Delpierre versus Contreras

History is repeating itself at the Big V, with the arrival of another centre-back in the twilight of his career. But can he prove a hit in the Hyundai A-League?

History is repeating itself at the Big V, with the arrival of another centre-back in the twilight of his career. But can he prove a hit in the Hyundai A-League?

If you’ll forgive the use of a worn-out football pun, Pablo Contreras’ lone season at Melbourne Victory was very much a game of two halves.

Signed on international marquee wages and heralded as the experienced defender needed to marshal a young backline on the path to glory, the veteran Chilean endured a tough start to life in the A-League.

Retroactively suspended for elbowing Harry Kewell in the curtain-raising Melbourne derby, he went on to concede a needless penalty as Victory lost a Big Blue game they should have won away to Sydney FC in November.

There were a few more heart-in-mouth moments as the gung-ho defender settled into the competition but slowly and surely the former Colo Colo man began to shine, particularly as Victory competed on two fronts in the AFC Champions League and the run-in to the A-League finals.

It was over almost as soon as it had begun though, with Contreras announcing his decision to retire just as he had started to impress on a regular basis.

Kevin Muscat’s decision to recruit another overseas defender very much the wrong side of 30 in Matthieu Delpierre raises the prospect of a repeat performance in 2014-15.

How long will the Frenchman take to settle in Australia, get to grips with the A-League and begin to perform at a high level? If and when he does, will he stick around for more than one season or is this another case of a professional at the end of their career taking a paid holiday ‘Down Under’ before hanging up their boots?

Counting in Delpierre’s favour is his age. Born three years before Contreras, at 33 he could realistically aim to remain in the A-League for two or perhaps even three seasons, offering Victory good value for their investment.

He has similar club pedigree to former Monaco, Celta, Braga, PAOK and Olympiacos man Contreras, having begun his career at Lille before playing in the Bundesliga and most recently the Eredivisie with Stuttgart, Hoffenheim and Utrecht.

However, unlike Contreras, who boasted 67 appearances for Chile, there will be less expectation placed on Delpierre, who has not been capped at full international and is being paid within the salary cap.

He will also spend close to a full pre-season acclimatising at the club, unlike Contreras, whose signing was rushed through just weeks before the start of the season.

The Frenchman has a good recent fitness record, having not suffered an extended period on the sidelines since injuring his knee badly in 2011-12.

Delpierre’s last game for Hoffenheim at the back end of 2012-13 was not a happy one, as they suffered a 5-0 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen.

The former Stuttgart captain was demoted to the reserve team alongside several other senior players under coach Markus Gisdol at the beginning of last season and did not play for the club in 2013-14.

He did however acquit himself well on loan at Utrecht from January onwards, completing 90 minutes in 12 of his 14 appearances.

During that time he boasted the fifth highest tackle success rate of the 54 defenders to play the most games in the Eredivisie season and registered passing accuracy statistics either close to or above the average for that group.

His duel success rate was also above average, while he gave away just 13 fouls (less than one per game), did not concede a penalty and was only booked twice.

Delpierre’s biggest weakness was his passing accuracy in the opposition half, 12.57% below the average for our sample group.

Keeping in mind the Eredivisie is significant step up in quality from the A-League, Delpierre also compares favourably with Contreras, who played six more league games than the Frenchman, completing 18 of them.

Although the Chilean was more accurate with the ball at his feet both in general and in the opposition half, his tackle success rate was 10.36% lower, his duel success rate was 3.6% below the new Victory man and he also committed 19 more fouls, gave away two more penalties and picked up eight more yellow cards.

So while Muscat may be cautious about sending his new defender into enemy territory with the ball at his feet, the Victory coach can seemingly be confident about the wisdom of his latest investment ahead of another assault on the A-League title.

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