John Aloisi making some big changes at Western United

The 2021-22 campaign is set to be a big one for Western United — both figuratively and literally. 

Highlighted by the departure of foundation head coach Marko Rudan just days after its commencement, United has have experienced a tumultuous offseason; welcoming John Aloisi as its new gaffer, moving from its original training base at City Vista to the facility of AFL club Essendon Bombers in Tullamarine and staging an unsuccessful — and unedifying — attempt to stage home games at Lakeside Stadium in 2021-22.

Further, the status of the elusive stadium the club promised to build in Melbourne’s west in return for an A-Leagues licence continued to weigh heavily around the club’s neck — hamstringing the efforts of anyone associated with the club not involved with building the venue to establish any sense of identity and cut-through in the West. 

See Also: Fear, loathing and waiting for Western United’s stadium

If all the A-Leagues’ a stage, then United is one of its most active players, with whether their story is a comedy or a tragedy remaining to be seen.

But despite all this off-field drama, there is still the matter of football to discuss; United set to open their 2021-22 A-League Men season against Melbourne Victory in Geelong on November 20. 

And there’s been one, very sizable change to the look of the club’s squad ahead of its third year in the competition. 

“We had a look at, it seems strange, but we had a really small team,” Aloisi told JDL Media. “So we looked at getting players with that physical presence that can also play our football. 

“And the players we’ve signed have got that, we’re a pretty big team now; we’ve got a good spine, good experience but also a lot of good young players.”

Indeed, somewhat fitting, given that upheaval is effectively part of its brand at this point, United’s squad has undergone significant changes following the departure of Rudan and the arrival of Aloisi. 

Dylan Wenzel-Halls signed before he put pen to paper, the Socceroo legend’s arrival as coach augured a flurry of activity in the transfer market; Jamie Young, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, and Neil Kilkenny signed from the domestic market and Slovenian midfielder Rene Krhin, Swiss defender Leo Lacroix, and Swiss-born Serbian international striker Aleksandar Prijović from overseas. 

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These new figures will supplement or supplant returning figures such as former Socceroo Josh Risdon, Olympians Dylan Pierias and Lachlan Wales, and standout defender Tomoki Imai. 

“First, you have to look at what you’ve got and the type of football you can play with what you’ve got,” Aloisi, who praised the club for backing him to bring in the players he wanted, said on his strategy in building the squad.

Aleksandar Prijović is amongst the additions to Western United for 2021-22

“I saw that we’ve got some really fast attacking players in Dylan Wenzel-Halls, Connor Pain, Lachie Wales and Dylan Pierias. And that’s really exciting because then you can really hurt teams if they want to press you high or play a high line. 

“Then you have to look at, then, still being able to control a game of football when you have to. That’s why I was able to bring in midfielders that can do that. 

“We also know Diamanti’s quality. And Prijović, he’s a natural goalscorer. He’s scored goals wherever he’s been and in this league, if you get someone that can score that many goals you should be there at the end of the season challenging 

“You still have to already build upon what’s already been there and then start to build even more with that.

“[There has been] changing of the grounds, the training grounds but now we know we’ll have this until we move to our new facility, so that’s really good because to create something special you need to have… players need to know where their home is and feel like they’re in a club that’s not chopping and changing too much. 

“A lot of the players that we’ve signed, we’ve signed for a couple of years. So the squad won’t change too much in the near future or for next season. 

“We’ve got a chance to build on the current squad and the majority of the coaching staff, if all goes well, we’ll still be here for a year or two. That’s important because the players then understand what we’re trying to build together.”

Though he has several conundrums facing him as he begins his third-stint as a head coach in the A-League Men, the question of how to best utilise Diamanti is one the most pressing for Aloisi. 

The Johhny Warren Medalist in his first season in Australia in 2019-20, the now 38-year-old started 20 of his club’s 26 games last campaign but, not helped by United’s hellacious road schedule towards the end of the season, increasingly did so while battling niggling injuries. 

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Further, while the 17-time Italian international remains one of the most skilful and adventurous players in the A-League Men — capable of winning any game with one, miraculous moment of skill — and is a talismanic leader for the club, his mercurial approach to the game, combined with the physical limitations bestowed upon him by Father Time, demand certain allowances and squad composition around him.  

“At the moment, I believe he can start week in and week out,” Aloisi said. “[But] you can only judge that during the season. 

“He’s been out at every training session. Most of the players have been able to do a whole preseason and Dia’s been there. He’s working hard and he’s motivated. That’s exciting for us because he can do things that most other players in this league can’t. 

“But there will be other times during the season that we might have to manage him, but they are things that we’ll call once the season starts. Going week to week, how he’s feeling and looking. But at the moment, he’s looking really good.”

Speaking to JDL Media in the wake of Josh Cavallo’s announcement last week that he was gay, the Adelaide United youngster becoming the only current top-flight male professional footballer in the world to openly share his truth, Alosi voiced his support for a player he once upon a time coached with Melbourne Victory’s U20 side. 

“My reaction was good on him,” Aloisi said. “That he’s able to come out and say who he really is, that’s important. 

“I’ve known Josh for a while, I coached him when he was 15-years-old at Victory. He’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he wants to improve. I look at it first as a footballer and a person. As a footballer, I loved coaching him and as a person, he was one of the most respectful kids. 

See Also: Josh Cavallo: Coming out as gay has ‘taken me to a new level’

“My brother [Adelaide United assistant coach Ross Aloisi, who alongside Carl Veart was the first person at the Reds’ Cavallo came out to] is coaching him now and he thinks very highly of him.

“Josh is now able to come out and tell the world who he really is and that’s important. I think that will make a great impact, not only on Australian football but also world football. You saw the number of people from around the world sending messages. I think it’s great that he’s able to do that. I know that he’ll get support from the people around him.”

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