Player Review – Midfielders

Sportal’s Bren O’Brien looks back on the performances of every midfielder on Melbourne Victory’s senior list and assesses their efforts in the Championship and Premiership-winning 2008/09 season, including comments from coach Ernie Merrick.

Sportal’s Bren O’Brien looks back on the performances of every midfielder on Melbourne Victory’s senior list and assesses their efforts in the Championship and Premiership-winning 2008/09 season, including comments from coach Ernie Merrick.

Tom Pondeljak: Games: 22, Games Started 15, Goals: 3

When Pondeljak arrived at Melbourne, he was considered by many as a good pick-up, but likely to play more of a back-up role. But the evergreen midfielder proved one of Melbourne’s most important players this season, forging a permanent role in the starting side and scoring one of the most important goals in the club’s history in the Grand Final.

What makes Pondeljak so valuable is his work ethic. He works very hard box-to-box, while his inherent attacking instincts make him a very good option going forward. They say the best players stand up under the pressure of finals football, well Pondeljak scored Melbourne’s final two goals of the season.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
A very subtle sense of humour. Very respected in the team. At 33, he’s still super fit. One of the fastest in the team. One of the highest endurance and superb skills. Just a great, great, get for us.

Jose Luis Lopez Games: 18, Games Started 10, Goals: 0

The Costa Rican arrived in Melbourne with plenty of wraps on him having established himself as a regular member of the national squad. But his debut season didn’t quite turn out as planned, for while he had all the requisite skills and fitness, he took time to adjust to the physical A-League style of play.

It meant his impact was not as great as he would have hoped and with Billy Celeski in good form, and Nick Ward back to full fitness, he struggled to get into the side. He remains a very good player who could be set to make a real impact next season.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
A tremendous personality, very skilful technically. He has got endurance like I’ve never seen before. A regular member now of the Costa Rican national team in qualifying for the World Cup. He’s just been so unfortunate that he’s had just tough competition in the midfield role and although taking some time to adjust to our formation, he’s never let us down and he’s been part of some major wins. A real professional

Leigh Broxham Games: 8, Games Started 0, Goals: 0
On the surface, one might say that Broxham’s career stalled this season, but given the competition he had for his spot in the side, it’s little wonder he only had 127 minutes on the field. According to those around the club, he continues to improve as a player and when given the chance, he could be something special. He was always behind the eight-ball after he went to the Olympics meaning he missed the pre-season and lost his chance to stamp himself as a starter from early on.

Injuries haven’t helped him in terms of consistently being available, but he showed enough over his A-League career, especially late in season two, to suggest he is a very talented young man.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
Another great prospect. Was still a teenager when he played in the Grand Final in season two. He’s a midfielder who we’ve been working on as a growing developing youngster. When you sign a 27-year-old, what you see is what you get. Someone like him is growing rapidly, developmentally, and he’s already got his defensive game really well. Once he’s got his attacking side going, he’s going to be an all-round player.

Grant Brebner Games: 20, Games Started 9, Goals: 2

Brebner’s horrific run with injuries curtailed his preparation for this season and meant he only played a bit part for most of the year. When he did get his chance, he usually took it and would have featured more if the established midfield quartet were not in such strong form.

Just when his season got going, he was suspended for a week over his involvement with match betting, and Brebner was forced to confront some old demons. It is a tribute to his character that he managed to battle on and play a role in the run to the finals. With injuries and personal problems behind him he can still play a big role for this team in years to come and having secured his Australian residency, it looks like he’s here to stay.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
Grant is personality-plus. The best practical joker I’ve ever come across. Full of life. Full of fun.
Has some demons to deal with and really has handled that extremely well which is a mark of his strength of his character. You can tell he learned his trade at Manchester United. He’s just such an all-round and complete player. He was set back enormously with osteitis pubis for a year and has bounced straight back. It’s great to see him re-sign.

Nick Ward Games: 18, Games Started 8, Goals: 2

Ward was the success story of the club this season. Having struggled with persistent injury problems in the pre-season and then again earlier in the year, it looked as if he would struggle to press his case for inclusion in the team. But he started to put things together late in the season and scored twice in crucial home games against Sydney and Adelaide.

He was one of the form players of the run home and built a great combination with Tom Pondeljak, Carlos Hernandez and Billy Celeski in the finals. Played the Grand Final with a tear to his quad muscle. If he gets fit and can start to get some serious game time in his legs could start to live up to the reputation he came to the club with.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
I feel that Nick is like a younger player in his development because there is so much to come out of him. He’s had horrendous groin and abdomen injuries and hamstring and quadriceps injuries and I think he’s now got a terrific medical team behind him. He’s got a great strength and conditioning person and once he gets 100 percent fit … he’s already fast, but he’s in the super-quick bracket. With his technical ability, all he needs to learn is how to play his position more and more.

Billy Celeski Games: 24, Games Started 23, Goals: 1

Celeski transformed himself from a dangerous but inconsistent attacking midfielder into a rock in the middle of the park. After a strong Olympic campaign, he matured greatly throughout the year and was rewarded with his first Socceroos cap in January. He is starting to put all the bits of the package together and is now one of the best players in the competition.

Celeski’s consistency, he started in 23 of a possible 24 matches, gave Melbourne a real stability and it was on that foundation that the Premiership and Championship charge was built. One of the smarter acquisitions in A-League history.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
Billy is a youngster who was always a technically-gifted and creative player. Had trouble with a couple of clubs in that he wasn’t a regular. He also suffered injuries. This is the best that he’s ever played. Again, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. He’s got a huge future.

His enormous technical skills, his speed. But he’s so creative. It’s very hard to find players of his age that are so creative. The role of a holding midfielder just suits him so well. He wins the ball and he creates really exciting things for us.

Carlos Hernandez Games: 21, Games Started 17, Goals: 4
Hernandez at his best, is one of the most dominant players in the league, but the concern for Melbourne has been getting him to play at that level consistently. It was only towards the end of the season that he began to do that.

He saved his best for the two legs of the semi-final against Adelaide, scoring the first goal in the opening leg and then turning on a brilliant performance in the second leg at Telstra Dome. Having returned from international duty just 12 hours before this match, he scored one goal and set up three others before taking his bow on 60 minutes.

Ernie Merrick’s comments:
Carlos was probably in his comfort zone in Costa Rica. He had never got 100 percent fit. It Carlos really got himself fit and pushed himself beyond his comfort zone he would have been in Europe a long time ago. He has sublime skills, great vision, great inter-passing, great control, and it doesn’t matter if he’s man-marked.

He showed his best in the lead-up to the Grand Final, rolled his ankle at training and did well in the Grand Final considering the injury he was carrying, he never complained about it. I’d love to re-sign him.