The exhilaration and motivation we have gained during the World Cup leads us into the new A-League season and the next chapter in the story of Melbourne Victory Football Club.
This season will be the most extensive in the history of football in Australia. The eleven teams will play thirty rounds and a finals series. Melbourne Victory will also participate in the Asian Champion’s League, selected under-23 players will prepare for the Olympic campaign with Aurelio Vidmar and the Socceroos in our squad will play in the Asian Cup in January.
In order to prepare for this we have extended our squad to 26 professionals and a further 3 amateur players who will train with us on a full-time basis. Recruiting is about squad quality and depth and ensuring a balance of younger and experienced players. It is important that we specifically target the type of player that fits our brand of football and that we spend time developing the young talented players that we have. Marvin Angulo has re-signed and youth league players - Diogo Ferreira, Petar Franjic, Luke O’Dea, Nick Ansell and Football Superstar winner Luke Pilkington have all been promoted to full-time professionals. Matthew Foschini and Mate Dugandzic have an A-League season under their belt and are progressing well.
We have two new goalkeepers in Michael Petkovic and Sebastian Mattei. Michael has returned after playing over two hundred games in Turkey. His experience will be an enormous benefit to the squad and to his young understudy Sebastian.
Twelve of these players are 21 or under and the promotion of these young players to the senior squad is testament of the quality of our youth development program.
And so there has been a necessary shift in the balance of the team and the ratio of younger to more experienced players. This will help build Melbourne Victory for the future. But the fact that our average age is much lower will not alter our objective to play finals football nor will inexperience be an excuse for inconsistent performances. Melbourne Victory is about winning and that challenge and the level of expectation it brings with it, will never change.
The pre-season preparation is on track and there is a freshness to the playing group. After a 4 week prophylactic break we reduced the duration of our pre-season but increased the intensity of our training sessions. Eleven v eleven tactical intra-club matches are played on a regular basis and we have competed in four official friendly games losing once to Boca Juniors.
The major focus of our program has been on team strategy and high performance under mental stress and extreme fatigue. We are now able to accurately monitor workload volume and intensity by using GPS technology. This scientific hardware allows us to comprehensively plan, implement and monitor the training program and provide feedback to the players.
We have the luxury of further developing our strategy rather than starting from scratch, as there have been few changes in key positions. This is a major benefit of consistently building a squad over a five year period. The spine of our team boasts experience and high quality – Petkovic, Vargas, Muscat, Leijer, Broxham, Celeski, Brebner, Pondeljak, Thompson [when he is fit] and “A-League Player of the Year” Hernandez.
Three of these players are returning from horrific injuries from last season and all are on track for a full recovery. Archie Thompson is expected to return at the end of the year and Matthew Kemp is aiming for late October. Billy Celeski has successfully played a part in two matches after 11 months of rehabilitation. Robbie Kruse played his first game pain free in 4 months and Evan Berger and Nick Ward are also back to full fitness. Surat Sukha has not yet fully recovered from his hamstring injury but has taken part in several matches.
The logistics of running the program has been made so much simpler with our new stadium and training venue after being virtually nomadic for five years. At AAMI Park, our home, we have offices, a state-of-the art-gym and sports science and medical centre that are second to none. Melbourne Victory now has dedicated football facilities which will be the envy of not only A-League clubs but also many European clubs. The stadium design is world class but it is the fans who will bring it to life. I predict that we will have the most exciting atmosphere in the A-League with our massive fan base.
The Melbourne Victory squad is ready and the league commences in Sydney on Saturday with the replay of last season’s Grand Final. Our intention is to play with conviction and to fully commit to our attacking brand of football. For us to gain success we need to adopt the motto of the SAS – “Who Dares Wins”.