How Western United became the best team in Australia

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Make no mistake about it, John Aloisi has gone from unwanted in Australian footballing circles to a championship-winning head coach.

The 46-year-old was unceremoniously sacked after only winning eight of his 39 games in charge of Melbourne Heart during the 2011/12 and 12/13 seasons.

From there, he managed a successful four-year spell at Brisbane Roar, ultimately falling short in consecutive semi-final defeats before turning to punditry.

His reputation had taken such a battering, that Melbourne Victory fans began celebrating online after the club chose not to hire him a few years ago.

Western United took a leap of faith in hiring the former Socceroo and his emergence as a tactically adept manager has seen the club win their first piece of silverware in only their third season in the league.

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Epic turnaround

Western United were in shambles at the tail-end of last season. Mark Rudan had run his course and the club began spiralling towards the bottom end of the A-League Men table.

The club shipped a league second-worst 47 goals in 2020/21 and had several high-profile departures including Rudan, Besart Berisha, Victor Sanchez and Tomislav Uskok followed.

It must be made abundantly clear that Aloisi had a mountain of work to do, and boy did he succeed with it.

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Big signings

Aloisi was able to attract some top-end talent to the West of Melbourne ahead of his first season as coach of the club.

Key international signings Leo Lacroix, Rene Krhin and Aleksandar Prijovic all had experience playing in top European leagues as well as UEFA Competitions.

They formed the nucleus of Western’s starting 11, with Lacroix and Prijovic especially acting as a barometer for the club’s success.

Add in goalkeeper of the year Jamie Young, alongside fellow team of the year inductee Neil Kilkenny, and it must be argued that the recruiting department was one of the stars of the show.

In fact, this feat is made all the more impressive when acknowledging that Rene Khrin missed significant game time this season dealing with a personal issue.

Captain and superstar Alessandro Diamanti only made 10 appearances this season due to a knee injury, including zero minutes played in the finals series.

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Vice-captain, Josh Risdon, also spent majority of the season on the sidelines before making a miraculous recovery and starring in the final four games of the season.

Aloisi’s side have a steel about them and that mental fortitude is a large reason they were able to win the championship after falling to third place at the conclusion of the regular season.

Defence

The old saying goes that championships are built on the back of a strong defence.

As simple as that remark is, it was just as simple for Aloisi’s side this season. In 26 regular season games, United conceded the second least in the league, with the opposition only finding the back of the net 30 times.

Come the finals series, they remarkably only conceded two goals in their four games played. Both were scored by Melbourne Victory’s Jake Brimmer.

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The first choice partnership of Lacroix and Tomoki Imai was impenetrable at times, and even whilst the attack struggled to get going at the start of the campaign, it enabled the club to sneak away with six 1-0 wins in the first 10 games.

That kept the squad at the top of the table, and when Lachlan Wales and Prijovic began to find their feet midway through the season, the team had a solid foundation to build upon.

Rumours surrounding Lacroix hitting a contract clause that ensures he’ll be staying next season are in full flow, and all hopes of repeating their success lie with the former FC Basel defender.

Now

In the meantime, Aloisi and the rest of the club will be intent on keeping the majority of players as the club now looks to compete both domestically and in the AFC Champions League next year.

For the next few days, however, all those involved at the club can relax and celebrate the most improbable of victories.

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Very few people outside of the club thought that this was even a remote possibility, but in a sign of Aloisi’s growth as a coach, that mental fortitude was instilled in his players that took them to the biggest stage in the Australian football calendar.

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Dillon Izon
Marketing graduate at Monash University. Sports addicted, fan of Manchester United and Melbourne City. My gran “knows” Gareth Bale.

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