Victoria, the rising force in the A-League
Victorian football, healthy? You bet says Ross Aloisi - and this from a South Australian!
As a proud South Australian, nothing pains me more than a smug Victorian, which is why this is a painful article to write. But journalistic integrity must outweigh parochialism, and it is with this is mind that I now discuss the healthy situation which the two Victorian teams now enjoy in the Hyundai A-League.
“Melbourne Victory? Healthy? Are you mad?” I know, I know... The Durakovic era was a predictable disaster, and the Kewell/Mandic power games in the boardroom have led to the well-supported dark blue boys grinding through a lack-lustre first half of the season.
But write them off at your peril. They have only lost five games all season, the same as Brisbane Roar, and now they sit in the top six and look well-placed to stay there.
They will no doubt be beneficiaries of the well-known phenomena of “new coach bounce”, known as the “Kosmina Effect” in Adelaide. Established players have a spring in their step to impress the new coach who might not be too well acquainted with them. Similarly, young players see an opportunity to be looked at with a fresh pair of eyes and find an extra 10 per cent at training.
The beauty about Victory is that even with a shaky central defensive trio of an out of form Adrian Leijer, struggling Roddy Vargas and inexperienced Petar Franjic, there are still so many talented individuals in attacking areas that they always look like scoring to me.
Thompson, Kewell, Allsopp, Hernandez, Cernak, Rojas and Solórzano - with names like that, even if the team is not playing well as a cohesive unit, I cannot believe that they don-t have a number of wins left in them between now and the end of the season.
Although their large number of draws (seven from 16 games) has been the subject of criticism; ironically it has been their ability to snatch a point where they may have deserved to lose that has seen them scrape together enough points to be where they are now.
Jim Magilton is a feisty character well-schooled in the tough British leagues where scrapping for points is a national obsession, and in tandem with Kevin Muscat, he will make sure that Victory don-t falter for lack of motivation or effort.
But I believe it-s the other occupants of AAMI Park who are the dark horses for the title.
Despite a sticky first year, John van-t Schip has doggedly stuck to his philosophy of playing an attractive brand of football at Melbourne Heart. Senior players such as Clint Bolton and Matt Thompson have shown real leadership, with the young guard of Marrone, Behich, Dugandzic, Hamill, Good and Babalj impressing me hugely.
One of the real positives for Heart is that they have reached as high as second place in the ladder without too many superlative contributions from their overseas players or one player in particular. They do not have a Kewell in the team for marketing value, or a stand-out individual performer that is integral to the success of the team, like Thomas Broich at Brisbane Roar.
That suggests a genuine team ethic and belief in what they are trying to achieve.
When compared to the difficulties and lack of belief that teams such as Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC, Perth Glory and Gold Coast seem to be experiencing, I have a feeling that the real challenger to the Mariners this season won-t be Brisbane, who seem too reliant on Broich psychologically. Right now, it looks like it will come from the Big V state - as much as I hate admitting it.