A-League Men clubs hit the market as tricky transfer window begins

Jamie Dunkin
The Nightly
The A-League clubs are set for another tricky off-season.
The A-League clubs are set for another tricky off-season. Credit: Getty Images

The A-League Men silly season is upon us, as the clubs begin to prepare for a future that could see a significant reduction in its salary cap.

While the broadcast revenue is set to remain the same from Network 10, the Australian Professional Leagues, which runs the A-Leagues, has yet to confirm the cut to be given to the clubs, which plays a crucial role in determining the salary cap.

Since COVID, the league has spent a large portion of its funding on being able to survive and keep all of its clubs afloat, and large portions of the television deal money have been forced to go into other avenues.

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The upshot for the 2024/25 season is that the clubs are preparing for a salary cap which could be cut either significantly or not at all. Foreign stars may not be of the same pedigree, and the reliance on young talent will only continue from recent years.

Several clubs have already announced signings, with Perth Glory confirming the returns of local boys Josh Risdon and Brandon O’Neill - but also rolling the dice on an unknown quantity, Anas Hamzaoui, who last played over a year ago in Belgium’s third tier. The Glory has promoted a plethora of young talent and sold young gun Daniel Bennie to QPR in England, and will be one of many sides looking to sell as many young stars as possible.

Each of Perth Glory’s signing announcements has been decidedly lacking in quotes from head coach Alen Stajcic, who appears set for an exit after a difficult year in the West. Sydney FC assistant coach David Zdrillic has been mentioned to take over the reins from the former Matildas coach.

Champions Central Coast Mariners have so far looked unscathed by the issues facing the league, with Brazilian star Mikael Doka re-signing for a further three years - the defender previously declared an interest in playing for Australia. Clouds remain over Johnny Warren Medallist Josh Nisbet, who had been rumoured to switch to Melbourne City during the season.

Club legend Danny Vukovic’s retirement leaves them in need of a captain, while loanee Jing Reec has returned to his parent club AGF in Denmark. The young striker is expected to remain in the A-League next season, but likely not with the Mariners.

Just down the motorway, Sydney FC were a given a boon by Jake Girdwood-Reich’s $1 million transfer fee to the United States, but also lost captain Luke Brattan to Macarthur FC. Brattan’s departure leaves both a leadership void and an experience void - with only four players over the age of 30 in the current side.

The Sky Blues are only getting younger, with 17-year-old Marin France earning a professional deal to help lower the average age yet again from last season. Ufuk Talay’s side is also expected to sign 28-year-old goalkeeper Harrison Devenish-Meares from National Premier Leagues side Rockdale City, replacing Adam Pavlesic as the backup keeper.

The three Melbourne sides are in interesting predicaments. Western United are continuing to

promote from their academy, which was one of few bright spots in a dismal campaign. Melbourne City are searching for someone to replace the goals of league-record holder Jamie Maclaren, and Melbourne Victory are still uncertain if Tony Popovic will be managing the side next year.

Victory will be relieved Daniel Arzani is already contracted for next year, while their veteran marksman Bruno Fornaroli has expressed a desire for a contract extension. Their crosstown rivals City have also confirmed Andrew Nabbout and Matthew Leckie on longer deals in a much-needed boost for Aurelio Vidmar, who also signed an extension for a further two years.

Adelaide United has, in fairly typical fashion, had a strange off-season already. Last year it was Craig Goodwin’s departure; this year it’s Ben Halloran to Brisbane Roar, alongside fellow Reds Harry Van der Saag and Ben Warland.

Star striker Hiroshi Ibusuki has joined Western United after a breakdown in talks between the striker and Adelaide. The Reds have kept two of their most experienced, with Isaias and Javi Lopez remaining on one-year deals, although their mileage may vary this year at ages 37 and 39 respectively. The Reds, again, will need to hope their Academy can uncover some more Irankunda-esque gems.

Brisbane Roar, now with Ruben Zadkovich at the helm, looks like they’re getting somewhere again. Halloran, Van der Saag, and Warland look like solid acquisitions, and the Roar have also added Australian-American defender Marcus Ferkranus from LA Galaxy.

Newcastle Jets may be the only side looking up and unscathed by the off-season, with the club set to finally be sold and funds to be pumped back into the northern New South Wales club. Coach Robbie Stanton achieved a lot with limited resources in his first season, and with funds available, he could bring the Jets back into finals contention.

New boys Auckland have a clean slate to work with and are entering the league with money at a time when it could be crucial. Steve Corica’s side has announced a handful of their players, with the Knights determined to start strong with plenty of New Zealand internationals..

Their New Zealand rivals Wellington Phoenix will be buoyed by their introduction, giving the fans and players a true showpiece fixture every season, and could given serious spice if former Nix man Oskar Zawada signs with the Aucklanders.

The extremes of the A-League this off-season will be very, very young players at the forefront and veterans being pushed forward as club leaders potentially past their use-by date. The middle-aged players (those aged 25 to 29) are in short supply and are the toughest ones for the clubs to fit in right now, especially if the cap does get slashed.

If the slash happens, it may just force the clubs to sell more than they may want. All thirteen of the A-League clubs will be looking at Girdwood-Reich netting Sydney a $1 million fee after less than 50 games and wondering “how do we get in on this?”

Import players will also be a different beast to previous years. Expect less ex-Premier League players, and likely more ex-youth internationals. The Mariners have set a new standard for international signings, and all of their successes in the market have come miles away from the bigger European leagues.

The clubs will return to pre-season in July, with ten of the thirteen clubs entering the Australia Cup Round of 32 in August, while the season proper is expected to begin mid-October.

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