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Ultimate A-League FC: Centre Backs

Over the space of ten days, we’ll be formalising a team of the best footballers (and non-footballers) to grace the A-League over the last ten years. These footballers will make up ‘Ultimate A-League FC’, our club of champions of the last decade. Kristian Dwyer will take you on this waltz down memory lane.

Today we take a look at the men that are the rocks in the heart of their respective defences, the central defenders…

10. Jade North – Newcastle Jets, Wellington Phoenix, Brisbane Roar

When you think of indigenous sporting icons, you think of Cathy Freeman or Adam Goodes, but rarely do people give Jade North the recognition he deserves as a top class central defender. Starting his career in the NSL, North represented Brisbane Strikers, Sydney Olympic and Perth Glory (winning a title with them) before moving east to spend four successful years at Newcastle. His performances caught the eye of overseas suitors and a stint in Korea and Norway soon followed before he returned back to the A-League with Wellington Phoenix in 2010-11. He then spent two years in Japan before returning last year, on a 3 and a half year contract with the Brisbane Roar and has proved a crucial cog in last years championship side.

Jade North holds the prestigious accolade of being the first ever indigenous Socceroo captain, with 41 socceroos caps made even more impressive by the fact that over the last ten years he has been a player for a Hyundai A-League side.

9. Trent Sainsbury – Central Coast Mariners

A former Perth Glory junior, Trent Sainsbury became yet another example of how the Western Australian club became a feeder club for fellow A-League challengers. Between 2010 and 2014, Sainsbury started 52 of 60 games for the Central Coast Mariners and, prior to his signing with PEC Zwolle in the Eiredivise, he was a key component in both Graham Arnold’s championship winning side. Together with fellow Perth product Storm Roux, he provided a strong foundation for the club to build on.

Even more impressive is that at just 22 years of age, Sainsbury has also managed to notch two appearances for the national side and is set for a storied career in Europe.

8. Iain Fyfe – Sydney FC, Adelaide United

Iain Fyfe is a name that will be synonymous with both fans of New South Wales and South Australian football, with the strong defender amassing 163 appearances in his eight year career in the Hyundai A-League. Fyfe began his career with Sydney FC, and soon endeared himself to the Cove and Sky Blue faithful with 88 appearances and four goals that included a 2005-06 championship win against the Central Coast Mariners. A strong central defender, it is not surprising that Adelaide United lured him away, and his strong domestic form would also land him a few years overseas.

A short stay in Iran has not tarnished his career, however, and to this day still remains as one of the A-League’s hardest central defenders.

7. Patrick Zwaanswijk – Central Coast Mariners

When Patrick Zwaanswijk came to Australia he had nothing more than a Dutch passport and a CV that included as many clubs from that home nation. What happened once he’d made his mark on the Hyundai A-League is a completely different story. Marshalling the Gosford-based outfit’s defence over three years, including its Championship winning year of 2012-13, Zwaanswijk built on his career-long reputation as a hard man in the Netherlands to amass 87 games for the Mariners during his stay, and finally break the drought and win the A-League championship two seasons ago.

Zwaanswijk also played a key part in that Grand Final win, scoring a 44th minute goal against the Western Sydney Wanderers at Allianz Stadium.

6. Matt Smith – Brisbane Roar, North Queensland Fury

At the end of 2009-10, his inaugural A-League season, Matt Smith could have been forgiven for thinking that perhaps he was out of luck in the national league, after North Queensland’s departure from the A-League. However, Ange Postecoglou spotted Smith’s talent and led him on the path to becoming a triple-championship winning player, leading Brisbane to two championships under the tenure of both Postecoglou and later replacement Mike Mulvey. With 113 matches under his belt, the English born defender has endeared himself to the Queensland faithful as a local sporting hero.

In addition to his exploits for the Roar, Smith has also managed to notch up 3 appearances for the Socceroos during this time.

5. Michael Thwaite – Melbourne Victory, Gold Coast United, Perth Glory

Despite a lot of his career being spent overseas, Thwaite has become a cult figure in the A-League no matter which club he has been to as both a fan favourite as well as a larrikin. Thwaite, the 2013-14 Most Glorious Player recipient at the Perth Glory, spent his early Australian career at Marconi Stallions before moving overseas to Romania, Poland and Norway. He would eventually return for Melbourne Victory (winning two trophies), then the ill-fated Gold Coast United, before making the move to Perth Glory in 2012.

As aforementioned, Thwaite is a huge larrikin at any club he goes to, and has earned 13 caps for Australia since 2005.

4. Andrew Durante – Newcastle Jets, Wellington Phoenix – UAL FC Substitute central defender

Andrew Durante is one of a few players who can say they’ve seen nearly all of the A-League’s history. At 32, the marshal of Wellington Phoenix’s defence has seen 2 years at Newcastle Jets and a further seven years at the Wellington Phoenix develop him into the class act he is today. On top of this, in 2013 Durante opted to naturalise himself as a New Zealander after five years of service to the Wellington Phoenix, and since then has made six appearances for the All Whites in competition.

If some of you think that this may have been out of desire to simply play international football, then look no further than the fact that in 2007-08, Durante was named Joe Marston Medallist in Newcastle Jets’ 1-0 victory in the 2007-08 Grand Final. Durante clearly has earned his dues in his 194 Hyundai A-League appearances.

3. Nikolai Topor-Stanley – Sydney FC, Perth Glory, Newcastle Jets, Western Sydney Wanderers  - UAL FC Substitute central defender

Often parodied by Fox Sports production the ‘B-League’, Nikolai Topor-Stanley is perhaps best known for his hoofing of the ball out of central defence to nearby oceanic nations. Kidding aside though, in his nine year career, Topor-Stanley has established himself as one of the hardest men to get past in the Hyundai A-League, as well as a man who knows just when to bob up in the penalty area in a set piece. In his 189 appearances in the A-League, the 29-year-old has managed to pop up seven times and has proven a rock in the defence for his most recent side Western Sydney Wanderers.

Topor-Stanley has made good on his potential in his career by being named in the most recent Socceroos side, and could very well add to his two pre-existing Socceroos caps.

2. Sasa Ognenovski – Brisbane Roar, Adelaide United, Sydney FC

The ‘Og-Monster’ deserves to go down in history as one of the most storied A-League defenders of all time, if not for his presence but his sheer determination and recognition – with 22 caps for the Socceroos. Starting his A-League career with the Roar, Ognenovski earned a reputation as a hard man in a hard Roar side, that originally gained it’s reputation as a side that grinded itself to wins under Bleiberg and Farina. Ognenovski moved to Adelaide for the 2008-09 season. Despite being an Australian national, in 2008 Ognenovski achieved the surprising accolade of being the ‘second best’ Macedonian player of the year behind Goran Pandev of Inter Milan, and as such moved into Asia.

After starring at the 2011 Asian Cup, Ognenovski would eventually return last season to conclude his career with Sydney FC.

1. Alex Wilkinson – Central Coast Mariners

Alex Wilkinson may not be the player of choice for many top 10 central defender lists in the Hyundai A-League but the 30-year-old in his seven years in the A-League proved to be an absolute rock in defence for the Central Coast Mariners until his departure to Korea in 2012. Since then he has managed to go on to make eight appearances for the Australian national team including becoming the first player in global football history in the World Cup to be involved in goal-line technology, after clearing a goal off the line against Chile.

Showing elite sporstmanship at any club he has ever been at, it was no surprise that at just 23, Wilkinson was named captain of the burgeoning Central Coast Mariners side.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow! Also, make sure you check out yesterday’s UAL FC Wing Backs piece that ties up our defence, and our UAL FC Goalkeeper piece. Got any feedback? Hit us up at ualfc@ultimatealeague.com!

About the author

avatarKris is a freelance sports journalist, a two-time WA media guild award winner, and podcast host and writer for Ultimate A-League.

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  • Alex Wain

    Saša Ognenovski should surely be No.1?? Was named Asian Footballer of the Year, won a position in the K-League Best XI, and won the AFC Champions League with Seongnam – all of which this article fails to mention. Plus he has more caps than Wilkinson who was brutally exposed at the WC and is current Captain at Sydney FC.

  • Stevo

    All of the accomplishments Ogga achieved were in the K-League. This is about the A-League … Ognenovski hasn’t been anywhere near his best with Sydney, so no he doesn’t deserve no. 1.