Sunday, August 06, 2006


The Extra Mile

The Central Coast Mariners have made their second good grab of the week, following the signing of Tony Vidmar with the short-term acquisition of Sydney United midfielder Mile Jedinak.

I had the good fortune to witness not only Sydney United’s comprehensive NSW Premier League grand final victory over Blacktown, but also their two lead-up matches, including the dramatic preliminary final against Bankstown. In all three games, Jedinak was very, very impressive.

At the grand final, a knowledgeable Sydney United fan informed me that Jedinak had been so poor during his initial stint at United that he had been regularly jeered by the often unforgiving fans. Rough treatment for an 18-year-old, you’d have to say. But, continued my source, after a period in the Croatian National League with Varteks, Jedinak had returned a transformed player.

He formed part of Australia’s 2003 World Youth Championship squad, among a host of current A-Leaguers including Alex Brosque, Jonti Richter and Spase Dilevski. Although Jedinak was singled out for praise by Ange Postecoglou prior to the tournament, he only started the first two matches, missing the historic victory over Brazil and only making a late substitute appearance in the second-round loss to the UAE.

When he returned to United, in other words, he was something of an unknown quantity.

Perhaps the most pleasing feature of Jedinak’s game is his superb judgement of the aerial ball. United kept the upper hand during the first half of the aforementioned preliminary final at Melita Stadium for an instructive reason: Bankstown’s ’keeper, Josevski, booted his goalkicks straight down the centre of the park, with little variation; Jedinak, with monotonous regularity, got perfectly into position and won the headers. After a while, United’s forwards were quite happy to take some speculative whacks at goal, safe in the knowledge that the ball would be coming back their way before too long.

In the final, Blacktown must have hoped that their own midfield enforcer, Ivan Zelic, would give them an aerial edge in the centre. It didn’t happen; Mile Jedinak’s positioning and anticipation were immaculate, and Zelic barely got a sniff. Eventually, Jedinak’s continued domination irritated Zelic to the extent that he quite unnecessarily clattered into the United man, when the latter had once again secured pole position for a header.

Jedinak is not short of ability on the ground as well; he distributes quickly and without ado, and is capable of holding onto the ball under pressure when required. And he can play the “killer balls”, too; United’s first goal against Blacktown was the result of a cleverly-weighted through-ball from Jedinak to Ben Vidaic, who rode Ivan Necevski’s attempted interception and crossed for the day’s hero, Luka Glavas, to open the scoring.

Vince Grella currently fulfils the holding role in midfield most effectively for the Socceroos, having grown into the role after some indifferent initial performances. Among the younger players, most would nominate the likes of Neil Kilkenny and Stuart Musialik as possibilities for the role in the future. But if Jedinak can get some decent game time in a league of sufficient quality (and with all respect to the NSW Premier League, it doesn’t quite fit the bill), we may well be adding his name to the list of applicants in the years to come.

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