Preparing for a new season at a new club as a new coach is tough enough.
Throw in an ongoing global pandemic, and everything becomes just that little bit harder.
From signing players to getting match minutes in the leg, Western United coach John Aloisi said preparing for his first season in charge of the green and black was proceeding as planned despite the inherent difficulties.
“In general, the players have adapted really well,” he told Kick360.
“The only downer has been that we can’t play friendly games and we’ve not had the FFA Cup play-off.
“Hopefully we can get that game played before the season starts.”
The former Socceroo said there was a wariness between A-League clubs who wanted to avoid having too many practice matches against one another, with his club already having played one pre-season friendly against cross-town rivals Melbourne City.
“The hit-out against City was good. The majority of players played 45 minutes each and for us it was good to get an early test against the benchmark of the competition,” Aloisi explained.
“We don’t want to be playing each other too often, though. There’s a danger that if you do, when you get to the season and face them it almost doesn’t feel like a real game. We know we will meet the other [Victorian] sides in the first six rounds three times – we play Victory twice and City once.
“But at the end of the day you do need those match minutes and you need to find that rhythm.”
Restrictions have eased in Melbourne so that Victorian teams competing in the FFA Cup – including NPL sides – are able to return to training to prepare for those fixtures, which may open up new friendly options for A-League clubs.
“We need to ask those questions and see what can happen as we open up,” Aloisi said.
“It’s always good to just play different oppositions and get the boys motivated. They know each other back to front from training together, so we need those games and we’ll be sure that we go into the new season having played enough games.”
Aloisi said the push-back to the start of the A-League season, which will now kick-off on next month, had its positives and negatives, but he was focusing on using the additional time to focus on the former.
“As a player or coach, you just want things to hurry up and get into it,” he said.
“But we’ll take the positives. It gives me more time to implement what I want and for the players to come in and play the system we are looking to achieve.
“The other positive is that hopefully when we start, we’ll be playing in front of crowds.”
In preparation for the new season, Aloisi has brought in an interesting blend of talent as the Western United squad faces something of a refresh following its first two seasons in the competition under Mark Rudan.
The former Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Heart coach has opted for greater experience at the back, with goalkeeper Jamie Young, defenders Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Leo Lacroix, Ben Garuccio, midfielders Neil Kilkenny and import Rene Krhin and striker Alexander Prijovic arriving with an average age of 32.
Further afield, it’s a slightly different story, with teenager Noah Botic arriving from Hoffenheim, 23-year-old Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Rhys Bozinovski – who has been promoted from the club’s youth team – bringing a slightly reduced age profile to complement the existing attacking talents of Alessandro Diamanti, Lachlan Wales, Dylan Pierias and Ayom Majok.
“As with any transfer window, you have to balance your needs with what’s available,” he said.
“At the back and in the middle, the experience is important, but it’s also about how they are moving, the minutes they’ve played over the last three or four seasons and can they handle the intensity of A-League football.
“We’ve tried to balance that with a younger approach up front. In that top half we’re looking for pace, because we know that for our opponents matching or controlling that pace that we have will be hard.”
Whilst United’s off-season has been as much focused on what has occurred off the pitch, with the club recently confirming that it will play seven games at AAMI Park, which had originally been scheduled for Lakeside Stadium, Aloisi states that the most important off-field news was that progress was being made on United’s new home stadium.
“As a club and as a team, we are for the west in Melbourne, so to see that progress on building the training grounds and stadium is massive for our club, but also for football in general.
“It will be the only purpose-built stadium in the area, and it will be the only facility of its kind in the A-League.
“I think it’s exciting for the area and really exciting news for the A-League and football in general, so I’m looking forward to seeing that continue to progress.”
Image Supplied: Western United