A-League kicks off season with plenty of new faces
The A-League kicks off its 10th season this weekend with Spanish striker David Villa ready to start his 10-match stint for Melbourne City, a loan deal that makes him the new star attraction in the absence of Alessandro Del Piero.
The 32-year-old Villa, Spain’s leading international goal scorer, will play for Melbourne City against Sydney FC on Saturday among five weekend matches. Melbourne Victory opens the season Friday against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Villa is on loan from the MSL’s New York City. Both clubs are affiliates of English Premier League club Manchester City.
Here are some other things to know about the A-League’s opening weekend:
CIAO ALESSANDRO: The biggest name ever to grace the A-League is gone after two seasons with Sydney. Former Juventus star Del Piero has joined Indian Super League club Delhi Dynamos as an ambassador. The 39-year-old forward, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, confirmed the move in August. Also gone this season are two other marquee players: ex-England international Emile Heskey, who was released by the Newcastle Jets, and Japanese playmaker Shinji Ono, who left Western Sydney to return to Japan with Sapporo.
REPLACEMENTS: Other than Villa, Marc Janko and midfielder Robert Koren are the biggest of the new international drawcards. The 31-year-old Janko, who has played 40 internationals for Austria, will help try to replace Del Piero at Sydney. Melbourne City has signed 34-year-old Koren, who played 64 matches over a decade for Slovenia. Graham Arnold, Sydney’s ninth coach in nine years, will have a strong set of forwards with Janko, captain Alex Brosque, Shane Smeltz and Bernie Ibini. The defending champion Brisbane Roar, who have won the title three of the past four seasons, have lost their main attacking player, Besart Berisha, to Melbourne Victory. The Roar play the last match of the first round on Sunday, hosting Adelaide United.
ASIAN ADVENTURE: The Wanderers will play in the Asian Champions League final against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal, hosting the opener on Oct. 25 and traveling for the second leg at Riyadh on Nov. 1. They are bidding to become the first A-League team to win the continental club title — Adelaide United lost the 2008 final. The A-League will take a break in January when Australia hosts the Asian Cup.
CONTINUING ISSUES: League bosses are still considering team expansion, but some commentators say the A-League needs to extend its season to be more in line with the number of matches in the bigger European leagues, despite having fewer teams. The league has lost two clubs in recent seasons: North Queensland and Gold Coast.
STILL OPTIMISTIC: Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop predicts attendance could top 2 million for the first time this season, but that might be a tall order. Last season, 1.76 million attended A-League matches, an average of 13,041 per match. To get over the 2 million mark over a comparable number of matches, the average number of spectators per match would have to increase to about 14,800. Villa will certainly help — for 10 games at least — but the effect of Del Piero’s departure remains to be seen. League boss Damien De Bohun remains upbeat: “What’s really clear is that the A-League has really moved into the mainstream of Australian sport, and I’m not sure we could say that when it started 10 years ago.”