Off-Season: Potential Transfer Targets (Central Midfielders)

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve taken a look at the market and potential transfer targets, today we take a look at the central midfield position. It’s definitely a need area moving forward, with on loan Steve Lustica no guarantee to return, and also Massimo Murdocca heavily linked with a return to Melbourne. That leaves just Luke Brattan, George Lambadaridis and full time NYL player Ben Liftin as current options. While I expect Lambadaridis to make a step up this season, I think expecting him to be a starting XI player from the beginning of the year is a big ask, and for mine Liftin needs more time before being considered. All of that leads me to think that two signings are needed in this area if Murdocca does depart, one of which must be capable of stepping in right away. Ideally Liam Miller –if that signing comes to fruition- would be considered for this type of role, but that doesn’t seem like the plan.

Best case scenario:
Steve Lustica (HNK Hajduk Split)

Lustica came in at an important time of last season to fill a vital hole in the side for the push to the finals, and if you look back at it, he did a solid job adding balance to the side. It seems like right now there’s atleast some interest from Lustica to and Mulvey to continue the reunion from their GC NYL days, however it would require a deal to be done with his Croatian club. In a perfect world, he’d be the first option for the role to continue his growth alongside Brattan, but it seems unlikely.

A-League options:
Matt Thompson (Melbourne Heart)

There’s not a great market for central midfielders available from A-League clubs right now, but the standout option of those is Matt Thompson. Over the life of the A-League, Matt has proven to be an extremely versatile player who’s found a role playing in a midfield trio. The issue around Thompson could be the financial aspect however, because his last free agency saw him move to Melbourne from the Jets on a lucrative big money deal by A-League standards, so there’s some doubt he’d be able fit in the salary cap.

Mitch Cooper (Newcastle Jets)
The first thing to mention here is that Mitch has a contract with the Newcastle Jets for next season, I believe as a full-time NYL player. Im not sure of the specifics of how the transfer rules work these days about approaching for other clubs NYL players, and if being full-time NYL changes that, but just as a player I can see him being someone Mulvey would consider. He had an alright season this past year, albeit with limited opportunities and if the rumours of unrest in the Newcastle dressing room are true, Mitch might be available.

Overseas Australians:
Carl Valeri (Grosseto)

Carl Valeri.
I might be misreading this one slightly, but what I do know is that he’s currently out of favour at his Serie B club, which has been on the precipice of promotion to the Serie A for a couple of years now, and it’s now starting to cost him international call-ups. Im not sure he’d be overly keen on a return to Australia, but as a fit alongside Brattan I think he would do a similar job that Lustica did at the end of last season, and at his best he’d be one of the top central midfielders in the league. Financially there’s also a question here, because he’s not marquee quality, but in order to get him back to Australia in what should be his prime years it might take that.

Neil Kilkenny (Bristol City)
Leeds United v Derby County
There’s a few decent options overseas currently that could be convinced to return to Australia, starting with Bristol City midfielder Neil Kilkenny. Relegation ofcourse is a tough time for any club and players who are either high earners or non-essential components of the side can be available, and there’s also an argument that in a world cup year he might have a better shot at Socceroos selection playing back here in Australia rather than the English 3rd tier. He also has a history of living in Queensland while growing up before joining the Arsenal academy. Kilkenny made 17 appearances this season just gone for Bristol City.

James Wesolowski (Oldham Athletic)
While Neil Kilkenny is potentially destined for life in League One, James Wesolowski has already spent this past season at that level at Oldham Athletic where he made 33 appearances. Im not sure he’s quite ready to return to Australia and he doesn’t have the links to Queensland that Kilkenny does, but he represents an interesting option nevertheless. A move home might do his career and international prospects better however.

Jonas Salley (Guizhou Renhe)
This one is an under the radar option, and Jonas has always done a solid job in the A-League, be it for New Zealand Knights, Sydney FC, Adelaide United and even Gold Coast United. Im not sure if Salley was still around in that final season when Mulvey took over or not, I remember Bleiberg brought him in mid-season, but im not sure if he was still there after Bleiberg’s departure. As a fit, im not sure he’s the best option to play alongside Brattan in the way things are currently constructed in the midfield, but he is a solid player.

Scrap heap guys:
Fabian Barbiero (Adelaide United), Jobe Wheelhouse (uncontracted), Nick Ward (Perth Glory), Diogo Ferreira (Melbourne Victory), Paul Reid (Sydney FC), Adam Hughes (Harbin Yiteng- Chinese 2nd division), Sasa Macura (MTK Budapest), Andreas Govas (Kalloni F.C)

There’s a few options on the scrap heap here, some of which are better than others. The best of those would be Jobe Wheelhouse –linked with Brisbane a couple weeks ago- and Fabian Barbiero. Both for mine could be OK players in the league, however they’d be just backup types, not starters. The most likely as a fit however, could actually be Diogo Ferreira. He might not be the greatest player, but as a squad player he could fill in at both right back and in midfield if needed- it just wouldn’t be pretty. Reid and Hughes I just threw in here for the sake of it, and in truth both seem like they’re done at this level. Govas and Macura are tough to gauge because I’ve never seen either of them play, but from the reports I’ve read, Macura is a defensive midfield type, whereas Govas is more of a midfielder who likes to get forward. On the whole, im not sure Govas and Macura are worth pursing.

Who would I prefer?

Like Most, I think that Lustica is the best fit for the team is for Lustica to return and to continue the combination with Luke Brattan. There were some promising signs towards the end of last season and if that continues it could blossom into one of the elite combinations in the A-League. If Lustica doesn’t return, I think that there isn’t much separating Thompson and Kilkenny as players. Id probably give the edge to Kilkenny, but not by that much because the versatility of Thompson is still a selling point- even if he’s not played in another position for a couple of seasons. If Murdocca as predicted does leave and they do chase a second central midfielder, it’s anyone’s guess which of the scrapheap types they go after, Wheelhouse has been linked in the past, whereas someone like a Barbiero can get you the odd goal from midfield. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out, because the midfield recruitment looms as critical to any success next season.


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