As the team’s average age dropped two years as many matches, the turnaround has been remarkable. From a 5-1 thrashing in Wellington to beating the champions and then conquering the Derby. Finally, mercifully, there is hope for Melbourne City.
Salvation is not in the shape of David Villa, either. The Spanish star’s premature departure headlined a murky opening to the club’s season – far from what was predicted of the City Football Group’s new acquisition. Now, with a better balance struck between experience and youth, coach John van ’t Schip has mapped a way forward.
It’s instructive that for the hour prior to international marquee Robert Koren’s injection into the Melbourne Derby, young defenders Connor Chapman and Ben Garuccio were integral to repelling Melbourne Victory’s many attacking threats.
If Koren was fully fit from Round 1, had Villa not been recalled early or Rob Wielaert dropped, then at best Chapman, Garuccio and fellow youngster Jacob Melling would have been the ones appearing off the bench. A younger, hungrier City prevailed 1-0 even without Koren, Villa, Wielaert and another experienced international in Damien Duff. Erik Paartalu’s stoppage-time winner was fair reward for a team that has undergone significant change in the two months since they were overwhelmed 5-2 by the same opposition.
“We know we are a team, a club, in progress,” van ’t Schip said after Paartalu’s header earned his side a dramatic win.
“That’s something we all know and we are working behind the scenes to get everything to a higher level. It was a positive evening winning the Derby.”
The club, thanks to Sheik Mansour’s resources, is not one short on high-profile options, but an ongoing investment of time into young talent will prove equally valuable.
City’s position amongst a powerful, expanding network is the envy of the A-League. While their connections can help pull in World Cup winners, so too can they offer a pathway to overseas adventures. Such promise is surely of interest to Australia’s brightest talents; 24-year-old Aaron Mooy, unfortunate to miss Socceroos Asian Cup selection, signed on a few months after the takeover.
Central-defender Chapman, a mainstay of Australian youth representative sides, followed soon after. The former AIS skipper only moved into the starting 11 in Round 9 but has immediately contributed to successive clean sheets.
“Connor showed in a big game tonight he’s a player with a lot of future,” van ’t Schip remarked of the future senior international.
“He’s a young promising player, physically strong, is composed on the ball, he can read the game quite good. But again it was his second game and the expectations always grow as you play more. He has to improve himself every week.”
He will. Likewise Garuccio, Melling and Mooy, so long as their support is truly of the kind City can afford. Koren’s resume suggests he warrants inclusion in that category, and he certainly has the backing of his coach.
“He created a good opportunity for himself which almost went in, so he has the authority in his game and for our team I think that’s important,” van ’t Schip said of the former Slovenia captain’s cameo.
Newly-added domestic marquee Josh Kennedy certainly fits the description. The Socceroo is recognised on the Australian sporting landscape and remains at an age where his ability to perform is not hindered. He can become a prototype player for the City squad.
Combine genuine chances for the likes of Chapman and similarly curious young Australian talents with valued contributions from established stars and a template for sustained success is written. Defeating Melbourne Victory might then become less of a reason to live and more a common occurrence.