As the dust settles on another Isuzu UTE A-League transfer window and the final deals trickle in, KEEPUP’s David Davutovic and Tom Smithies dissect the biggest talking points on the latest episode of the Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast.
A record-breaking Isuzu UTE A-League transfer window has come to an end.
Over the last few months, Australia’s pipeline of talent to Europe has been on full show as Marco Tilio (Celtic), Jordy Bos (KVC Westerlo), Tom Glover and Sam Silvera (both Middlesbrough), Aiden O’Neill (Standard Liege), Keegan Jelacic (Gent), Kusini Yengi (Portsmouth), Calem Nieuwenhof (Hearts) and Nectar Triantis (Sunderland) all earned exciting moves abroad.
Meanwhile, Socceroos stars Craig Goodwin (Al-Wehda) and Jason Cummings (Mohun Bagan) cashed in on impressive individual campaigns with lucrative moves to Saudi Arabia and India respectively.
As always, that will open the door to another exciting crop of young A-Leagues talent to have the chance to blossom.
FULL PODCAST: KEEPUP’s David Davutovic and Tom Smithies dissect the Isuzu UTE A-League transfer window, including winners, losers and more.
Back home, some A-Leagues clubs have been shrewder than others in replacing their outgoing talent and building their squads for another tilt at the Championship. Central Coast Mariners will be the hunted this term, but will launch a title defence without several key players and coach Nick Montgomery, who has been snapped up by Hibernian and taken key staff members with him.
The Mariners’ business has been headlined by the return of Alou Kuol from Stuttgart and the arrival of winger Angel Torres, who once won the UEFA Youth League on the books of FC Porto.
Elsewhere, Brisbane Roar have recruited Florin Berenguer, Macarthur FC’s headline arrival is highly credentialled Frenchman Valere Germain, Melbourne Victory snapped up Daniel Arzani and Moroccan Zinedine Machach, Alen Stajcic’s Perth Glory nabbed Olivers Sail and Bozanic, Newcastle Jets have brought in French midfielder Jason Berthomier, while Western Sydney Wanderers brought home Dylan Scicluna and Lachlan Brook, while also landing Swedish frontman Marcus Antonsson, who’s already off to a fast start.
Sydney FC largely left it late, but the signing of Brazilian striker Fabio Gomes could be one that makes or breaks their campaign, after the departure of long-time Sky Blues goal machine Adam Le Fondre.
John Aloisi quietly steeled Western United to avenge a very disappointing title defence by picking up the likes of Angus Thurgate, Riku Danzaki and, most excitingly, Daniel Penha, who could be a sensational signing if he can recapture his previous A-Leagues form after a disappointing stint in Korea.
As for Melbourne City, the three-time reigning premiers have undergone a major rebuild, but once again appear to have landed a number of quality foreigners, led by the likes of Tolgay Arslan, Hamza Sakhi and Marin Jakolis, who all have experience in Europe’s top five leagues.
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“This is one of the most fascinating parts of this offseason, you look at the changing of the guard particularly at Melbourne City,” KEEPUP’s Tom Smithies said on the Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast.
“It was always going to happen, it wasn’t just a reaction to getting smashed in the Grand Final, but to lose so many of their foreign players, to lose so much experience with the retirement of Scott Jamieson, the excellent transfer of Jordy Bos to Belgium, so many key players gone for City.
“Rado Vidosic is going to have a big job on his hands assimilating all of this new talent that they’ve got.
“To be fair, their track record of signing foreigners is excellent. They’re the only club with a full time scout based here in Australia plus obviously the resources of the City group.
He added: “I’m hearing Tolgay Aslan has particularly impressed people already in terms of his creativity and there’s also some really interesting signings at City like Terry Antonis.
“If you can get Terry Antonis fit, terrific signing, terrific guy, terrific footballer, he plays a six or an eight and can bring a lot to the club.
“Sydney FC have gone the opposite way really, apart from (Fabio) Gomes, they’ve not really made any big signings. So, the big narrative of this offseason is going to be who’s done it best – who’s turned it over or decided to stick like Sydney have.
“Look at Wanderers, they’ve got the same issue. They had so many brilliant foreigners and all of them for one reason or another decided to move on.
“(Morgan) Schneiderlin, (Amor) Layouni, the French duo they had, they were terrific players and contributed to Wanderers playing such good football and they’ve just done this huge turnover yet again. I’m just going to love watching how quickly the clubs can assimilate all these players because it doesn’t just happen overnight.
“Sydney are going to say their advantage is they’re bringing youth players through, that they haven’t gone for wholesale re-signings and they’ve still got Joe Lolley, Robert Mak, Luke Brattan.
“They haven’t really replaced Alex Wilkinson and James Donachie at the back, they’re looking to bring in youth players, I know they were hunting around for a defender these last few days.
“These things take time. The signing of Gomes was in the works for two or three weeks. It took until Deadline Day itself for that to be ratified.”
Who is going to be the biggest signing?
You could make a case for several of the unknown quantities who have arrived and quietly began preparing themselves to make their arrivals known in the Isuzu UTE A-League.
In terms of pedigree, it’s difficult to look past Macarthur’s Germain.
At 33, he arrives Down Under from Montpellier, having previously been part of one of the most stacked teams in recent memory. He made more appearances for a Monaco side who won Ligue 1 and reached the last four of the Champions League in 2016-17 than anyone else, including Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar, Joao Moutinho, Radamel Falcao and a certain Kylian Mbappe.
Other European arrivals like Victory’s Machach and City’s Arslan also land with a level of experience that suggests they could be big players on Aussie shores.
“I think the beauty of it is if you look at the visa signings every season and you wonder who is going to be a hit,” Smithies explained.
“You know when Bobo first came here, Sydney fans were underwhelmed and he ended up being their record goal scorer.
“The Gomes signing, Sydney are really confident they’ve got another gold star striker on their hands who, for whatever reason, his output’s not been great so far, but he’s been picked up by some decent clubs.
“The fans are a little worried from what I’m hearing about that output.
“But you look at some players like Valere Germain coming into Macarthur, he’s played at a very high level in France.
“Zinedine Machach at Melbourne Victory… again, comes with a decent pedigree having played at Napoli, Marseille, done well at those clubs. How he’ll fit here… it’s random things like the hardness of the pitches, the tempo of the play, the style of play.
“Western United have signed Daniel Penha, he’s a fantastic player, but he’s had a significant injury – out of sight, out of mind for Australian players since he went to Korea for a year. If he’s the same player that he was, that is a fantastic signing.
“He plays with such vision. He needs good strikers around him, but he will supply that service. I can’t wait to see him back in the team.”
At his best, a mercurial talent deemed good enough to sign for English juggernaut Manchester City and subsequently loaned to Scottish giants Celtic. However, he has been largely unable to recapture that form since bursting onto the scene in 2018, becoming something of a nomad in Europe before returning home and only showing glimpses at Macarthur last term.
Could a link-up with Tony Popovic in the city where he made his breakthrough be the recipe to rediscovering the Arzani that Australian football fans are so desperate to see?
“What I’m really excited about is these Australian players, the younger players coming through and even some of these early to mid-20s players with a point to prove or they’ve had injury issues,” KEEPUP’s David Davutovic said on the Official Isuzu UTE A-League Podcast.
“Daniel Arzani for mine, the mail from Victory is that he’s having a very very good season, he’s fit, he’s sharp. If they can get him up and about, the Arzani that we saw in 2018… he was really putting some of those World Cup defences on the back foot.
“If they can get 80 or 90 per cent of that player, we’ve got a star on our hands and a player that is capable of breaking back into the Socceroos.
“Angus Thurgate, I think he’s a sensational signing for Western United. I think he’s really ready to take his game to another level. I have no doubt he has the potential to play for the Socceroos one day also.
“… Look at what Graham Arnold has done with his team… it is clear that if you do well in the A-Leagues you are likely to get opportunities on the international stage.
“Alou Kuol is another one… someone like Lachlan Brook for the Wanderers, a fantastic signing, scored a bag of goals recently in the Australia Cup, I think he’s one we’ve only seen glimpses of.
“We spoke about Melbourne City’s injury woes, Alessandro Lopane who’s come over from Western Sydney has played all of their pre-season games, looks like he’s right in the mix.
“I think there could be the emergence of a new batch of talented young Australian players that really make a mark on the A-League this season.”
Smithies added: “A couple of interesting repatriations as well. Wanderers bringing Dylan Scicluna back from Wolves. He looks like he has terrific pedigree, played for Wolves U18s aged just 13.
“Also Jing Reec at the Mariners, he came through their academy, went to Denmark, has come back on a year loan.
“This is a really fascinating story, the Mariners. The feelgood story of Australian football last season, were wonderful to watch as they stormed to the Championship. One by one, so many of their key players and ultimately their coach, have been lured away by clubs overseas.
“Angel Torres has come in, the Colombian who has followed a similar trajectory to Marco Tulio… most of what the Mariners have done is to promote the youth team players, which is what they have done every year.
“I’m hearing they’re all over the country looking at 13 and 14-year-olds, getting this reputation as the club to go to if you’re a young teenager with talent.
“You go to the Mariners because you know you’ll get a go, a good culture, good environment, but really the appointment of a new coach is absolutely crucial.
“They have to have somebody who understands the culture.”
What does Monty’s move mean for the A-Leagues?
In the past 12 months, we have seen not one, but two A-Leagues coaches go directly from our shores and into a significant European job.
Patrick Kisnorbo became the first Australian to coach in Europe’s top five leagues when he went from Melbourne City to French outfit Troyes, but sceptics could argue he was aided by his City Football Group connections, as much as they admired his work dominating the Isuzu UTE A-League.
However, it’s harder to debate that Nick Montgomery earned his shot at Scottish outfit Hibernian through anything other than his exceptional work at Central Coast Mariners, whose culture he completely transformed en route to claiming last season’s Championship.
Yes, Montgomery has UK roots, but his coaching career took place entirely in Australia.
“Only a few years ago, the thought of a coach going directly from the Isuzu UTE A-League to the Scottish Premiership was almost ridiculous,” Davutovic said.
“The fact that Nick Montgomery has gone straight from here to over there – yes he was born and bred in the UK and cut his teeth over there – but he has been here for 10 years, he is very much viewed as an Australian, off the back of what he did with the Mariners over the last couple of seasons.
“That is a massive feather in the cap of the A-Leagues and particularly the Mariners. You get the sense that the Ange Postecoglou effect has played a part, but again, credit to the Mariners because that’s a huge move for Montgomery and Australian football.”
“… The spinoffs are huge for Australian football. These coaches will naturally look at Australian players to sign also and they’re advocates for the Australian game. We’re part of a global ecosystem.
“I’m all for it. You’d think there will be an opportunity for another emerging Australian coach to jump into the hotseat at the Central Coast Mariners.”
Smithies added: “Ange (Postecoglou) clearly has made people look twice, but others coming up in his slipstream and determined to prove that this is a really good breeding ground for coaches.
“What’s going to happen if this continues is we’re going to accept that we should develop really good young coaches and they should go overseas, to these top leagues and we should look at the A-League as a production line as much for coaches as for players.”
It remains to be seen who will take over from Montgomery at the Mariner; it will likely become a key talking point in the lead-in to the season as the club seek the best candidate to continue the club icon’s work.
Who won (and who lost) the transfer window?
Incredibly, despite all the excellent players they’ve lost this window, you can actually make a case for Melbourne City, who once again appear to have the secret sauce for recruiting top-notch foreigners.
“I’m going to say Melbourne City just because their track record in recruiting has been so strong in recent years,” Smithies argued.
“What they do with it is entirely different but in terms of the window I’m going to say Melbourne City. But as I said but the most fascinating thing about this is seeing our whether sticking with what you’ve got or a wholesale rebuild that City and the Wanderers have done is the way to go.
“The only club I’m a little nervous about is Adelaide, because just a handful of scholarship players added and they have lost Craig Goodwin, amongst others. For me, City.”
Davutovic headed in a slightly different, albeit still Victorian, direction: “For me, it’s Melbourne Victory.
“They’re coming from a long way back so they needed to make some good signings, I think they’ve rejuvenated the squad.
“They’ve got a solid defence, someone like (Damien) Da Silva is almost like a new signing for them, coming in mid-season. How far they can climb up the table remains to be seen, but I think they’ve done very well.”
That being said, Western United could easily be in that conversation with a trio of Penha, Thurgate and Danzaki leading the way, while the fact that Wanderers could line up with a serious front three of Brook-Antonsson-Borrello this term is definitely not being discussed enough.
On paper, there is no obvious answer, illustrated perfectly by the fact that Smithies and Davutovic unanimously agree that predicting this season’s top six right now is an ‘unanswerable question’.
Although, there is one popular answer to the question of who lost the window?
“Sadly (it’s Adelaide),” Smithies said.
“They do have a terrific crop of youngsters coming through, they have every right to put their faith in those youngsters – it’s just going to make fans a bit nervous in the meantime.”
Davutovic agreed: “The loss of Craig Goodwin makes it really challenging for them going into this season. The disclaimer is the youth. They’ve got a fantastic production line.”
While the window is officially closed, there could yet be a few more dominoes to fall with clubs still able to sign up free agents ahead of season kick off.
Ryan Teague was a late, valuable pick-up for Victory, while Davutovic’s mail is that City will get a deal done for Brazilian winger Leo Natel, while Socceroos striker Nikita Rukavytsya has interest from a number of clubs and could make his return from Israel.
Watch this space.