Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A-League Season Preview 2013-2014 - Melbourne Heart

Your Heart's a Mess

Melbourne Heart are a club big on ideas and low on substance. From Day 1, the ambitious project was to integrate with the community, develop an attractive footballing side and attract the kind of players that could execute that style. Unfortunately, like every A-League side at inception, they were forced to feed on dregs. Their first season was not exactly something one could call successful and although John Van't Schip was seemingly an apt tactician, it never really all fell into place despite some impressive young talents including the likes of Aziz Behich, Eli Babalj and Michael Marrone.

"See you at the SFS, lads! Sorry!"
Last season was definitely one to forget for Heart fans. A disappointing 9th place finish was the only reward for a team with an inexperienced coach and a host of injuries, chopping and changing finally culminating in a great big muddle. Poor recruiting meant that 8 of the 14 players brought in last season were quickly sold, turfed, lost or retired. Richard Garcia, Heart's best player last season (by a country mile I might add) ended up moving on to Sydney FC after a supposed spat over wage demands, which the player himself denied.

The Melbourne Heart circus of last season looks to be at an end with John Aloisi recruiting a very impressive roster this season. A wholesale clean out has lead to the signing of some truly interesting looking players with some good experience.

The Heart's philosophy however has been under scrutiny. Whilst Scott Munn and the management at AAMI Park have frequently stated that the club is one that encourages youth development, the signings of Michael Misfud, Orlando Engelaar and Harry Kewell, all over 30, does indeed throw that into question. In fact, out of the 10 players signed this season to the professional roster, only 3 could really be considered 'youth players.'

Heart do have a mixed message at the moment, but they have continued to interact with their community extremely well yet again in the off-season. The Heart management however will be hoping this puts more bottoms on seats when the season commences as previous years' attendance records look fairly bleak.

Unbreak my Heart

I'm quite enjoying these silly song titles as headings. Anway...

The red and white half of Melbourne have been very impressive in the off season with transfers. 12 players have left the club whilst 13 have joined (one on an injury replacement contract). With half the squad replaced, Aloisi has arguably vastly improved the quality on the pitch.

Goals against were a true killer last season with 40 goals shipped from the Heart's 27 games. Conceding 1.4 goals per game is not going to win you anything, so, the defence has been revamped. Aziz Behich returns at left-back with the very experience Dutch defender, Rob Wielaert joining to fill the centre-back position vacated by Simon Colosimo. The former FC Twente man is likely to be joined by former-Socceroo Paddie Kisnorbo whom also carries a wealth of experience. The only question will be over who will play at right-back. Young Jeremy Walker the first-choice last season after Marrone's departure but during the pre-season Jason Hoffman appears to have been reinvented to possibly fill that position. This will create a very new-looking defence. However, the more you look at the squad list, the more you wonder how well these players will gel just after pre-season.

Perhaps the biggest blow to these new signings however is the long-term injury to Orlando Engelaar. Brought in as a marquee, the former PSV Eindhoven captain fractured his right leg in the pre-season clash with Brisbane Roar. Whilst looking very innocuous at first, his clash with Thomas Broich left him off the worse and unfortunately for the Heart faithful, he is likely to miss the season.

Pre-season has been mixed. 5 wins against State League level opposition has been mixed with 3 defeats and a draw to A-League opposition. This is unlikely to be the start Aloisi had in mind. A loss to Brisbane first up will probably not have worried too many but consequent losses to Perth Glory (plus a draw) and to Adelaide United certainly don't paint a healthy picture for the future.

Ins and Outs

Will Michael Mal-tease the
Heart faithful?
As previously states, the Heart have made massive changes. Whether these changes will do the job is yet to be seen. Often there have been times when mass changes have been made that sides have won titles (see Brisbane 2011-12) but there have also been just as many failures. However, given the quality of these reinforcements, it is really hard to say that the quality isn't there to improve on last year.

Attacking options have been improved with the addition of Socceroo legend Harry Kewell as well as Maltese footballing god, Michael Misfud. If you factor in the return of Mate Dugandzic from injury, you have a fairly imposing looking attack.

In midfield, options have been bolstered with Massimo Murdocca, Andrea Migliorini and Iain Ramsay. Heart's midfield options are probably the worst of the three. After losing Orlando Engelaar to injury, a player Aloisi was building the team around, the options are looking fairly bare. Nick Kalmar and Patrick Gerhardt are the only other two experienced central-midfielders in the squad. The only problem is that there is not a whole lot of creativity. Murdocca is a great scurrier, good at winning the ball and helping with transitioning from defence to attack, but he is not going to create goals. Ramsay is likely to play wide either at left-back or left-wing and the other players are not known for their creation either. One wonders how they will create anything.

Defence looks to have been fairly successfully plugged. Kisnorbo, Wielaert, Walker, Behich, Gerhardt and Ramsay all add to the depth and quality of that position. Provided there are no major injuries they should perform well.

Transfers In

Jeremy Walker (DF) (Melbourne Heart Youth)
Sam Mitchinson (DF) (Melbourne Heart Youth)
Steven Mauk (MF) (Melbourne Heart Youth)
Iain Ramsay (MF) (Adelaide United)
Massimo Murdocca (MF) (Brisbane Roar)
Harry Kewell (FW) (Al-Gharafa)
Rob Wielaert (DF) (Roda JC Kerkrade)
Aziz Behich (DF) (Bursaspor - Loan)
Tando Velaphi (GK) (Melbourne Victory)
Orlando Engelaar (MF) (PSV Eindhoven)
Michael Misfud (FW) (FC Valletta)
Patrick Kisnorbo (DF) (Leeds United)
Andrea Migliorini (MF) (Koper - 3 month injury replacement)

Transfers Out

Vince Grella (MF) (Retired)
Clint Bolton (GK) (Retired)
Matt Thompson (MF) (Free Agent - Linked with Sydney FC)
Fred (MF) (Free Agent)
Jamie Coyne (DF) (Free Agent)
Steven Gray (DF) (Oakleigh Cannons)
Simon Colosimo (DF) (Dempo)
Cameron Edwards (MF) (Perth Glory)
Marcel Meeuwis (MF) (FC Eindhoven)
Josip Tadic (FW) (HNK Rijeka)
Eli Babalj (FW) (AZ Alkmaar)
Richard Garcia (MF) (Sydney FC)

Key Player and Hottest Prospect

Harry Kewell: 
Orlando Engelaar, before his injury would have been the heart (scoff) of the team. However, the next most likely has to be Harry Kewell. Kewell oozes class and whilst many A-League and Socceroos fans have derided him over the last few years, he still has the quality and guile to be a real force in the competition. After a slow start at Melbourne Victory, Kewell steeled himself into a potent attacking weapon even at a time when management was poor. It is however is meander after the Victory that worries people. Having played 4 games last season with Al-Gharafa many will be worried about his fitness, but they needn't. By all accounts the new skipper is ready to take on the A-League by storm and his desire to get to Brazil with the Socceroos will certainly give him the personal motivation he needs to change games. Watch out for Harry, he has something to prove.

Ben Garuccio:
You might want to argue with me on this one, but Ben Garuccio seems to be the brightest star in the current Melbourne Heart squad. Whilst you could suggest players like Jeremy Walker or Steven Mauk could be future stars, Garuccio has been recognised as a star in the making. Joining the Heart at age 17, Garuccio was one of the most sort after young wingers in Australia. With a strong left foot and some pace to boot, Garuccio should see more game time this year. With Kewell likely to need a rest, or being needed to play in other roles, Garuccio could well step on to be his replacement. In any case he will certainly learn from Kewell and this apprenticeship could be very important for his future development. Still only 18 the Adelaide native has a long way to go, but he certainly could make a surprising impact this season given the chance to do so.

Final Verdict

Heart have certainly recruited much better than last season but there are still large questions over certain positions. Midfield creativity is going to be lacking. There is no one in the middle of the park that can provide key passes. Kewell and Dugandzic on the wings are going to have to be the ones to bomb it in to Misfud or Mehbrahtu. Few balls through the centre means limited options, but there could yet be a tactical surprise or two. Defense is going to be one of Heart's strengths this season and they should concede far fewer goals provided Wielaert, Kisnorbo and Gerhadt gel.

I personally am still not convinced by John Aloisi as head coach either. He is still learning the ropes with limited backroom experience. Tony Popovic at West Sydney, Graham Arnold at the Mariners and even Aurelio Vidmar (when he was at Adelaide) all had more than a couple of seasons of assistant management or coaching experience, something Aloisi does not have. A small stint as youth coach at the club really doesn't count.

The future looks better than last year but still bleak. Don't get your hopes up too high Heart Fans.

Tentative prediction: 8th

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