Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Back at the Coalface
The town in question being Sydney, of course, and the competition the NSW Premier League, again sponsored by TeleChoice.
I feel that the mandarins of "new football", and their media friends, are just starting to realise the ongoing significance of the state competitions for the growth of Australian football. Especially with the likes of Shannon Cole, and now Fabian Barbiero, going from state league to Socceroos in one year (begging the obvious question, why had no-one given them a chance in the national league before?). Today's article from Mike Cockerill is a straw in the wind in this regard, although Cockerill is far more cognizant of state league happenings than some others in the Australian football media (particularly those of British extraction).
So then, a quick rundown of the players to watch in the NSWPL this year:
Tolgay Ozbey (Sydney Olympic)
After a disastrous 2008 with the underperforming Marconi side, Ozbey has enjoyed a remarkably prolific pre-season with Olympic, under his erstwhile coach Aytek Genc (now back in the state league after leaving his Blacktown post for Sydney FC in 2007). The quick, elusive attacker is at his best with a true target man beside him, and Olympic's Paul Wither should prove a much more congenial partner than Tallan Martin, with whom he never clicked at Marconi.
After his goalscoring feats with Blacktown in 2006 and 2007, many were bewildered that Ozbey did not immediately make the step up to the A-League successfully. But a spell at Newcastle was fruitless, and the move to Marconi proved a failure. This season, expect plenty of goals from the 22-year-old.
Ibrahim Haydar (Bankstown City)
A hit with Sydney FC's youth team this A-League season (he even scored in the grand final in Adelaide), the tall, powerful right-back should make a big impression in the state league this term. As far back as the 2007 NSWPL grand final, Haydar made an important contribution to Bankstown's second-half revival as a substitute, even though his team went down in the end.
He now has a national youth league trophy to his name, to which he made a fine contribution, and looks to be improving all the time. He has been used mainly as a substitute for Bankstown until recently, but a regular first-team berth is almost certain in 2009.
Mike Katz (Sutherland Sharks)
Watching him play for Sutherland last season, it was hard to believe how long Mike Katz had been around, because he seemed to approach every game with the enthusiasm and energy of an 18-year-old. In fact, he will be 29 this year, but he was an absolutely vital component in Sutherland's Premiership success in 2008, providing abundant pace and width on the right in combination with the crafty, experienced Jim Bakis.
He is apparently not interested in an A-League contract (although he spent some time in the NSL), but he remains one of the most watchable players in the local league. With Sutherland looking much diminished this season (Brendan Gan, Pedj Bojic and Shane Lyons have all moved on), Katz may provide some much-needed spark at Seymour Shaw.
Tayfun Buyukkopru (Penrith-Nepean)
A member of the all-conquering Marconi youth team of 2007, Buyukkopru didn't quite hit the heights with an ordinary Penrith side in 2008, but showed enough to indicate that he is a young midfielder of considerable promise. Possessing a good touch and some of the footballing intelligence which separates the wheat from the chaff at this level, the youngster has the potential to step up to the next level in 2009, I feel.
It will be interesting to see how Paul Okon fares in his new role as manager of the Sydney Tigers (the re-branded APIA-Leichhardt). He has some fine players at his disposal and the team has been impressive in pre-season, but they could well suffer from the lack of a true target man, now that Robert Younis has moved on to the A-League. Franco Parisi, currently operating at the point, is one of the most gifted players in the competition, technically superb although often over-elaborate. But a target man he most definitely isn't.
Olympic look good for the title, in my view, although Bankstown, Sydney United (with Ante Milicic now as player/manager) and newcomers Bonnyrigg should all provide stiff opposition. Last season's grand finalists, Sutherland and a "reborn" Wollongong, may fire again, but the omens are not good - a traumatic off-season in the latter case, several departures (as well as a coaching change) in the former.
37 (or is it 38?) years old and out of action for a fair old while...he might just find that the NSWPL isn't quite as easy a stroll as he might think, EPL experience notwithstanding. At least his Fox mate Robbie (who often goes to Manly games) will be there for moral support. ;-)
Ditto. You were sorely missed at Belmore and the Lambert mudbowl last year!