HE’S BACK: Ben Kantarovski. HE’S BACK: Ben Kantarovski.
Kew Jaliens (Wisła Kraków), Nathan Burns (Incheon United, loan), Joey Gibbs (Western Sydney), Mitch Oxborrow (promoted from youth team)
Kew Jaliens: Experienced central defender who played 10 internationals for Holland and was an over-age player for the Dutch at the Beijing Olympics. In three trials since his arrival against A-League opposition the Jets have conceded one goal. He has a cool head, is a good organiser, mobile and accustomed to a possession-based style of football. Looms as the answer to the Jets defensive problems. A certain starter and key figure.
Nathan Burns: Fringe Socceroos winger who has been in the wilderness in Korea for the past 18 months. A month after his arrival in Korea the manager was sacked, Burns then suffered a knee injury and fell out of favour with the new boss. He made just three appearances. He is on loan until January and hopes to use his time back in the A-League as a springboard. Not a prolific scorer since leaving Australia for AEK Athens five years ago but boasts explosive pace, a great touch and an eye for goal. A certain starter and ideal foil for Emile Heskey.
Joey Gibbs: Joins the Jets from West Sydney Wanderers as cover for Mitch Cooper (knee reconstruction). Scored two goals in 15 appearances, eight as a starter, for the Wanderers. A solid if not spectacular striker. Strong with his back to goal but has marque man Emile Heskey and the promising Adam Taggart ahead of him.
Mitch Oxborrow: A potential star and member of the Australian under-19s. Made a horror debut last season against Perth and was hooked at half-time. He is a year older, is more comfortable in the environment and is widely regarded as the best passer in the squad. Midfield is one place where the Jets have depth but he is sure to push for a starting place.
Bernardo Ribeiro (IFK Mariehamn, Finland), Dominik Ritter (released), Jobe Wheelhouse (released mid-season), Marko Jesic (released), Tiago (released mid-season to Sydney FC), Ryan Griffiths (released mid-season to Beijing Baxi).
KEEPERS: Mark Birighitti, Ben Kennedy, John Solari (youth).
DEFENDERS: Scott Neville, Taylor Regan, Kew Jaliens, Connor Chapman, Josh Mitchell, Sam Gallaway.
MIDFIELDERS: Ben Kantarovski, Ruben Zadkovich, Josh Brillante, Zenon Caravella, Jacob Pepper, Mitch Cooper, Mitch Oxborrow.
FORWARDS: Emile Heskey, Michael Bridges, Nathan Burns, James Brown, James Virgili, Adam Taggart, Joey Gibbs, Craig Goodwin, Andrew Hoole.
POSSIBLE FIRST XI
(4-2-3-1) Mark Birighitti; Scott Neville, Connor Chapman, Kew Jaliens, Sam Gallaway; Ruben Zadkovich (c), Zenon Caravella; Nathan Burns, Michael Bridges, Adam Taggart; Emile Heskey.
They finished eighth, missing a place in the finals by a point on the last day. They were brilliant at times, highlighted by victories over both grand finalists, but lacked consistency. They conceded a whopping 45 goals, which was just too many.
WHERE IT WENT WRONG
The Jets only signed Heskey 10 days before the first round. His arrival meant they had to tweak the way they played. Rumours about the finance of owner Nathan Tinkler continued without having a major effect. Captain Jobe Wheelhouse was released mid-season. They struggled to play out from the back and conceded too many goals off turnovers.
The Jets style won’t change a great deal. They have strengthened their defence and will continue to try to play a possession-based, up-tempo game. It is their third season under van Egmond. He has tweaked things a bit. The most important aspect is that the squad has remained settled. They have brought in just three new players. Heskey has had a full season and two months of pre-season (before injury). Opposition teams know they will play out from the back and will apply some heat and hope to force errors.
Owner Nathan Tinkler’s fortunes have tumbled. A year ago he was Australia’s richest person under 40 with $1.18 billion. Last month he failed to feature on the Business Review Weekly top 100, which has a minimum of $18 million. To date, it appears to be business as usual, but there remains a perception that the Jets are the poor relations of Tinkler’s sporting interests behind the Knights. There is an underlying fear among fans that if push came to shove, the Jets could be in strife.
A BIG YEAR FOR . . .
Ben Kantarovski has recovered from a knee problem that restricted him to four appearances last season. A former Australian under-20 captain who was in the sights of Bayern Munich four years ago, he is off contract and needs a big season. He is behind Zenon Caravella, Ruben Zadkovich and Josh Brillante.
Enigmatic James Brown also seems to be over his ankle injuries. Brown was the disappointment of last season. He came back too early from ankle surgery and struggled for fitness and confidence. The final insult was fans turning on him. However, after more surgery and a long and methodical rehabilitation program, he seems to have his mojo back.
OUT OF THE BOX
There are host of young players on the up. Craig Goodwin, Connor Chapman, Josh Brillante, Mark Birighitti, Andrew Hoole and Adam Taggart have benefited from last year’s A-League exposure. Chapman, Brillante, Taggart and Hoole went to the under-20 World Cup. Chapman, Brillante, Taggart, Goodwin and Birighitti have since made their Socceroos debut in an A-League-based squad at the East Asia Cup. James Virgili and Mitch Oxborrow are also on the rise. Scott Neville has recovered from a groin issue that dogged him last season. He is a much better player than he produced in his first season in Newcastle. His pre-season form has been exceptional.
Last year – at least within the Jets inner sanctum – was as much about development as winning. There has been a definite switch in focus. This season is all about winning. The Jets have not made the finals for the past three years. The play-offs are a minimum and the top four is the target. Gary van Egmond has had two seasons to mould the squad into his style. Now it is time to cash in.