By Joey Lynch

Their title defence teetering on the brink only three games into their 2020/21 W-League season, Melbourne City coach Rado Vidošić has detailed the challenges the club went through in recruiting in the lead into this campaign, as well as hinted at how the club may approach international signings in the future. 

City earlier this week announced the signing of Norwegian midfielder Noor Eckhoff for the remainder of 20/21, a move which the club’s Director of Football Michael Petrillo described as “our last signing for this campaign”. 

When fully fit and integrated – which won’t occur until after the club completes coming games against Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United – it means that City will run out a backline that features four Matildas representatives in Teagan Micah, Jenna McCormick, Teigen Allen, and Emma Checker and, in the form of Samantha Johnson, it will also feature a player that has over 80 games NWSL experience. 

Their midfield will feature new-signing Noor, 17-time Matilda Alex Chidiac and Japan international Chinatsu Kira as a more advanced option. 

Yet, with City still winless and their only goal in three games arriving from a set-piece that found the head of McCormick, questions of how City could have failed to reinforce the tip of their spear – especially when it was readily apparent at the end of 19/20 how hard the club would be hit by player exits – have increasingly been raised. 

“We had five or six strikers in the pipeline from October until basically the start of the season and we just couldn’t get them,” Vidošić said when this was put to him on Saturday. “We are well and truly aware of what our needs are.

“We had a striker that just signed another contract somewhere else, and it just fell through. So, those things happen. 

“We had a completely different team when we started to what we ended up with. That’s football, and that’s the W-League and that is probably… that’s what you need to pay when you had such a strong team last year and they all left. Sooner or later that is going to happen to strong teams.”

The recruitment of Noor, a youth international in multiple age groups for Norway, has been in the pipeline since early December but logistical complications involved in international movement brought about by the pandemic meant that she was unable to enter the country until last week. 

Currently in hotel quarantine, Noor’s mandatory 14-day stint will end on January 20, a day before City meets United in ‘Hersday’ night football. The 21-year-old won’t feature in that contest, with City looking at an anticipated extended break between their fixtures that will likely follow as a chance to properly integrate her into the squad. 

A teammate of current Western Sydney defender Nikola Orgill at Norwegian Toppserien side Kolbotn in 2020 – the same club that first-ever Ballon d’Or Féminin recipient Ada Hegerberg made her senior debut – Vidošić said that Noor represented an archetype that may come to characterize City’s foreign recruitment in years to come. 

“We were really trying to find a new country where we could share the players with. Open new relationships with different countries,” the City coach detailed. “Because, obviously, the United States is probably shut down for us and now Scandinavia is probably the only reasonable competitions where we could tap into to share the players with. 

“We have a good relationship with Noor’s team and, obviously, Manchester City has good relations with other clubs, so it’s something we’re trying to use to our advantage in the future.

“But this year was very hard because of the COVID situation and all the situation that’s going around – the delayed starts and delayed finishes – so hopefully in the future we should be able to get a little bit more out of it, especially if our season remains where it is in October, November, December and finishes sometime in March.

“We got in touch and I spoke to her coach [Aleksander Olsen] and they were very keen because she’s a very talented young player and the national team has huge hopes. She’s a very good defensive midfielder who is only 21.

“So they were quite keen for her to experience an overseas stint, especially now with COVID, we could [still] essentially guarantee some competition here. That was early December when we started conversations and it took a lot of time to get through the VISA, COVID-exemptions, get flights, so it’s not that easy, and then hotel quarantine as well. 

“So, you’re looking at between four to six weeks since we started until she comes in and starts training with us. It’s much more difficult, some clubs decided that they’re just going to sign local talent and they spent a little bit more time in training. 

“With us, we are always trying to think about the future and what can we do for the future of this club and that’s why we made those decisions, to wait for these players and bring them a little later.”

Just a week on from suffering a Lisa De Vanna inspired, 6-0 thrashing at their hands, City is set to meet Victory at Epping Stadium again this afternoon in a fixture that, should a similar scoreline to last Sunday occur, could put their title defence on life support. 

Not anticipating their foes will too much different from last week given the comfortable nature of their win, Vidošić is expecting an improved performance from his side.

“We’re going to try to exploit their weaknesses a little bit more and now we can because we’ve got different players coming in and players that can potentially play a little bit longer.

“We’re going to be looking to change a few things and see how that works. Fingers crossed it works quite well.”

Josh Parish