Brian Bertie writes about the 10 young players to watch in this season’s A-League.
Australia have made rapid strides forward in their football development in the last decade or so, with strong World Cup performances, a transitioning style of play, a switch of federations being the more notable changes. Through it all, they’ve maintained a strong character about their football, and a typically Australian emphasis on competing. How appropriate then, that the biggest impact on their game has come in the form of the A-League. The formation of the A-League took the Australian domestic circuit to professionalism and the global map. A strong and competitive league, with a stable club system has resulted in a strong pipeline of talent moving forward. Here, in no particular order, are the 10 to watch in the 2018-19 season.
Joseph Champness // 21 // Newcastle Jets
Joey Champness has been slowly rising to a professional level, having played in the Australian youth teams and even standing out. It wasn’t until last season where Newcastle Jets gave him a chance. While he wasn’t the main stand out of the season, he was still an important part of their counter attacking game and consolidated himself in the team.
This is another big year for him, as he will look to continue his development and try to become a better player. As it stands, he is a speedy left winger with not great technique. The latter is what slightly holds him back, and is a very tactical player. He fits perfectly into a counter attacking system such as Newcastle’s. As mentioned, this is a big year for him to see if he can work on his weaknesses and take his ability on and off the ball to a new level.
Paul Izzo // 23 // Adelaide United
The goalkeeper position has always been one that Australia has excelled in. Having produced players such as Mark Bosnich, Mark Schwarzer and the current Socceroo Matthew Ryan, they continue producing good goalkeepers with the brightest prospect in the A-League being Paul Izzo. Currently playing for Adelaide United, he has often been touted as Australia’s best keeper under the age of 23.
Paul is another player who passed by the excellent development setup at Central Coast Mariners. Last year however, he returned to his hometown of Adelaide after they had a disastrous title defence in the 2016-17 season. With his club, they managed to make a playoff return, finishing 5th in the regular season.
His best attribute is definitely his distribution as he’s good at starting counter attacks with his goal kicks and his throwing. This as well as his good reflexes made him one of the best goalkeepers in the A-League last season.
Matthew Ryan’s starting spot on the Australian national team is likely not going to be taken away, however with hard work, Paul Izzo can easily become second choice. He will be 24 by next year and he’ll want to prove himself to get a move to a bigger league before he ages, and for that reason this is an important season for him as he’ll want to become the next Australian to move abroad.
Daniel De Silva // 21 // Sydney FC
Before Daniel Arzani showed up to the picture, De Silva was the standout player for the beginning of the last A-League season. Still with Central Coast Mariners, he showed a tremendous ability after his stint in the Netherlands didn’t work out for him. He was surely trying to make a statement, and he did not fail.
Even when Arzani showed up, he still performed to a very good standard that was noticed by the locals. It’s a good reason as to why he has signed for Sydney FC. This season is a big step up for him, as the Sky Blue’s arguably have the best squad in the league. With the Mariners, his team didn’t have that much quality but now if given a free role, he’ll enjoy this season.
He’s a player with a lot of flair. His dribbling ability and off the ball movement are very good. He’s a right footed attacking midfielder in a number 10 role. He can also play on both wings and still be effective. He’s also mainly a supporting player. He does like to drive forward and intimidate certain defensive lines, but very rarely he will have a go at goal. Even though he has more goals and assists, he’s still very much a build-up player.
With Sydney being in the AFC Champions League again next year, this is his chance to prove himself to the rest of the continent, but he’ll have to maintain a solid level in the A-League as well.
Jacob Italiano // 17 // Perth Glory
Over on the west of Australia, Jacob Italiano is one of the youngest players in the league, and at the same time one of the brightest talents Australian football currently has.
While still raw and inexperienced, his talent very clearly showed last season even if he wasn’t able to put it to full effect. This is down to age, and also Perth Glory’s ineffective tactics last season played by former manager Kenny Lowe. His best trait is his dribbling, as he was able to pass by some defences with ease on occasions.
He’s already been linked to several German clubs such as Borussia Monchengladbach, but nothing ever came of those rumours and he’s still spending his time at Perth Glory. This season we will get to see what version of Italiano we get. One that will show his talent in games but never do anything with it, or if he’s ready to take it to the next level and dominate the league.
Bruce Kamau // 23 // Western Sydney Wanderers
Bruce Kamau has been hopping from club to club in different seasons. Being a key part of the Adelaide United winning squad back in 2016, took off to Melbourne City and now he is at Western Sydney Wanderers.
As a very fast right winger, Kamau has made a name for himself in recent years with his good and effective performances for each of his clubs in the last 3 seasons. He’s very quick and has a good dribbling ability, making him hard to stop. He’s very agile and often has a good partnership with the number 9 depending on who that is. Last season it was Ross McCormack and the season before that, it was Bruce Djite.
He was arguably brought over to WSW to be one of their star players along with Oriol Riera and Roly Bonevacia. This year he’ll continue pushing his efforts and similar to Izzo, make a statement and a come and get me plea to European or other Asian clubs.
Sarpreet Singh // 19 // Wellington Phoenix
The only player without an Australian passport on this list is Sarpreet Singh. You would be right if you guessed he is from New Zealand. While he was born in Auckland, he is of Malaysian descent.
He was one of the revelation players for the Phoenix last season, where he would impress off the bench mostly until he eventually became a first team regular in February. He’s a very unpredictable player with a good eye for goal and a good dribbling ability. He plays as an attacking midfielder in mostly an advanced role. He also has a good long shot and is able to bang one in from outside of the box.
He’s already begun to get New Zealand call ups and has become a regular for the All-Whites at least in the friendlies they have played since their loss to Peru in the World Cup Intercontinental Playoff. This year he’ll get another shot and it will be up to him to prove he wasn’t just a one hit wonder. He’s had a good start to his career, and now he’ll look to maintain a similar level and continue growing his profile as well as a player.
Nathan Kostandopolous // 22 // Adelaide United
While not one of the stand out players on this list, Nathan Kostandopolous definitely is an interesting player. He is a right footed midfielder often playing closer to the right wing than the left. He was a regular in Adelaide’s redemption season last year and did impress enough to maintain himself a spot in the first team.
Primarily a creative player with offensive minded traits, he is more of a player who will dictate the tempo of play and try to get forward when possible. Besides Izzo, he is probably the most interesting under 23 player on this Adelaide side.
Riley McGree // 19 // Melbourne City
Yes, that McGree. The one who scored that Puskas candidate in the A-League Semi-Finals last year against Melbourne City. You know the saying, if you can’t beat them, buy them. That’s what Melbourne City did. Sort of. They brought him back to Australia on loan just as Newcastle Jets did last season, and it was not a bad decision at all!
McGree isn’t all about the scorpion kick hype. There is genuine talent about him and that’s why he’s being included on this list. With Newcastle Jets being the revelation team of last season, they still needed to reinforce in the January window which would be the summer months of Australia. Riley was one of the players that came in on a loan deal from Club Brugge.
He’s a midfielder with a good eye for goal. He can play in the middle or as a holding player and shares a good resemblance to Yaya Toure, who will push up the field and roam around joining the attack. He bagged 5 goals last season since January which is a good amount considering where he plays. He’s also very competent in the art of defence, where he is averaging 3.29 interceptions a game. He always wins at least half of his duels statistically and is one of the biggest prospects in Australian football at the moment. This season he will look to cement ground and continue consolidating himself as a player.
Thomas Deng // 21 // Melbourne Victory
While an important part of the Melbourne Victory winning squad of last season, Thomas Deng is a versatile player with more effectiveness in the heart of defence. Fans have voiced some complaints towards him playing as a full back, but have been full of praise in the center of defence. Currently averaging 5 interceptions a game, it is clear that Deng is a defensive minded footballer.
Thomas was a revelation in his first season in Australia before he got a move to PSV in the Netherlands. Similar to Daniel De Silva, things didn’t pan out according to plan for him and he returned to Australia in attempt to continue getting first team minutes and consolidate himself as the future of the Australian defence.
Last season he struggled with consistency, but he is a clearly talented player who will look to put those issues aside and improve as a player in Melbourne Victory’s title defence, as well as get minutes in the upcoming AFC Champions League of next year.
Trent Buhagiar // 20 // Sydney FC
This is perhaps the only player on the list that won’t get regular minutes throughout the season, but there is definitely talent about him. Buhagiar joined Sydney FC this season and will probably be the secondary option behind recently signed Adam Le Fondre. According to Sydney fans, he has impressed in pre-season and he serves a much more reliable backup option than Matt Simon who was at the club last season.
He earned a lot of minutes last year for Central Coast Mariners but didn’t get many actual starts. He bags a few goals here and there and that shows he is still very much raw talent, which can only improve and as a reliable backup option to look to, he will try and become Sydney FC’s super sub whenever they are in the search of a result.
Read all our Talent Radar articles here
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