Kone: Why Western United will challenge in Hyundai A-League
Panagiotis Kone has heard doubters play down Western United FC’s prospects heading into their debut Hyundai A-League season. The marquee man doesn't share the same view.
With a totally new squad of players brought together from different places and just a few months to prepare, there are obvious question marks on how the competition newcomers will fare in their maiden campaign.
While acknowledging the challenges around forming a new club from scratch, Kone exudes confidence when it comes to discussing his team’s chances in 2019/20.
It’s not so much the playing quality in United’s ranks – although the new outfit have so far assembled a formidable squad – but there’s other attributes that excite the 32-year-old Greek international.
Kone has felt a close-knit bond with his teammates – or “family” as he calls them – which will override any potential challenges facing the new club.
“To tell you the truth, it's good,” Kone tells a-league.com.au of how the squad have gelled so far.
“The boss [coach Mark Rudan], he always says to us to be a family, and that we are.
“We're one month and a half together, and I feel that I have been with the guys for like two or three years.
“I have a good feeling and we cannot wait to start the Championship.”
'He's Balkan, a strong guy'
The man driving United’s first foray into the competition is Head Coach Rudan.
While still relatively new to the professional coaching caper – this will be just Rudan’s second season as a coach in the Hyundai A-League – Kone has been impressed with his ability to galvanise the squad.
In a long career in pressure-cooker competitions in Greece and Serie A, Kone has had the luxury of playing under some astute managers.
He puts Rudan in a similar category.
“Yeah, Mark Rudan our boss is a hard coach,” he says. “We are training very, very good.
“I like his training, he's a Croatian, a Balkan like me - a strong guy.
“He keeps pushing us, pushing us, and the results I think they will come.”
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Building a competitive squad
Ever since United were officially confirmed as the Hyundai A-League’s newest club last December, the race has been on to assemble a squad which can be competitive immediately.
Kone was the club’s inaugural recruit, a statement signing signalling the club’s intent.
What’s followed since has been in intriguing blend of emerging youngsters, experienced international stars, National Premier Leagues talent and players looking to re-establish their careers at the Hyundai A-League level.
Among the recruits was a familiar face to Albanian-born midfielder Kone, in former Bologna teammate and Italian international Alessandro Diamanti.
“He is a very good friend of mine and I think his quality is very, very big for this league,” Kone says.
“I hope to enjoy and for him to prove his skills on the field.
He added: “I'm very excited, I cannot wait to start.
“We are a new team, we are training too hard. I'm training too hard to be ready, and to participate in this championship and to make the difference.”
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Making a mark in Melbourne
United have certainly made a strong impression so far, playing - and winning - all four of their pre-season friendlies.
But it's competitive football that really matter and it’s now just a month before United begin their Hyundai A-League journey with a trip to Wellington Phoenix in Round 1 on Sunday, October 13.
A home game against Perth Glory follows a week later before the first competitive Melbourne Derby in the club’s history against Melbourne City in Round 3.
“It's nice to play against good teams, but personally, I'm very calm and very easy,” said Kone, when asked about the prospect of playing in big games like derbies.
“I enjoy every game, I think [the Melbourne Derbies] will be a good experience for me to play against these teams.
“I hope all the games that we play, we win them.”
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