New-look Victory heads into battle
OVERSEAS stars Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono got all the headlines, but the biggest off-season signing in the A-League was not necessarily a player.
Melbourne Victory showed nothing other than success was acceptable last season when it dumped two coaches in quick time, before it went for the best in Brisbane Roar mentor Ange Postecoglou.
But the former Melburnian wasted no time showing he thought the problem had not been at the top, sacking a host of the club's top players including just crowned player-of-the-year Ante Covic.
Also shown the door were long-time servant Grant Brebner, veterans Tom Pondeljak and Rodrigo Vargas, imports Fabio and Jean Carlos Solorzano and fan favourite Carlos Hernandez.
Throw in the fact Socceroos star Harry Kewell has returned to England to be with his wife's ill mother, and Victory fans at tonight's season opener against cross-town rival the Melbourne Heart may be excused for wondering whether they are watching the right team.
It has not been all bad news, of course.
Postecoglou pulled off a coup by signing former Adelaide attacking midfielder Marco Flores, who was the best player in the competition two seasons ago before transferring to Chinese club Henan Jianye for a reported $2.4 million over three years.
He should provide plenty of spark in the front third and could form a potent combination with livewire Kiwi attacker Marco Rojas.
Despite clearly being underused last season, the All White is a constant threat with the ball at his feet and will no doubt be given more opportunities by Postecoglou.
Speaking ahead of the season kick-off tonight, Postecoglou said given the changes he did not expect a faultless performance against the Heart.
"Obviously, we've made a lot of changes, not only in personnel but in the way we train and the way we play," he said.
"Having a derby first-up is fantastic, but tonight is just our starting point. Our ambition is to improve on anything we do tonight."
Despite the Heart finishing above the Victory last season, experts are expecting that scenario to be reversed this time around despite the signing of winger Richard Garcia, who has spent the past 13 years in England - the last five of those with Hull City.
Former Socceroo star John Aloisi has taken the reins at the Heart and may find things are tougher off the pitch than on it.
Star player Josip Skoko does not buy into that, saying he expects the club will again improve in its third season in the competition.
"Things that weren't perhaps right in the first year, got better in the second and it looks like in the third year now, the team is stronger again," Skoko said.
"I think anything less than a finals berth again this year will be a disappointment."