Sunday, January 23, 2011

Brisbane Roar – Last Season’s Chumps to This Season’s Champs

Rewind to this time last season for the Brisbane Roar FC.  The Ange Postecoglou revolution had just started and a faltering Brisbane Roar were already looking to build for next season. After the end of yet another disappointing season, the Roar finished a lowly ninth out a possible tenth on 30 points, two points below A-League debutants and rivals North Queensland Fury with many whom had predicted would end up with the wooden spoon.
 A tremulant end of, close and off season saw many players come and go, most notably the release of Former Socceroos Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto and the releases of Scottish international Charlie Miller who left mid-season to rivals Gold Coast United and goalkeeper Liam Reddy to Wellington Pheonix. The club also saw the talented trio of Michael Zullo, Adam Sorata and Tommy Oar transferred to Dutch club FC Utrecht, while talisman striker Serjio van Dijk switched sides and joined Adelaide United. Other players were also released, retired or had their contracts mutually terminated, so this in turn left a “skeleton squad” with a lot of work for Ange Postecoglou and his backroom staff to rejuvenate a squad that has in the past shown so much promise, yet failed to translate it into tangible results.
In what was the busiest off season for any of the A-League clubs (bar new boys Melbourne Heart FC and the North Queensland Fury v2.0), the club from Brisbane saw an introduction of 12 new faces including:

- Michael Theoklitos from Norwich City in England
- Shane Stefanutto from North Queensland Fury
- Erik Paartalu from Greenock Morton in Scotland
- Thomas Broich from 1. FC Nuremberg in Germany
- Jean Carlos Solórzano on loan from L.D. Alajuelense in Costa Rica

A great work ethic, fuelled by desire to rid their tag of the league’s perennial underachievers saw the Roar get season off to a blistering start, drawing against rivals Gold Coast United in the opening round before going undefeated until Round when losing 2 – 1 to Melbourne Victory.
  The Roar have (at the time of publishing) gone a remarkable A-League and Australian football record 23 games undefeated, beating the previous record of 21 set by APIA Leichhardt in 1987.

But what is the secret to their success? What is about this Roar side who have captivated audiences, pundits and naysayers alike with their very attractive brand of attacking football (no, the Barcelona FC comparison will not be alluded to) that have made them a shining example of Australian football? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but it can come down to a few reasons.

The first is the introduction of a coaching revolution. The 2009/2010 team was compounded with an aging squad, unsettled by divisions in the squad and the infamous Frank Farina incident. When Farina was released just over midway of the season, the Postecoglou revolution set about changing the dynamics of the squad by cutting out the deadwood and introducing young, hungry players as well as quality imports. Postecogolou has a tremendous track record of working with youth squads, being the Young Socceroos U-20’s coach for seven years (2000 – 2007) as well as coaching NSL powerhouse South Melbourne FC to two NSL titles. He is noted for identifying and developing young players and using them to their maximum capabilities, and haven’t the results payed dividends. Players like Mitch Nichols and Luke DeVere have really flourished under the Postecogolou revolution, proving how important it is to have an injection of youth in your first team squad.

The second is the addition of quality players, both Australian and overseas players. Who’d of known of German midfield dynamo Thomas Broich in Australia before he was signed by the Roar? Exactly… It’s the proper selection of finding imports (not just scouting them on DVDs and YouTube) that have added a much needed zest to the squad. Broich, working alongside fellow midfielder and team captain Matt MacKay have supplied the Brisbane attack with much needed service, while bagging a few themselves. Broich’s mastery of the ball from the centre of the park has played a great role in why the Roar are probably the most potent team in the league this season. On loan and in form striker Jean Carlos Solórzano got off to a slow start but has proved to be quite a handy signing, constantly challenging for golden boot honours. Partnered with the now departed Reinaldo, they formed a very attacking and lethal strike force which could punish any defence.
The return of Michael Theoklitos to the A-League from Norwich City has reaped massive rewards as his dynamics, marshalling of the defence and consistent upon consistent performances are a real reason why the Brisbane defence refuses to leak so many goals. With players like Erik Paartalu and Shane Stefanutto in front of him, the Roar defence has turned from last season’s chumps to (inevitably) this season’s champs.

So with the minor premiership basically all but wrapped up, the Brisbane Roar have proven that with the proper mentality, proper coaching and a balanced playing roster, a team can go from perennial underachievers to the envy of all clubs in the league. The challenge now  remains for the boys from Brisbane is to maintain their hot form well into the finals series.

By Marcel Abboud - Football Correspondant and Facebook follower