Young Aussies Feature: Melbourne Heart

Newcomers Melbourne Heart are not only youthful in terms of their club…

Melbourne Heart began their inaugural season in the Hyundai A-League by signing a mixture of proven Australian talent and promising young players. Despite being the new kids on the block, they don-t yet have a youth side of their own in the National Youth League but that-s not to say they don-t value development very highly.

The club make regular visits to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, where they watch the NYL team players, a couple of whom have been signed this season. Their coach John van-t Schip knows the value of having young players in his squad.

“We have several young players who are doing well for us. We-re having a season with a lot of ups and downs and we need to be more alert. We-re gelling quite well but we must be more alert and I think this will come.”

In particular, there are a couple of players who have already made a name for themselves. At just 17, Brendan Hamill is the youngest player in the squad after arriving from the AIS in Canberra.

Several top English clubs were keeping tabs on the youngster-s progression but he decided to stay put in Australia and progress under the guidance of John Van-t Schip and his assistants.

The skilful centre half has already spent significant time in the national setup, where he-s already been a part of the Qantas Young Socceroos pre-FIFA World Cup camp in Cyprus last year.

After 17 weeks, he-s already featured in no less than 10 games this season and is definitely pushing to be one of the first names on the team sheet. Van-t Schip says hopes are high for him.

“He-s doing well. He-s great with both feet and I have no fear in bringing him into the first team. Expectations are really growing at the moment.”

Fellow defender Adrian Zahra has had a slightly different route in the first team, after coming to Heart on loan following impressive performances for Victorian state league side Melbourne Knights. He-s so far been involved in 10 league games and is looking like being in with a shout of a full contract if he keeps up his form.

“He-s come in and done very well” says Van-t Schip.

“I-m really pleased with his progress and he-s learning lots.”

The more attacking young players of note include for New South Wales Institute of Sport product Jason Hoffman. At the age of 21 he-s already won a Hyundai A-League championship medal with Newcastle when he made 15 appearances on the way to the title.

However, a severe injury derailed the following season but his move to the newest side in the league has seen him continue to improve. Manager Van-t Schip says he wants to see more from the talented forward.

“He-s had a very difficult year but he-s working hard. If he could transform his training performance onto the pitch on match day he-d be a great asset to the team. I hope he can do this.”

Fellow forward Aziz Behich has definitely impressed his head coach, after earning himself a year- long contract at the club.

“To get somewhere is hard, but to stay there is even more difficult. He-s doing so well at the moment.”

Despite his youth, Behich has accumulated significant experience, playing a role in the Hyundai A-League 2010 Grand Final, featuring as a second half substitute as Sydney FC claimed the national title in a penalty shootout, while he was also named in Victory-s squad for the 2010 AFC Champions League.

On the left side of the park, Ante Tomic resisted overtures from a number of Hyundai A-League clubs to sign a one-year deal to join the competition newcomer.

Tomic-s signing marks the culmination of a meteoric rise for the swashbuckling 18-year-old winger, who was entrenched in Sydney United-s junior system only 12 months ago.

One of the more unlucky youngsters at the club is teenage striker Eli Babalj. After scoring twice for the first team, he suffered an injury and will be lucky to be back for the beginning of February. His composure in the 18 yard box, mixed with his ability to finish, makes him one of the most exciting prospects in Australian football at the moment.

His true predator instinct is proven by his finishing top of the scorers last season at the Australian Institute of Sport.

Nick Kalmar, Kliment Taseski and Kamal Ibrahim also stand out amongst the squad and they-re three names that may be seen in and around the match day squad lists over the season. Taseki has already represented Australia for the Young Socceroos and his development will be interesting this season.

Manager John Van-t Schip says although the young players are coming on well at the club they and their more senior colleagues are still yet to reach their potential this season, which he feels is a play-off spot at least.

“I-m not satisfied with the squad as a whole, the progression from the young players is good but we must do better. We need to be stronger, fitter and we will be good. I believe we can and will get better though.”