Youth trumps experience for Heart
Melbourne Heart might be hurting over the Lucas Neill deal falling through but it might just be the best thing for them.
The stage was set; the script couldn-t be more perfect. Lucas Neill vs. Alessandro Del Piero. The first-time appearance of a current Socceroos captain in the A-League. And a match that could have a bearing on the outcome of the top six would provide the backdrop, played out in front of Melbourne Heart-s biggest crowd at AAMI Park outside the Melbourne Derby.
It was a promoter-s dream.
In recent days, there-s been a slight amendment to the script. Sunday-s match between Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC will still have the drama.
The match will still carry the same level of importance. And both Lucas Neill and Alessandro Del Piero will be there. Rather than walking out of the tunnel side by side in different queues, however, they-ll both be marching to the beat of Terry McFlynn-s footsteps behind one another after Neill-s 11th hour decision to join the Sky Blues.
Understandably, there are a few bruised egos at Heart HQ after the "Neill Deal" appeared a lock. The vision had clarity: Neill would add stability to a suspect backline, provide on-field leadership and help guide Heart into the finals.
His profile would also have generated a spike in attendance figures in the short-term and perhaps have converted a few Melburnians still sitting on the fence.
That vision is now the property of Sydney FC, who appear to have donned the colours of the darkhorse as it looks to cement its place in finals football.
Bruised egos aside, you have to wonder whether the club really needed Neill at all? In many respects, Melbourne Heart is better off without the Socceroos captain.
Being so late in the season, the deal for Neill was all about short-term goals. Apply a band-aid over the cracks in defence. Get into the finals. And put some bums on seats.
Long-term, what value would his arrival had added?
What value would it have added to the development of young defenders like David Vrankovic, a promising Australian talent who would-ve been pushed further down the pecking order?
And what value would it have added to the way Heart builds towards next season, both on and off the field?
In its short history, Heart has won many admirers for giving youth a go, regardless of the stakes at play. When contemplating options for the left-back position ahead of the final Melbourne Derby last season, John van ‘t Schip handed Craig Goodwin a baptism of fire.
It proved a masterstroke, with the young South Australian claiming man of the match honours. It was a similar tale for fellow defenders Aziz Behich, Brendan Hamill, Curtis Good and Adrian Zahra before he was hacked by Kevin Muscat.
This season has again proved fruitful for the development of young Heart defenders, thrown a chance by the virtue of a small window of opportunity - a legacy of the John van ‘t Schip days.
Walker continues to impress with his energy, tenacity and intelligent movement, while Vrankovic is growing into his own and has shown promise. So, too, had Sam Mitchinson before injury struck earlier this month.
In essence, this is what A-League football should be about, developing and nurturing our promising talents with a view towards the bigger picture.
The results-driven nature of the game lends the above statement to the stuff of romance, yet as Ange Postecoglou has mentioned before, give youth a go and they won-t let you down.
Soon to be 35 and with only six games of the A-League season to go, Neill would have been an attraction for the club but he wouldn-t have been donning the red and white stripes for long. Bring on the youth.