The Phoenix, Internationals and facing Adelaide

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On Saturday night, the Wellington Phoenix take on Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium in a game that will be marred by a controversial topic in the A-League community this week: the international window.

International windows and the A-League

To paraphrase the FIFA rules, if a player is called up to their national team for a match to be played during an international window, the player must be released by his club and cannot play for the club during the international window, even if the player is unable to fulfil the requirements of his international callup due to injury.

Most leagues in the world have breaks on weekends that fall within an international window, including the English Premier League. This prevents situations where a club has to play a competitive match without some of their key players. The problem is that the A-League is not one of them. Due to an agreement with Fox Sports, the FFA have persisted with scheduling A-League matches during international windows, and continue to do so despite the growing number of national team players plying their trade in the A-League.

In the past, this has mainly affected Wellington Phoenix, as the Phoenix have traditionally had a large contingent of All Whites players signed for the club. However, the number of Phoenix players in the All Whites has dropped significantly lately, due to the international retirement of players, and new All Whites coach Anthony Hudson’s desire to cast his eye over young talent being developed in New Zealand.

In round two of the 2012/13, the Phoenix were forced to play game against Melbourne Heart with seven players from the matchday squad the week before away on national team duty. In this case the Phoenix had to sign players on one match contracts to be able to field a 15 man squad for the match. In round one of the 2013/14 season, the Phoenix were missing five players who were in the starting XI the following round after returning from national team duty.

Impact on Merrick’s side

This weekend, the Phoenix will lose four players to the All Whites who are playing against China and Thailand. Michael McGlinchey is the only one of these four players who was in the starting XI against the Wanderers last weekend, Michael Boxall took the field when Louis Fenton dislocated his shoulder, Jeremy Brockie was an unused sub and Tyler Boyd wasn’t in the matchday squad. It could have been a lot worse for the Phoenix though, as Hudson decided not to call up his first choice keeper Glen Moss in order to cast his eye over Jake Gleeson and Oliver Sail as backup options to Moss, and also made the decision to not call up Andrew Durante to the squad.

On the face of it, this doesn’t look like a huge loss to the Phoenix, as coach Ernie Merrick’s decision to play a tactical system without a striker make Brockie and Boyd redundant and Boxall has struggled to secure a place in the Phoenix backline during his time at the club. Losing McGlinchey would appear to be the only true setback for the Phoenix, as the pairing of him and Nathan Burns has been one of the most exciting attacking duos in the league. They’ve scored seven goals between them in five matches, more than the entire squad of the Newcastle Jets has managed in the same number of games.

However, the aforementioned shoulder injury picked up by Louis Fenton as well as an ankle injury sustained by left back Tom Doyle has thrown a spanner in the works. Both players were initially called up by Hudson, only to have to widthdraw from the squad because of their injuries. This means that Merrick will have very limited options to choose from in defence, especially without being able to play Boxall at right back. The likely answer would be to move Manny Muscat to left back and promote Josh Brindell-South to right back. The inexperienced Brindell-South has only made 3 appearances for the Phoenix first team, one of those off the bench.

Even with Doyle and Fenton missing, the Phoenix will still be able to field a near full strength defensive line. Sigmund, Durante and Moss will be able to provide guidance (and cover) to Brindell-South, so Merrick will have to trust that Brindell-South is up to the job. There is also the option of playing Roly Bonevacia a more defensive role than he played against the Wanderers, alongside Albert Riera and Alex Rodriguez, however this would take away some of the attacking impetus that the Phoenix have shown since he has been moved further up the field.

How Terry Antonis affects the match

Merrick has also hinted that Tom Doyle may be fit enough to return to the starting XI and take up his role from the opening couple of rounds at left back again. This makes complete sense, as it means that Muscat can stay in his preferred right back position and Merrick wouldn’t need to risk fielding a relatively inexperienced player in Brindell-South. However, due to the rules stating that players summoned for international duty cannot play for their clubs during the window, Doyle will be ineligible to take part in the match. This has been indirectly confirmed by the FFA to Sydney FC, as Graham Arnold had made statements in the media suggesting he was going to include Terry Antonis in his matchday squad, only for the FFA to inform Sydney that Antonis is ineligible for the match as he was unable to fufil national team duties due to injury.

With more clubs being affected by international windows now than even before, calls for the FFA to respect international windows will become louder. This weekends ‘Big Blue’ between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory will have some of the gloss taken off it due to missing players, so hopefully this will result in more pressure being put on the FFA to respect windows. The major reason that has been provided to clubs and fans in the past by FFA for their refusal to adhere to the international calendar is that Fox Sports want to show live football every weekend. One solution to this is to play FFA Cup matches during international windows in future seasons, as this will keep Fox Sports happy as well as not impacting the league form of teams that have a high number of international players on the books.

Match preview

Adelaide United vs Wellington Phoenix
Coopers Stadium, Adelaide
5pm AEDT/7pm NZDT
Fox Sports 4, Sky Sports 4, ABC Grandstand

Adelaide aren’t missing any players due to international duty, however Bruce Djite picked up an injury in the draw against Sydney FC and is likely to be replaced by new signing Pablo Sánchez, who assisted two goals in their midweek FFA Cup victory. They will be buoyed by their draw against Sydney, one of the leading contenders for the Premiership this season, as well not having to worry about defending against Michael McGlinchey.

Given the Phoenix’s form in Adelaide (Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 10, Goals For 9, Goals Against 33), and the fact that the last time the Phoenix visited Adelaide for an A-League fixture, they also had a depleted squad and were boned 5-1, Merrick would have hoped to be able to field the strongest side he possibly could. However, there is no reason that the team he will be able to name can’t pick up a result. Roy Krishna will likely take the place of McGlinchey, and he proved that he can influence a game after he came off the bench last weekend and set up the winning goal for Nathan Burns.

Anything other than a win for Adelaide would be disappointing for coach Josep Gombau and his troops, whereas the Phoenix would be much more content with a draw ahead of their trip to Perth the following weekend.

Adelaide United squad: 1.Eugene GALEKOVIC (c) (GK), 2.Michael MARRONE, 3.Nigel BOOGAARD, 4.Dylan McGOWAN, 5.Osama MALIK, 6.CÁSSIO, 7.PABLO SÁNCHEZ, 8.ISAÍAS, 9.Sergio CIRIO, 10.Marcelo CARRUSCA, 14.Cameron WATSON, 16.Craig GOODWIN, 17.Awer MABIL, 18.Jimmy JEGGO, 20.Paul IZZO (GK), 21.Tarek ELRICH, 22.Fabio FERREIRA, 24.Bruce KAMAU, 32.Nathan KOSTANDOPOULOS

***Two to be omitted***

Wellington Phoenix Squad: 1.Glen MOSS (GK), 2.Manny MUSCAT, 4.Roly BONEVACIA, 6.Josh BRINDELL-SOUTH, 7, Kenny CUNNINGHAM, 8.Alex RODRIGUEZ, 9.Nathan BURNS, 13.Albert RIERA, 14.Alex RUFER, 17.Vince LIA, 18.Ben SIGMUND, 19.Tom DOYLE, 20.Lewis ITALIANO (GK), 21.Roy KRISHNA, 22.Andrew DURANTE (c), 23.Matthew RIDENTON, 31.Andrew BLAKE.
***One to be omitted***

Patrick Barnes

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