Western United remain an unknown quantity for many ahead of their debut Hyundai A-League campaign, but less so for Brendon Santalab.
Santalab — whose Caroline Springs George Cross side share a training base with the new kids on the block — has not been kept in the dark.
Read on as he spills the details on an ‘intense build-up’, earmarks potential stars and casts his prediction on where Mark Rudan’s side will finish in their inaugural season.
Last season: N/A
Brendon Santalab’s prediction: 5th
A-League.com.au’s three things to watch
1. The birth of a new club
You can just feel the excitement surrounding the competition’s newest club. Big names have signed on, exciting new figures have been unearthed and anticipation is sky-high as the side from Melbourne’s western suburbs prepare to launch head-long into the Hyundai A-League.
Rivalries will form, players will write history and those black and green stripes will become a staple part of Australian football. It is going to be some ride.
2. Besart Berisha’s return
Is Besart Berisha the final piece of Rudan’s United jigsaw? Only time will tell if the Hyundai A-League’s all-time scorer can fire the club the glory.
But one thing is for sure: Berisha has unfinished business in Australia and fireworks are guaranteed.
3. Rudan at the helm
Mark Rudan exceeded all expectations by steering Wellington Phoenix to sixth place in his maiden year as a Hyundai A-League head coach. How will the former Sydney FC great stamp his image on the Hyundai A-League new boys?
The first five fixtures
Wellington Phoenix (a)
Perth Glory (H)
Melbourne City (H)
Melbourne Victory (a)
Western Sydney Wanderers (H)
Santalab’s key match-ups: Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix
“One game I really can’t wait for is Western United vs Melbourne Victory.
“Victory have a reputation now that whoever they play is a big game.
“I think that’s going to be a huge derby which will grow year by year.
“I think the best word to describe that [Wellington Phoenix] game is spicy.
“There’s going to be a really fiery clash there after the players jumped ship to Western United but that’s just part of football.
“Naturally Phoenix fans will have a resentment to Western United for so many of their boys going there.
“It’s what the league needs; we need fiery games, we need action and we need entertainment for the fans and that match up is certainly going to bring that.
Santalab’s players to watch
1. Panagiotis Kone and Alessandro Diamanti
“Imports are a very big part of our game in Australia, there’s no doubt about it.
“Diamanti and Kone are two international stars who Western United really need to shine this season.
“Those two for me will be two key figures in the season ahead.”
2. Valentino Yuel
“Yuel, the young boy from Bentleigh Greens, has been outstanding in pre-season.
“He’s a really good kid as well, I’ve had a couple of conversations with him and I’m very excited for what he can achieve this season.”
Panagiotis Kone (Udinese) Story
Alessandro Diamanti (Livorno) Story
Josh Risdon (Western Sydney Wanderers) Story
Connor Chapman (Pohang Steelers) Story
Aaron Calver (Sydney FC) Story
Sebastian Pasquali (Ajax Amsterdam) Story
Apostolos Stamatelopoulos (Adelaide United) Story
Dylan Pierias (Melbourne City) Story
James Delianov (Melbourne City) Story
Valentino Yuel (Bentleigh Greens) Story
Connor Pain (Central Coast Mariners) Story
Josh Cavallo (Melbourne City) Story
Jonathan Aspropotamitis (Central Coast Mariners) Story
Ersan Gulum (uncontracted) Story
Brendan Hamill (Western Sydney Wanderers) Story
Filip Kurto (Wellington Phoenix) Story
Scott McDonald (Partick Thistle) Story
Max Burgess (Wellington Phoenix) Story
Andrew Durante (Wellington Phoenix) Story
Ivan Vujica (Newcastle Jets) Story
Thierry Iradukunda Story
Dario Jertec (Varaždin) Story
Luke Duzel (Melbourne City) Story
Santalab’s squad verdict
“Looking around the squad there’s some great young, up-and-coming players but there’s a lot of experience in the side as well.
“There’s a great mix of players; there are defensive leaders in Brendan Hamill and Josh Risdon and then up front you have Scott McDonald.
“There’s a real wealth of experience there sprinkled with some youth and some great international talent as well.
“The recipe is there for success this season, putting it together and the boys gelling together is the real key.
“But the question I have is: did they have enough time?”
PANAGIOTIS KONE: Why Western United will challenge in Hyundai A-League
Western United’s 2019/20 Squad
Filip Kurto, James Delianov, Aaron Calver, Brendan Hamill, Andrew Durante, Dylan Pierias, Ivan Vujica, Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Josh Risdon, Ersan Gülüm, Connor Chapman, Panagiotis Kone, Max Burgess, Joshua Cavallo, Sebastian Pasquali, Alessandro Diamanti, Thiel Iradukunda, Dario Jertec, Valentino Yuel, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, Scott McDonald, Connor Pain, Besart Berisha.
The boss: Mark Rudan
“Playing with Rudan and knowing him as a player and a person, he’s got great drive and a will to succeed.
“He’s very passionate, he’s a winner and I can only see good things happening with Rudan in charge.
“This season is a huge challenge for him as a young coach, but with his way and personality he presents he is really going to take Western United to where we wants in the next few years.
“There’s a very bright future for Mark Rudan at Western United.”
“I think they’ll finish fifth.
“It has that feel from when Western Sydney Wanderers entered the league, that same excitement, and it really does feel like they can go on this season and achieve something special.
“I see Diamanti as the man, the key figure for the team this season.
“He’s all class; his skill, passion and drive and will to win is top class.
“What a special player he is, he’s a great addition to the A-League there’s no doubt about it, and I’d really like to see him firing on all cylinders this season.”
Western United’s jerseys for the 2019/20 Hyundai A-League season are provided by Kappa.
The home kit features thick vertical black and green stripes, with black shoulders and sleeves.
The away kit is a far more abstract look; the predominantly white kit is covered in green and black geometric shapes, making for one of the quirkier kits around the league this season.
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Source: Western United season preview: ‘Something special’ about the new boys, says Santalab
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