A significant year for football in Australia.
A-League expansion, the World Cup and a Puskas award nominee were only the tip of the tumultuous iceberg that is the Australian football landscape.
There was a lot to cover over the last 12 months so here is part one of FNR’s year in review.
January: New Socceroos manager, disaster for Roar
The year kicked off in exciting yet controversial circumstances.
It was announced former Netherlands national team manager Bert Van Marwijk would take over the Socceroos for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Great uncertainty surrounded Van Marwijk who came across as a manager who played a pragmatic style and would only remain in charge until after Australia’s campaign, which posed further questions as to his motivation and the direction of Australian football.
January also had microscope focused on the Brisbane Roar, who had not only failed to qualify for the Asian Champions League but became victims of great embarrassment. The loss to Phillipenes side Ceres Negros became secondary as the numbers on the Brisbane playing strips started peeling off, forcing the Brisbane bench to use tape in a comical yet embarrassing few minutes.
February: Jets fly high, expansion on the horizon
Finally, the FFA made the announcement all football fans had been craving for years.
Expansion was coming.
The FFA announced two new teams would be announced for the 2019/20 season, expanding the league to 12 teams. While this did not go exactly to plan (we’ll get to that) it excited many as bid consortiums and clubs from all around Australia put their hands up and lodged their application.
This announcement was not taken well by the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association with then chairman Greg Griffen labelling it as a “smokescreen of the highest order.”
Believe it or not the action on the field was just as pulsating.
Ernie Merrick had turned the Newcastle Jets from no hopers to contenders, breathing life into the club which finished bottom the year before and the A-League once again saw how exciting the city of Newcastle can be when the Jets are up and about.
But this month belonged to Andrew Nabbout.
Under Ernie Merrick, Nabbout’s career was reinvigorated, epitomised by his goal against the Western Sydney Wanderers which was recognised globally and was named ESPN’s goal of the week.
March: Another Socceroos boss
Three months before the World Cup and Australia had two head coaches.
Graham Arnold was named as Van Marwijk’s successor after the World Cup, raising further questions over how seriously Van Marwijk would take the campaign or whether he was seeking a paycheque.
The decision to appoint Arnold did receive backlash among fans yet his record at Sydney FC was second to none. While a big criticism towards Arnold at Sydney was his reluctance to play youth, he identified youth development as a focal point of his new role when he would eventually takeover.
On the field, Leroy George was continuing to show the league what he could do while Andrew Nabbout played his last game for the Jets in a big win against Sydney FC.
Nabbout would go on to sign for Japanese club Urawa Reds for a fee of $500,000.
April: Finals drama
Groans about the A-League season becoming stale grew louder and the teams responded with quality finals football.
The excitement the A-League finals brought reminded fans how good the A-League can be.
Besart Berisha won the Elimination Final against Adelaide United by scoring a goal over his head and while this would be a contender for goal of the season it had nothing on Newcastle’s Riley McGree.
At just 19 McGree stunned the world with his famous scorpion kick goal which stole all headlines and sent Newcastle to the Grand Final for the first time in a decade.
McGree’s goal was so good it was shortlisted for the FIFA Puskas award along with Mohammed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo.
For Sydney FC their semi-final was anything memorable as their reign as the league’s top dogs came to an end at the hands of rivals Melbourne Victory on a night where Terry Antonis went from villain to hero, sending Victory to the Grand Final with an extra time goal.
May: Grand-Final Controversy
After two exciting semi-finals came the A-League Grand Final, the first to be hosted in Newcastle.
The fans were excited, the players were ready and the VAR…. well.
After being FIFA’s guinea pigs for the Video Assistant Referee for a full season it was heartbreaking to see the system malfunction during the Grand Final at the game’s most pivotal moment.
The technical error saw Melbourne Victor awarded a goal which saw them crowned Champions and the first club to win the Grand Final from fourth position.
Lawrence Thomas played his best game for the Victory making many match winning saves and copped a Roy O’Donovan boot to the face which resulted in the Jets striker being suspended for ten weeks.
June: World-Cup Misfortune
After four years of waiting the World Cup had finally come.
The squad was in and there were many new faces like Daniel Arzani, Andrew Nabbout and Dimitri Petratos in addition to the seasoned veterans in Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill.
Australia’s first match was against tournament favourites France in a match where the Socceroos took it right up to the eventual winners only to be denied by a late Paul Pogba goal which crept over the line and some French timewasting.
It was yet another honourable loss for the team but gave the nation hope ahead of the next two games.
The match against Denmark was the one which got away.
Australia had chances to take the lead late in the game with Daniel Arzani making an immediate impact on the bench. Despite the people crying out for Cahill to be brought on, Van Marwijk chose against it.
The 1-1 meant Australia had to beat Peru which they didn’t and were knocked out of the World Cup.
Van Marwijk’s short stint ended and the fingers were pointed towards youth development in Australia following the squad’s early exit. The speculation around Tim Cahill’s retirement grew louder and the squad’s lack of goal scorers continued to be a concern.
One of the solutions to this was expanding the A-League, a motion which was moving albeit all too slowly.
The FFA announced the ten bids shortlisted which featured bids from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Canberra.