THERE’S optimism in the air as fans of clubs from around the A-Leagues rub their hands together in anticipation of what’s to come: two hotly contested domestic competitions writing the first pages of an exciting new chapter in Australian and New Zealand football history.
Each club hit the reset button at the conclusion of the 2020/21 seasons, with the newly-formed A-Leagues ushering in a bold new era for the two domestic leagues.
With that bold new era comes a raft of new signings eager to put their talent on show in a fresh start, and in fresh colours.
Those pages aren’t going to write themselves – perhaps the A-Leagues’ newest signings will have the biggest say in how the story gets told.
The return of the king in the City of Churches.
Isaías is back in Red, signing for Adelaide United on a fresh three-year deal. The veteran Spaniard hopes to see his career out at the club where he won two FFA Cups and the Isuzu UTE A-League Premiership/Championship double along a decorated six-year spell which also produced a record four Club Champion honours.
Reds fans rejoiced upon hearing word of his comeback. Expect Coopers Stadium to be rocking when the 34-year-old is first re-introduced to the Adelaide faithful when the Reds host Melbourne City on Saturday, November 27.
Shadeene ‘Shay’ Evans is back for another crack in the A-League / Women’s after a two-season spell at Sydney FC between 2018-20.
A product of the esteemed John Moriarity Football initiative, the 20-year-old joins the Reds after netting five goals in 12 games for NSW Women’s National Premier League side Northern Tigers. She’s got one A-League / Women’s goal to her name to date – a number she’ll look to significantly bolster under head coach Adrian Stenta this season.
‘Mini’ returns to A-League / Women’s action in 2021/22 after a one-season hiatus in which she welcomed her first child, Harper, to the world.
Now, the 78-cap Commbank Matildas star returns to Brisbane Roar eager to quickly re-establish herself as one of the league’s most accomplished midfield talents.
The two-time A-League / Women’s Premiership winner will wear Roar colours for the tenth season of her career this season, joining Clare Polkinghorne and Tameka Yallop as one of three players to have achieved this feat at the club.
Argentinian striker Juan Lescano arrives in Queensland with an integral role to play after the off-season departure of both Riku Danzaki and Dylan Wenzel-Halls – Roar’s two leading goal scorers in the 2020/21 A-League / Men’s season.
Lescano had youth spells at both Liverpool FC and Real Madrid, and joins Warren Moon’s side after netting 11 goals in all competitions for Russian outfit FC Yenisey Krasnoyarsk last season.
It’s a fourth A-League / Women’s club for Allira Toby, and a fresh opportunity for the 27-year-old forward to impress alongside legendary striking talent Michelle Heyman.
If the pair can work in tandem, there’ll be goals aplenty on the board for the Green Machine this season. Toby is a welcome addition to Vicki Linton’s squad after the off-season departure of rapid attacker Paige Satchell to Sydney FC.
CENTRAL COAST MARINERS
The absence of departed Daniel De Silva in attacking midfield has left a space in Nick Montgomery’s Central Coast Mariners outfit for new recruit Cy Goddard to claim as his own.
The English-born Japanese midfielder spent more than 10 years learning his craft in Tottenham Hotspur’s academy system, and joins the club after a successful stint at Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League, where he helped his team secure two trophies alongside Sydney FC spearhead Adam Le Fondre.
Stand back and watch this Bull charge.
Ulises Davila is undoubtedly one of the brightest sparks in the Isuzu UTE A-League today. His form across two seasons at Wellington Phoenix was often sublime, and sometimes outrageous.
His scoring contributions from midfield make the Mexican one of the craftiest, most damaging players league-wide – Ante Milicic has a genuine diamond on his hands. With Craig Noone, De Silva and Tomi Jurić to play off in the Bulls’ attacking third, Dávila could see his attacking proficiency significantly enhanced in 2021/22.
The third and final member of Melbourne City’s fearsome Socceroos strikers.
Leckie joins international teammates Andrew Nabbout and Jamie Maclaren at City this season, the year after club’s dominant Premiership/Championship double-winning campaign. Unsatisfied with sealing the club’s first pieces of silverware in the men’s competition, head coach Patrick Kisnorbo set out to strengthen his side in the off-season.
Along came Leckie, the Socceroos star returning home after a decade well-spent in Germany. He links up with Maclaren and Nabbout in City colours to form a strike force which, on paper, looms as one of the most dangerous in league history.
The feel-good story of 2021 will get even better when Rebekah Stott steps out to play the first game of her triumphant return to professional football after successfully overcoming Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Stott departed the club in 2020 for an overseas opportunity at FA Women’s Super League side Brighton and Hove Albion, but her cancer diagnosis forced a premature end to the dream move. It’s been a long way back for Stott to get to the point she is today, lacing up the boots in pre-season with eagerness to rip into the 2021/22 A-League / Women’s campaign.
Dumont returns to Melbourne Victory after one season spent on the sidelines with a ruptured Achilles tendon. The shot-stopper has more than 100 A-League / Women’s appearances to her name, producing 35 clean sheets and two Championship honours.
Victory boss Jeff Hopkins will be hoping Dumont’s return to the squad will help keep the reigning Champions on top of the pile in 2021/22.
Tony Popovic coaching Chris Ikonomidis – we’ve seen this movie before.
It was under Popovic at Perth Glory in 2018/19 when Ikonomidis rediscovered the form which catapulted the bright attacker back into the Socceroos frame. Injuries hindered his progression in purple and orange, but an off-season move to Victory coincided with Popovic’s arrival as new head coach.
Victory took out the spoon in 2020/21, but a fit and firing Ikonomidis will look to produce his damaging best to help turn his new team’s previously inept forward line into a well-oiled machine bagging goals aplenty.
Of all the arrivals at Newcastle Jets in the off-season, this one might prove the most crucial.
Matthew Jurman is an ex-Socceroo, three-time Isuzu UTE A-League Champion and experienced central defender who will be charged with leading the Jets from the back in the absence of both Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Nigel Boogaard, two key centre-halves who both departed the club at the end of the last campaign.
A month out from the opening fixture of the A-League / Women’s season, Newcastle announced the signing of Norwegian international Marie Markussen in a bid to significantly strengthen the team’s chances of improving on its eighth-place finish last time out.
Markussen, 24, is a creative young winger who arrives at the club off the back of scoring a crucial goal in a 2-1 win for Valerenga over IL Sandviken in the Norwegian Women’s Cup Final.
You’re going to want to see this: Daniel Sturridge, ex-Liverpool, Chelsea and England star, strutting his stuff in a Perth Glory kit in 2021/22.
The arrival of the former English Premier League star sent shockwaves around the A-Leagues. Conversation immediately turned to where his signature ranks amongst the best the men’s competition has seen, joining the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Besart Berisha, Miloś Ninkovic, Diego Castro and Thomas Broich in the eternal conversation.
But where the name Daniel Sturridge ranks in that regard, however, all depends on what he can do on the field for Perth this season. Saturday, November 20 presents the first chance for the Englishman to show his wares, in a home clash against the Reds.
Mie Leth Jans
Amongst the string of new signings Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis has welcomed to his A-League / Women’s squad is Mie Leth Jans, a Danish international bringing versatility and invaluable experience to a young, hungry Glory outfit.
With 26 caps for her country, Leth Jans comes prepared to operate as a prominent figure in the spine of Epakis’ lineup, whether it be as a central defender or defensive midfielder.
The former Manchester City player is an astute signing for a side eager to bounce back from finishing dead last in 2020/21.
María Jose Rojas
The Chilean international brings flair, speed and spark to a Sky Blues outfit brimming with attacking talent.
‘Cote’ Rojas arrives at the 2021/22 A-League / Women’s season high on confidence after winning Inter Salisbury the NPLW SA Grand Final with a last-gasp goal in a 3-2 victory over West Adelaide in late October.
The 33-year-old is eager to build on her prolific form at state level as part of a Sydney FC side looking to set the record straight after falling to a shock Grand Final loss to Melbourne Victory in 2020/1.
With Remy Siemsen, Cortnee Vine and Princess Ibini to contend with for spots in Sydney’s attacking line, expect Cote to seize every opportunity to impress Sydney boss Ante Juric this season.
Western United’s forgotten figure returns to where it all began eager to rediscover the form he last displayed two seasons ago in green and black.
Burgess’ first season at United in 2019/20 was a successful one, producing 24 appearances, 14 starts and six goals. This followed a similarly consistent season at Wellington Phoenix, which inspired then-Phoenix boss Mark Rudan to bring the young midfielder along with him to United the following season.
Burgess made his Isuzu UTE A-League debut for Sydney FC in 2014. The 26-year-old will hope to make his second stint in Sky Blue a successful one upon his return.
A second coming in yellow and black gives Gary Hooper the opportunity to endear himself to Phoenix fans all over again.
The Englishman scored eight goals from 21 appearances and eight starts for Wellington through his first season at the club in 2019/20.
The former Celtic and Norwich City forward took a while to get going in his initial Phoenix stint, arriving after the start of the campaign. But Hooper will hope to hit the ground running this time around, though an off-season injury may slow his start to 2021/22.
Wellington’s inaugural A-League / Women’s signing is used to the tough assignments, and it will be no different this season as the Phoenix enter the competition for the very first time.
Alfeld was made to work for every save in Perth Glory colours in 2020/21, facing 88 shots on target and blocking 54 of them out to record a save percentage of 62.4%. The Kiwi goalkeeper will expect a similar test this season as guardian of Wellington’s goal as the New Zealanders look to stand tall throughout the club’s maiden A-League / Women’s campaign.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS
A breakout season in 2020/21 saw Bianca Galic surge to significance at Canberra United. The 22-year-old was a mainstay in midfield alongside Grace Maher and Laura Hughes as Linton’s side reached the Finals Series for the first time in four seasons.
Galic joins the Red and Black ready to continue improving a skillset refined at Canberra and forged at NPLW NSW side Sydney University since the age of 14.
Rhys Williams is an experienced leader entrusted with captaining Western Sydney Wanderers into the 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League campaign.
The former Middlesbrough club captain joins Carl Robinson’s side from Saudi Arabian outfit Al Qadisiyah FC. He’ll slot into the centre of the Wanderers’ defence and proceed to lead his new side from the back, with eagerness to taste success in the league once more after helping Melbourne Victory to the 2017/18 Isuzu UTE A-League Championship.
After the off-season departure of Isuzu UTE A-League record goalscorer Besart Berisha, Western United set off in search of a worthy replacement. With just under 150 goals to his name in close to 400 professional games, Aleksandar Prijovic arrives at the club looking to fit the bill.
Prijovic is a Serbian international with 13 senior appearances for the national team to his name. He represented his country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, has played and scored in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, and has won domestic titles in both Poland (Legia Warsaw) and the Greek Super League (PAOK Thessaloniki).
The height, the hunger, the hair: Prijovic will use all the tools at his disposal to make a statement in Green and Black this season.