Hassett's Fearless A-League Predictions

by Sebastian Hassett on Oct 07, 2011

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So at long last - rarely does such an overused phrase feel so apt - the A-League is back. We've waited long enough [almost seven months to be exact] and now we're ready for some football that doesn't require staying alive until the early hours.

Each year since the formation of the A-League, I've listed my predictions and can honestly say it's one of the toughest asks. Getting it right is much tougher than it seems. Since successfully selecting Sydney as champions in season one - which was reasonably predictable - I've come close many times but haven't nailed the champion, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt.

But in a sense, that's what makes the A-League so interesting. Football is evolving so rapidly that we are sometimes blindsided to great things, like Brisbane Roar taking Australian club football into the 21st century last season. In season seven, so many questions hang over every club - there's a strong case for success in almost every corner of the country.

Without further ado, here's my predictions for how the season will unfold. I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below or to my twitter account. If you're brave enough, put down your own predictions.

Johnny Warren Medal: Brett Emerton [Sydney] - Fresh from the Premier League, all Emerton has to do is maintain his exceptional standards to stand out.

Golden Boot: Shane Smeltz [Perth] - A scoring freak who will be focus of everything at Perth. A change of scenery won't bother him at all.

Young Player: Luke Brattan [Brisbane] - As smooth as they come, expect him to force his way into Brisbane's starting XI this year. A bona fide talent.

Goalkeeper of the Year: Eugene Galekovic [Adelaide] - The Reds must be counting their blessings he's not playing in a top European league.

Hassett's final table:

1 - Melbourne Victory
Most pundits accurately predicted that Victory would fall last season but even with a new and untried coach, and the loss of Kevin Muscat, the optimism has returned to AAMI Park - largely due to the arrival of Harry Kewell. Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp will also be at full fitness but it's fellow new signings Marco Rojas, Isaka Cernak and Jean Carlos Solorzano who give coach Mehmet Durakovic extraordinary forward depth.

The Question: Carlos Hernandez was the best player in the league two years ago but with his weight now badly holding him back, the Costa Rican is threatening to fall off the radar. Can he force his way back into a team that may no longer need him?

2 - Brisbane Roar
There's no way known that Brisbane Roar will be able to manhandle an entire league in the way they did last season, especially seeing as they've lost Luke DeVere, Matt McKay, Jean Carlos Solorzano, Milan Susak and Kosta Barbarouses, a monumental loss for coach Ange Postecoglou. Yet their structure, philosophy and self-belief will permeate throughout the remainder of the squad and they should finish top-two. Back-to-back championships looms as a very achievable goal.

The Question: Thomas Broich was unlucky to be pipped for the Johnny Warren Medal last season and is the tip of many to take it out this season. But can he maintain his brilliant standards without the support of McKay and Barbarouses?

3 - Central Coast Mariners
Graham Arnold loved to remind me last year that he kept a newspaper cut-out saying the Mariners would be cannon fodder in 2010-11 - he won't get that pleasure this year. Word inside the Mariners camp is that the team is better tuned than ever. What they lack in big names is compensated for many times over by a team spirit that, while strong pre-Arnold, is now unrivalled. He has them perfectly poised and they'll be tough beat both home and away.

The Question: No major improvement to their squad apart from second-tier signings. Is that enough to see them stay as competitive as they were last season?

4 - Adelaide United
The 'Rini Revolution' has swept through South Australia, and how it ends up is anyone's guess. Postecoglou executed a similar rout in Brisbane two years ago with extraordinary success and Coolen clearly wants to stamp his own print at Hindmarsh. But is it too much change, too soon? And losing Marcos Flores can't be underestimated. On the plus side, expect Socceroo pair Dario Vidosic and Jon McKain to make their mark, while Bruce Djite makes a welcome return.

The Question: Adelaide seemed to grow an extra leg of self-belief when Travis Dodd was fit and firing. An inspiration to the dressing room, his departure brought disbelief to his teammates. How badly will Mr Adelaide himself be missed?

5 - Sydney FC
They missed out on Harry's homecoming but turned Emmo into the prodigal son instead. An inspired signing if ever there was one, and he could ignite the Sky Blues back into life. It can't be all up to him however and the rest of the team needs a sharp lift to make the top six. To be in contention for the title, everything must go right. A class act when fit, Nicky Carle has to play most matches, and their misfiring strike-force must find form.

The Question: It still hangs over Vitezslav Lavicka. He brought discipline and structure to Sydney at the right time two years ago, but then seemed caught out by the league's swift tactical evolution last season. Has he evolved his style to keep pace?

6 - Perth Glory
Shane Smeltz might score plenty of goals at one end and Danny Vukovic could stop everything at the other - but has the confidence factor been restored to key players like Jacob Burns, Mile Sterjovksi and the returning Chris Coyne? They've got the names, now must come the action. Owner Tony Sage won't settle for anything less.

The Question: Almost odds-on to be the first man sacked, Ian Ferguson is walking an impossible tight-rope. If he can't get the Glory into contention for the top four from the outset, the axe will linger over his head. He's in the tightest of corners.

7 - Newcastle Jets
Before Jason Culina did his knee, the Jets seemed a potential contender. That put them out of the running and then the sacking of his father Branko might have put them out of finals contention. There's enough talent - and money - to ensure the Novocastrians are competitive, and finals must remain the goal. Backed by the return of big crowds, expect them to have one of the league's better home records. Sans Culina, Ryan Griffiths will have to step up and become the hero of the terraces.

The Question: Ljubo Milicevic's impact at Newcastle may be questioned by some but not by anyone who saw him inject real confidence into Nikolai Topor-Stanley in the heart of defence. Can the latter survive without the former?

8 - Melbourne Heart
All headlines in the southern capital have been about Harry Kewell but Melbourne Heart are extremely confident that in securing former Victory star Fred, they have found the missing piece of the puzzle. Perhaps that is true, but with the departures of John Aloisi, Josip Skoko, Michael Beauchamp, Dean Heffernan and Gerald Sibon, they suddenly seem short on experience. And does John van't Schip still have the dressing room?

The Question: Why on earth was Simon Colosimo given the boot as captain? Why was the role given to Fred - who hasn't even played a game for the club - ahead of natural leaders like Clint Bolton and Matt Thompson? Answers seem in thin supply.

9 - Wellington Phoenix
After proving themselves as one of the league's toughest nuts to crack - especially at home - in recent years, one feels the Phoenix off-season revolution has prevented them from making the necessary additions to keep pace with the top six. Ricki Herbert is always capable of a surprise, however, even if this looms as a difficult year ahead.

The Question: The dancing boots of Paul Ifill nearly took Wellington all the way to the title two years ago but one wonders how much he has left to give after having so much of his career damaged by injury. Is there one last big campaign left?

10 - Gold Coast
Instability can cripple a club - especially one without a real foundation. Maybe United will prove but right now, it's hard to back Gold Coast in the post-Culina/Smeltz era. Clive Palmer seems unlikely to have a change of heart, but Miron Blieiberg has little to work with. He's lost the heart and soul of his team, and anything better than a bottom four finish would be a minor miracle, even if he has managed to find some decent signings.

The Question: Owners put their own money into clubs, and that's always commendable. But the cat-and-mouse game that Clive Palmer plays with the FFA, and the Gold Coast public needs to come to an end. Will he commit to the club once and for all or protract the agony?