Year of the Imports?
Will season four of the Hyundai A-League be the year of the import?
Will season four of the Hyundai A-League be the year of the import?
Since the league started back in 2005, there have been 85 foreign imports that have played in the fledgling competition, including 11 new imports for this season. In total for season four, there are 24 imports (at the time of writing).
Of the original imports in season one, only four remain - Andre Gumprecht (Central Coast Mariners), Hyuk-Su Seo and Reinaldo (Queensland Roar) and Terry McFlynn (Sydney FC). Reinaldo came on the scene late in season one as a replacement player and although he left at the end of last season for Korea, that proved short-lived and he returned to Queensland.
Of the 85 imports there have been 20 senior internationals to have paraded their footballing talents around Australia, including undoubtedly the two biggest stars to have played in the competition - Dwight Yorke and Juninho, who both laced up for Sydney FC.
There is no doubt that Yorke, the former Aston Villa and Manchester United star striker and current Trinidad and Tobago international has been the most successful of the imports. Both on and off the field, he gave the Hyundai A-League the perfect marketing tool to get the competition up and running. He led Sydney FC to the inaugural Championship and was named the Joe Marston Medal winner for best on ground in the grand final. Unfortunately though, one game into the second season and he was on his way back to the English Premier League.
Juninho, on the other hand, was arguably the most talented import to play in the competition, although the Brazilian World Cup winner spent much of season 3 injured or not at 100% fitness and disappointingly Australian football fans never really got to see the best of him.
Other imports that have shone brightly include the likes of Shengqing Qu (Adelaide - season 1), Fred (Melbourne - season 2), Milton Rodriguez (Newcastle - season 2), Hyuk-Su Seo (Queensland - season-s 1,2,3) and Reinaldo (Queensland - season 3), but overall the level of imports to have come to these shores, have had many fans feeling somewhat deflated.
But while season 4 is only three rounds old, the signs are encouraging that the new imports and some old one-s are set to make a huge impact on the competition.
With Jonas Salley getting his permanent residency, Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar has added two more Brazilians to his stable, making it four in total. Cassio was Adelaide-s Player of the Year last season, while Diego came of age during the AFC Champions League and no doubt Vidmar is looking for them to go that extra step this season and especially in the AFC Champions League knockout phase. Cristiano-s addition to the strike force, already looks a winner and he has two goals and a couple of assists already to his name, while Alameo looks an exciting prospect in the right full back role.
Melbourne has once again gone for the Latin American flavour with Brazilian Ney Fabiano impressing during the AFC Champions League and Ernie Merrick signing him to compliment the strike-force of Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson. However Costa Rican international Jose Luis Lopez could well prove the most influential signing for Victory and his link play with his countrymen Carlos Hernandez is already looking particularly fruitful. Hernandez took a while to get going last year, but Lopez- arrival has given him a noticeable boost and we could see him really come of age for Victory this season.
The Jets luck with imports seemed to run out last season, after the success of cult hero Rodriguez in season 2. Denni, Jorge Drovandi and former Brazilian international Mario Jardel, just didn-t cut the mustard in Australian football and this said a lot for the talent of Gary van Egmond-s Australian players, who went onto win the Championship. However van Egmond did snap up a young Korean star of the future towards the end of last season in Jin-Hyung Song and he is already showing he could be a star this season. Joining him is Dane Jesper Hakansson and Ecuadorian international Edmundo Zura, although both have started their season-s off slowly.
One club who has had absolutely no luck with their imports is Perth Glory, but that could change this season. Coach David Mitchell has scoured extensively to find the right imports to ignite Glory and in Amaral, Eugene Dadi and Adrian Trinidad, he has three players who look the goods and will be keys if they are to finally achieve some success. Amaral, a former Brazilian international, is a livewire in the midfield and he has already teed up the tall and powerful Dadi for two goals with superb crosses, while Argentinean Trinidad looks lively in attack and will prove a handful for defences this season.
Queensland Roar has had moderate success with imports with Hyuk-Su Seo and Reinaldo having proved their value in the Hyundai A-League, but some highly credentialed players have failed to leave their mark. No such problems so far this season with their two new imports and in Charlie Miller, who despite some criticism over his appearance, looks to be a gem. Three goals in his opening three games, including a classic free kick, have him marked him as one to watch for the remainder of this season, especially as he gets fitter with more game time. Serginho van Dijk, got off the mark in his last game and Frank Farina hopes this will see him go on and get plenty more. A traditional centre-forward - big and strong - he has already formed a good combination with Miller and along with Reinaldo could form one of the most exciting forward combinations in the competition.
Sydney have decided to local this season, but have the reliable Terry McFlynn in midfield, while Mike Enfield, will be hoping to put his horror injury run behind him and show Sydney fans what he can do.
Combined with their former New Zealand counterparts the Knights, Wellington Phoenix has had the most number of imports in the competition of any club. And to be honest, until last season you would have to say that none of them have had any impact on the competition. Brazilians Felipe and Daniel had their moments for Phoenix last season, but only Daniel remains on board for season four and coach Riki Herbert, will be hoping he can go the next step as a key attacking midfielder. Herbert has resisted the temptation to go for more imports and signed a host of Kiwi-s and Australian players to bolster their squad. However Leilei Gao, who had a short stint with Herbert at the Knights in season 2, has returned for a full season and will need to have an impact if the Phoenix is to be successful.
Only time will tell if these imports will play a telling role in the season ahead; the signs are good so far and already fans of the eight clubs are looking forward to much bigger and better things from their overseas stars.