possession. Pirlo has been doing this for years. Therefore our recruits need to be technically brilliant. We could do a lot worse than recruiting Jason Culina for this role. He is coming off a long injury layoff and could come quite cheap – especially if it is a pay-as-you-play type deal. As for the import, finding someone available of sufficient quality won’t be as hard as it sounds. Two years ago, Joe Allen was playing almost an identical game to the one that he plays now (passing, passing and more passing) but no-one had ever heard of him. You can be sure that there are more players like this out there. South Korea and Japan are renowned for producing the most technically gifted players in the region, it’s not implausible that there is a someone plying their trade in these leagues that would fill this mould. Recruiting an AFC Import as the metronome for our team would also reap benefits in a marketing sense – imagine the interest across Asia if we had a big name Japanese player pulling the strings in our midfield. Therefore, this is where our Marquee money will be spent.
The Maverick (3)
Mooy, Import, Youth
If the Metronome provides the technical ability that the purists love, our Maverick provides the X-Factor for the neutrals out there. Given the A-League’s penchant for Brazilians, let’s assume that our Import will be from there. Given a brief as the link between midfield and attack, our number 10 will be a crowd pleaser. Audacious and media-friendly, they will be able to break open a game with a sublime piece of skill, a piece of fluke-ish luck, or a combination of both. Marcos Flores has recently been made available and would be ideal.
I must admit, I don’t have any idea who Aaron Mooy is. So he may have been shoehorned into the wrong position here. Wiki tells me that he is a goalscoring attacking midfielder so I am comfortable leaving him in the Maverick role. Again, our youth should be a local lad. Surely there is a teenager playing for one of the NSW PL sides who is a bit of a rough diamond?
The Wingers (2)
Chipperfield, Speed Demon
Whilst most Socceroos fans know Scott Chipperfield as a leftback, his position at Basel was much higher up the field. Chippers role should not be the one of playmaker, but more of a dependable point man – always making the right run, always being in the correct position. As the elder statesman of the side, this Champions League veteran’s main objective will be mentoring others- making sure everyone else is playing their position true to the Western Sydney style of play.
Balancing this the solidity on the left side will be an out and out winger on the right. Like Lewis Jetta in the AFL, everyone else in the league will seem slow compared to this guy. Whilst he might not be as technically brilliant as others in the team, this wingers brief will be break the lines, get to the by-line and feed our strikers.
(Note: Backup for these two wing positions will come in the form of Mavericks and Strikers – i.e. Mark Bridge can easily slot into this role)
The Strikers (3)
Bridge, Import, Youth
With Bridge providing the pace and A-League experience, we need our two other Strikers to be tactically alternative options. First of all, a Striker with the predatory pedigree of Berisha must be found. It does not matter what frame or qualities he has (be it a beanpole or a diminutive scrapper), as long he has a proven history of sticking the ball in the back of the net. A quick scout of the European lower leagues throws up a multitude of options – Rade Prica was 2nd top scorer in the Norwegian league last year. He has a proven record of constant goal-scoring, and at 31 is both young enough to play at a high-level and old enough to consider Australia as viable end of career destination. Olivier Occéan is a Canadian international who was joint top-goalscorer in the German Second Division last year and could perhaps be another option – again, check out his record – he scores goals for fun! Now both Prica and Occéan may have no interest whatsoever in coming to play in Australia, but the principle should stay the same – finding a goal poacher with a proven record.
The third striker needs to be a young gun and he needs to be our battering ram – in the same mould as Matt Simon, or Bruce Djite. The scouting brief for this position should be no less than trying to find the next Mark Viduka.
The Wild Card
No team has used the “Guest Player” role to its best ability. Rather than locking in all your money (and potentially the clubs viability) into a ‘name’ Marquee signing, these marketing tools should only fill guest player spots. Clarence Seedorf has just left Milan, and at 36 would be a gamble to sign for a whole season. But bringing him in as a guest for 7 or 8 games would not only be a marketers dream but also limit the financial risk associated with marquees. These type of name players are a luxury and should only be recruited if the money is there.
So there it is… a blueprint for the new Western Sydney team – Probably a bit of a long shot, but hey I can dream right? Bring on Monday.