Meet Alan, OTP’s new correspondent Down Under. He’s going to provide intermittent insights from the land where beer does flow and men chunder, allowing you to dip your toes in footballing matters Antipodean. To kick things off, here are a few players to watch out for.
6. Erik Paartalu
In the grand tradition of Australian footballers being spawned from a heady mix of ethnicities comes Erik Paartalu, of Estonian descent. After 100-odd appearances in Scottish leagues, the midfielder returned to Australia in 2010 to play for Brisbane Roar. His sparkling performances were central to the Queensland outfit going through the entire home and away season undefeated. Strong in the air and very dangerous when storming into the box to joing the attack: if there is more where his Goal of the Season came from, this chap has a big future.
5. Matthew Leckie
Yet to appear for the senior Socceroos, Leckie notched up 13 appearances for junior Australian teams before he turned 20 earlier this year. Two solid seasons in the A-League with Adelaide United, including goals in their recent Asian Champions League campaign, earned him a prize transfer to Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Bundesliga. This bustling right-winger has both polish on the ball and a neat finish, as if a devastating turn of speed hasn’t already made him the kind of player who brings crowds to their feet. It certainly won’t be me who hexes his career by comparing him to Gareth Bale … oh pants, I just did.
4. Neil Kilkenny
Born in England and raised in Australia, Kilkenny actually played for England U-20s before definitively plumping for Australia during the reign of Gus Hiddink as national coach. His choice appears to have been vindicated with current gaffer Holger Osieck showing faith in the midfielder and awarding him several appearances during the 2011 Asian Cup Finals. The 25-year-old looks a fair chance to arrive in the Premier League next season with Leeds United, where fans should enjoy his energetic displays and crisp passing. Obviously he still needs to work on his Facebook and other vanity marketing as we haven’t been able to find a decent Kilkenny highlights reel on YouTube. So instead we’ve brought you ‘Wildcats of Kilkenny’ by The Pogues.
3. Kosta Barbarouses
If the World Cup were this year instead of last, then Barbarouses would walk into the NZ squad… and who’s to say his sparkle would not have set the world stage alight? Even 12 goals and six assists in the A-league season did not impress as much as the sheer confidence at taking on defences and cracking them open with pace, fine dribbling and surprisingly powerful shot for a small man. Just 21, Barbarouses will surely add to his single senior All Whites cap very soon.
2. Mitch Langerak
Although I suspect he is one of those chaps who will remain baby-faced until he’s eighty, Mitch Langerak is seeing it all happen pretty quickly. Still only 22, the goalkeeper recently made his debut for German table-toppers Borussia Dortmund in a ballsy away win against Bayern Munich. The move to the Bundesliga came after a fine 2009-10 season with Melbourne Victory, which culminated in Langerak taking out the Harry Kewell medal for the league’s best U-23 player. With 16 years on current Socceroos number one Mark Schwarzer, when Langerak makes the breakthrough he could be between the green and gold sticks for a very long time.
1. Matt McKay
McKay is another whose brilliance this season was instrumental in bringing Brisbane Roar their first A-League title. A Juninho-type midfielder who can also play at full-back, McKay’s movement and composure on the ball marked him as Australia’s best player during the run to the Asian Cup final in January. Although at 28 he’s in the Late Bloomer category, he genuinely looks ready for a move to a decent club in Europe. Whether he wants to give up the Brisbane captaincy is another matter, especially since the current national coach seems happy to pick players who are regulars in the admittedly modest A-league over those who are benchwarmers at clubs in leagues of better overall quality. But with the next A-League season starting a month later than the previous one, this year will have a very long off season…long enough for plenty of trials, speculation and agent manoeuvres, methinks.