Victory is hitting the recruitment trail, the Wanderers women are writing a new chapter, kids are noticing Adelaide's youth revolution, the Mariners believe in the Coast and Brebner isn't looking back. The ESPN Australia and New Zealand Football Wrap is here again to let you know what's going on in the beautiful game down under.
Seize the Day
First reported in the Age, sources have confirmed to ESPN that Melbourne Victory's pursuit of former Premier League attacker Rudy Gestede is at an advanced stage, with one source declaring that it could be "taken to the bank" that the 32-year-old would be at AAMI Park this coming season. His arrival will serve as a rare offseason example of a player opting for a move to A-League over India; Gestede having previously been linked with Indian Super League side SC East Bengal.
Victory has already made seven signings as they look to rebound from a worst-ever 10th-placed A-League finish in 2019-20, with head coach Grant Brebner still having one further international slot remaining to fill in the wake of Gestede's likely arrival after orchestrating an almost total international clear-out: Kiwi attacker Marco Rojas remains on the books from last season, while the club has also added Englishmen Callum McManaman and Jacob Butterfield.
And according to ESPN sources the experienced Brit campaigner trend seems set to continue, as Victory has been investigating English defender Ryan Shotton as a candidate to fill that final international slot.
A product of the Stoke City academy, Shotton made 70 appearances for The Potters --- including 48 in the Premier League and eight in the Europa League -- before going on to pull on the boots for Derby County, Birmingham and Middlesbrough. Leaving the Riverside Stadium as a free agent at the end of the 2019-20 campaign, the 32-year-old most recently served as an emergency fill-in for non-league side Leek Town in an FA Trophy tie after a wave of injuries hit the club -- the defender owns a pub in the nearby parish of Cheddleton.
In a recent interview with the Sun, Shotton said he was open to new opportunities.
"We are about to move into a new house which will be our forever home next week in Cheddleton, but I have no qualms about taking a young family to new destinations again," Shotton said. "We'll be at this house for the rest of our lives, so what difference will another three, four or however many years away make?"
Man of the Year
Another well-travelled British figure making his home at AAMI Park is Victory assistant coach Steve Kean, who arrives with a resume filled with stints at Fulham, Reading, Real Sociedad, Singaporean side DPMM FC and the Brunei national team. He's most well known, though, for a stint at the helm of then-Premier League side Blackburn Rovers; whom he was named coach of in late 2010 after new its new owners, Indian conglomerate Venky's, sacked Sam Allardyce in contentious circumstances and promoted Kean from his position as first-team coach.
While he kept Blackburn in the top-flight in his first season at the helm, his resulting tenure was marked by controversy and significant fan unrest and, following the club's relegation to the Championship, he departed midway through the 2012-13 season. He remains a figure that attracts ... uncharitable reactions in Lancashire.
Victory coach Brebner, nonetheless, isn't letting that episode affect his thoughts on what Kean can bring to his side.
"I have no interest in anything that's happened in people's past," he said. "I'm sure everyone has a past. What I do know is that Steve Kean is a really good coach, and Steve Kean will drive me to get better. What's happened in the past, I'm sure there are a million things that have happened with people that we can trudge through and go through. It doesn't concern me at all."
Brebner said that he had been the one to reach out to Kean about coming to Australia and that he was pleased with the impact his new assistant was already having on the group.
"Every decision, thankfully, has been my decision around players and staff," he explained. "When I was at Reading in 1999-00, Steve was the assistant manager there to the late Tommy Burns and Packie Bonner. I worked with him, I saw how he coached then and clearly after that, he went on to Academy Director at Fulham, a Premier League manager at Blackburn and an assistant to Chris Coleman. I was fully aware of his coaching credentials prior to him coming here.
"He had been doing coach education with the Scottish SFA and through my connections there I got in touch with him and we started our conversation.
"[He's] been great. He's gotten around the lads -- we threw them straight into a session straight away so he's getting exposed to them. They know what he's like, he knows what they're like. It's been great, he's been fantastic."
Kean will get his first chance to aid his new team in a competitive context during Victory's coming ACL campaign, scheduled to recommence next Tuesday against Beijing Guoan. Sydney FC's ACL campaign restarts on Thursday against Shanghai SIPG, while Perth Glory's efforts began with a 2-1 loss against Shanghai Shenhua on Wednesday.
A number of questions may exist over the W-League's future, but Western Sydney Wanderers coach Dean Heffernan is looking forward to seeing the league begin to write its own story in 2020-21. The Red and Blacks, as did a number of Dub sides, returned to the training track for the first time on Monday, sweltering through a session under the watchful eye of Heffernan and his staff of Michael Beauchamp, Ante Covic and Catherine Cannuli.
"It's been so positive, everyone was so excited to get started -- players and coaches alike," Heffernan told ESPN. "Anything that's outside of our control about the structure of the season or anything, it's something that we don't want to devote any energy to and it's not something that's spoken about it. It's all about getting in there, getting some touches on the ball, getting to know teammates and new surroundings."
It's a bit of a new group for Heffernan to adjust to this year. Foreign stars Lynn Williams and Denise O'Sullivan departed prior to the end of the 2019-20 campaign, while Ella Mastrantonio moved to Bristol City, Alex Huynh to Napoli and Jada Whyman and Cortnee Vine departed for Sydney FC in the offseason. Conversely, Teigan Collister, Sarah Willacy have arrived at Wanderland, and familiar faces Georgia Yeoman-Dale and Leena Khamis have returned.
The Wanderers' boss also confirmed to ESPN that reigning Julie Dolan medalist Kristen Hamilton was unlikely to return and that young prodigy Kyra Cooney-Cross had returned to Melbourne Victory at the conclusion of her loan deal.
"We're really happy with the core group of players we've got from the season before, it just so happens that the majority of the girls that were first to sign this year were first to sign last year," he said. "Then, of course, we have the girls that have come back from previous years that know what it's like to be in Red and Black.
"We're happy with where we're at; we've got one or two positions available that we'll look at but we're not going to rush into anything and it's all about getting ourselves ready now and getting ready for the season ahead.
"I think it's a hugely exciting year. I can't wait to see what it can deliver. There are so many players who are going to get opportunities who maybe in the past wouldn't have got them. And all that is going to do is create depth, depth for national teams and for other clubs by exposing them to professional football. I'm excited to see what some of these players can do, it's a big opportunity for the girls to write their own story."
Elsewhere in the W-League, Canberra bolstered their efforts to end a three-season finals drought with the signing of 61-time Matilda Michelle Heyman, with the 32-year-old coming out of retirement and setting her sights on the all-time W-League goals record in her second stint in the nation's capital.
Sources have also told ESPN that Melbourne Victory are set to sign former Argentine international Gaby Garton, who first came to Australia to play for Victorian state league side Essendon Royals, for the 2020-21 season.
Dead Poets Society
Consistently one of Australia's most highly rated prospects during his rise through the junior ranks, James Delianov was announced on a two-year deal with Adelaide United, seeking an A-League opportunity so fleeting for young keepers that reports in 2019 suggested that the FFA had requested clubs not sign foreign goalkeepers.
The Reds now appear set to have Delianov battle 20-year-old Joe Gauci and 21-year-old Dakota Ochsenham for the No. 1 shirt in 2020-21. The club is quickly developing a reputation as a haven for young Australian talent and, according to the 21-year-old Delianov, that was key in his decision making.
"I chose Adelaide because I wanted to challenge myself and there was opportunity," he told ESPN. "I'm excited to get things going. I want to try and play as many minutes as possible and really build my career.
"I think [the Reds' growing reputation] will attract a lot of young players across Australia."
The move to Adelaide also reunited Delianov with Eugene Galekovic, the two teammates at Melbourne City and the former now serving as the Reds' goalkeeper coach.
"It's been great," said Delianov. "Obviously, the last time I worked with [Galekovic] we were teammates, but now there's that different level of respect where he's my coach and I'm super excited to be working with him. He's got so much knowledge of the game and I'm really looking forward to learning from him and seeing how the season unfolds.
"I think over the years [since Delianov entered senior football setup] you gain a level of maturity. Being around a professional environment has given the chance to learn off some really good goalkeepers like Eugene and Mark Birighitti. I think I'm a lot more mature and I guess a lot calmer as well. I've got a better understanding of the ins and outs. That's one key thing I've developed over the last year or two."
Viduka & the Golden Generation's World Cup return
Former Socceroos captain Mark Viduka opens up about leading the Australian football family back to the World Cup after a playoff victory over Uruguay.
What Dreams May Come
This past week marked the 15th anniversary of Australian football's most famous moment: the Socceroos downing Uruguay in a penalty shootout at Stadium Australia to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and end 32 years in the wilderness. It was a glorious flash of unification; code wars and past disagreements forgot as Australia -- not just Australian football -- rose as one around the Socceroos.
John Aloisi's penalty, and the Roos' subsequent appearance at the 2006 World Cup, penetrated the mainstream Australian sporting discourse in a manner hitherto unheard of. A new generation of football fans was born in the wave of excitement, ones whose entire experiences of the game weren't tempered by decades away from major tournaments, players paying their own airfares to represent their nation, the collapse of Soccer Australia, or the rise and fall of the NSL.
In a weird way, a number of the split personalities that exist in the Australian footballing zeitgeist could thus be said to have their genesis in that famous evening.
This new generation of fans, as all as those returning from exile or swayed by the newfound success, had both a World Cup awaiting them when the dust settled on that November evening, but also a shiny new A-League to connect with. Featuring a one city/one team approach, new or relatively young teams and a wall placed wall between itself and what had come before it, the new competition aimed to be everything the NSL wasn't. It sought to penetrate the mainstream and emerge as an attractive, marketable product that could work its way into the hearts of a new generation.
Football, but not as you know it. Old soccer and new football.
And 15 years on, the A-League at its peak -- when Ange Postecoglou's Roar-celona was resplendent, Alessandro Del Piero came to Sydney and Melbourne Victory set crowd records -- still represents a high-water mark of Australian domestic football as a total package. But the inherent friction that exists between a product's marketability and the boring, but vital, foundations that underpin it are beginning to show signs of fraying; interest waning, fans increasingly disillusioned, travails in youth development being exposed and existential questions that cut to the very core of the game such as the league's identity and even when the game should be played still being debated.
Debate rages on how to best fix what ails the game and, and in the middle of this, you can find two of the personalities that split when the ball sailed past Fabian Carini and into the back of the net 15 years ago. On the one side stand those caught up in the revolution and on the other, those that felt they were left -- willingly or unwillingly -- behind. Both love the game and want what's best for it -- but their devotion, and subsequent prescriptions, carry very different grounding.
Central Coast Mariners' players, staff, and fans alike have been in somewhat of a state of uncertainty regarding the future of their club since owner Mike Charlesworth officially placed the 2013 A-League champions up for sale at the conclusion of their A-League campaign in August.
Reports have strongly linked Sydney-based businessman Abdul Helou to a purchase of both the club and commercial real estate in Tuggerah owned by Charlesworth, but there has been no official word on the status' on the former's bid for the club. Existing kit sponsor MATE and the club's supporter trust have also shown interest in taking on stakes in the club, while, for his part, London-based Charlesworth told SBS in early October that he was "preparing for next season as if this club is not going to be sold because that's what you have to do."
Speaking to ESPN, Mariners' CEO Shaun Mielekamp confirmed that discussions with a number of potential investors remained ongoing but that he was confident that, if the hard work was put in, the Mariners' would keep playing in the shade of Central Coast Stadium's palm trees.
"The club continues to talk to interested parties about the long-term future of the club, and we knew this was never going to be a quick process," he told ESPN. "Getting this right long term is the priority and for that to happen, thorough due diligence needs to be undertaken by all associated with the club.
"Mike [Charlesworth] has committed to keep the club on the Coast and to support the club during this period, and I know that the right ownership structure for the club will see it remain on the Coast forever. It's in our DNA as a club to not back down from a challenge and that hasn't changed for us, we've survived our toughest year imaginable and now we can focus forward.
"The season ahead of us is arguably our most important ever, and the impact we have on the pitch, in the stands and across the community will have a significant and positive impact on the long term direction of this club."