Alessandro Del Piero … a pleasure to watch. 1 Marco Rojas
Like fellow Kiwi Shane Smeltz before him, Rojas will carry off the Johnny Warren Medal to the great embarrassment of the Aussies, with a consistently brilliant display so far this season. Enjoy watching him, won’t you, because he’ll be gone next year in a big-money deal to higher levels of the game. Rojas’s talent was evident when he first burst onto the A-League scene and this season he has a well-drilled Victory team around him with players capable of releasing him into space behind defences, where he most loves to be. Ange Postecoglou has freed Rojas of his defensive responsibilities, allowing him to spend the majority of the game in position to race in behind. His ability to execute the final pass, the last piece of the jigsaw, is now in place. Any team facing the Victory know they need to restrict the likes of Marcos Flores and Archie Thompson, but its Rojas they most fear. The young Kiwi with his tail up, racing towards goal, is a magnificent sight to witness.
Central Coast Mariners
McBreen’s tremendous season continues. His goals are so important to the title aspirations of the Mariners. The worry for the fans was they may dry up, but this striker has other ideas. His finishing has been mostly lethal, with critical goals to salvage points or go ahead in games, and most impressive has been his overall contribution. Formerly known as a bustling No.9, able to hold the ball up with his back to goal, McBreen has expanded his game considerably and become a much more rounded footballer. Moving back into midfield to exchange regularly with his No.10, it is his ability to turn in between the lines, where space and time is at its most limited, that signals a player in wonderful form with a growing understanding of the game around him. This season, the goal looks 10 times the size for a player high on confidence enjoying the best form of his career.
What can you say about a player who has attracted so many column inches and plaudits already except that, in a badly faltering team, he has been a pleasure to watch. It’s difficult to describe how challenging it must be for ADP to walk straight from a career at the very highest level into a team that has been in chaos, with three different coaches so far and a different set of teammates every week. Throw in the immense pressure back in Italy to protect his extraordinary legacy and the weight of Sydney on his back, and you get the picture as to why this guy is such a champion. Even in the midst of dismal performances at times, Del Piero’s touches and vision have been beautiful. His sheer competitiveness, professionalism and desire to win is a model for kids to follow, and his free-kick against the Jets will live long in the memory, as will his passing range with either foot. Though he is unable to display his full range under current circumstances, the fraction we’ve seen has been worth the price of admission every time.
One of the most important, and difficult, positions in football is the No.6, tasked with managing the game and bringing the ball from back to front and side to side. This position requires intelligent players who understand the entire game, know how their team moves and where their teammates will be ahead of time, and Billy Celeski is the standout thus far. Demonstrating an ability to link back to front, he has also moved into attack and shown a capability to play passes between defenders, the most valuable skill for a midfield player. Composed and secure with the ball, Celeski just shades teammate Mark Milligan in the position, with an honourable mention for the Mariners’ John Hutchinson, who runs the league leader’s midfield. Celeski’s work provides the platform for Marcos Flores and the speedsters to excel, and it’s great to see a talented player mature into a quality professional.
Time for this talent to become a regular, first-team Socceroo. Holding Vidosic back was only his inconsistency over the past few years, as he dealt with the disappointment of returning from the Bundesliga. But he now knows the A-League has reinvigorated his career, and it shows in his play. Aggressive, skilled, and always wanting the ball, Vidosic’s form has been the primary factor in Adelaide’s rise this year and complemented the outstanding but inconsistent performances of the three imports, Marcelo Carrusca, Jeronimo Neumann and Fabio Ferreira. Vidosic has now worked out how to impose himself on a game, something that usually comes with maturity and experience. Goals, free-kicks, solo runs, final passes and joining lightning counter-attacks with his speed, the young man has it all and the limit to how far he can go is imposed only by himself. If he continues to perform, Brazil 2014 beckons.
A master footballer, period. Understanding, touch, technical quality on both sides of his body, a strong mentality and a wonderful ambassador for Japanese football and culture, Ono is a brilliant addition to the league. The A-League needs creators, players who are technically accomplished to show our kids how the ball should be massaged. And every time Shinji Ono plays, a boy and girl somewhere are inspired to become a better player. The control and volley against the Victory was the sort of artistry it costs millions of dollars to see from players usually at the highest levels of the game, a treat for Wanderers and neutral fans alike. There is always risk attached with marquee players, but the Wanderers got this one absolutely spot-on. For his quality, and his admirable character, Ono is a gem.
Speed, awareness and tactical discipline make Hersi one of the standouts of the season. Mind you, the former Dutch under-21 international has some close competition in the irrepressible Archie Thompson, but Hersi has impressed with his ability to match his individual skills and a willingness to take players on with a capacity to perform razor-sharp ambushes on opponents and spring the counter-attack. Watching Hersi retreat to allow opponents to play out and then choosing his moment to race headlong at a hapless central defender trying to work out where the next pass should go, has been an absolute hoot. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed seeing a player move without the ball quite so much, but when he wins it back, he becomes an extreme threat to any side. Hersi has been a critical component of the Wanderer’s success this season and Tony Popovic will be toasting with a glass of red that he was able to rehabilitate a player with immense quality who was drifting from club to club, unable to settle. The fans love him, and rightly so, a superb addition to the A-League.
The statistics say it all. Most shots stopped this season. Ante Covic has had a magnificent two seasons, in fact. Last year, he saved a woeful Melbourne Victory from humiliation virtually every week; how enjoyable it must be for him to play behind a well-organised defence this year. Not so well organised that his services haven’t been absolutely critical to their success, mind you, because a predominantly counter-attacking style of play has led to a high number of shots and saves, at which he has excelled. A quality keeper is fundamental to success and Covic is in good company with Adelaide’s brilliant Eugene Galekovic and the Mariners’ bold Matty Ryan, but for his importance in what’s been achieved so far, Ante gets the nod.
When in doubt, put your trust in a South American to provide creative quality, and Finkler has, prior to his recent injury, delivered with panache. As an attacking midfielder, his brief is to create and score, and the league’s leading assistant of goals brought class to perfectly complement the wonderful Marcos Flores, who is just now competing with his Brazilian teammate for the creative mantle. Finkler was vital to Victory’s development in the first half of the season, and Flores will be in the second, but this Sao Paulo native was so good in the final third, the most difficult part of the field to excel, that he could have had another 10 goals and a bagful of assists. Every game he would get into phenomenal goal-scoring positions, and play others into great positions, such that his effectiveness is as high as anyone in the league. The sooner Finkler gets back on the field the better.
I cannot finish any list without giving this kid a rap. The former Australian youth international and captain has been magnificent since becoming a regular starter for the Jets and is proof that outstanding players can be developed in this country. I believe we are watching a future Australian captain mature before our eyes. Excellent positional sense, superb passing range more usually seen in a No.6, enough speed to deal with the fastest attackers and a strong mentality and assured demeanour, Chapman has been a revelation in an extremely young back line and looks as though he’s played for a decade. Along with the superb Craig Goodwin, James Virgili and the Mariners’ Trent Sainsbury, the immensely promising Aaron Calver and plenty of others, Connor represents the future and I thoroughly enjoy watching a young man play with such technical bravery and confidence. The young brigade is a huge positive for Australian football.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.