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Ultimate A-League FC: Utilities

Today, and every Wednesday for the coming weeks, we’re continuing to formalise our team of the best footballers (and non-footballers) to grace the A-League over the last ten years. Those chosen 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 can play multiple positions, act as a stop-gap, and provide for their team as key utility men. To qualify for this category, a player must have demonstrated the ability to play in multiple positions, and have done so for large parts of their A-League career:

10. Craig Goodwin – Melbourne Heart, Newcastle Jets, Adelaide United

Craig Goodwin must be scratching his head in bewilderment as to just what he has to do to lock down a permanent multi-year contract in the Hyundai A-League.

Snared from Melbourne Heart in 2012/13, Goodwin was a gem in a dismal season for Newcastle, slotting in at left back and providing some penetrating runs in his 44 appearances with the Jets.

Since the 22-year-old has joined undefeated Adelaide United this season, Goodwin has started in all seven games for the Reds, and having been deployed as left winger will find himself eager to add to his 5 career goals thus far.

9. Mile Sterjovski – Perth Glory, Central Coast Mariners

Mile Sterjovski is probably best known for his left wing exploits for the Socceroos, and as a part of the golden generation of Socceroos that made their way to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.

After being frozen out by Derby County, however, the former Lille man made his way west to play for the Glory as their Australian marquee in the 2009/10 season.

Then-coach David Mitchell would utilise him as a striker that season, somewhat fruitlessly, as Sterjovski scored a meagre 6 goals in 23 games, half of which were from the penalty spot.

Enter Ian Ferguson, and a return to the left wing saw the flyer recapture some of his form of old, whilst still getting on the score sheet.

‘Sterj’ would see out his career on the wing with two seasons at the Central Coast Mariners where he notched up an A-League Championship winners medal with the Gosford club.

8. Ali Abbas – Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC

In November 2007, Ali Abbas, along with two of his countrymen, made global headlines by seeking asylum in Australia after playing against the Olyroos for the Iraqi Under-23 side in an Olympics qualifier in Gosford.

Ultimately succesfull, Abbas’ first foray into the A-League was with the Newcastle Jets, who initially didn’t sign the Iraqi. However, his persistence paid off and he eventually made 60 appearances for the club, scoring 4 goals.

Since 2012, Abbas has been a key component of the Sydney FC midfield and a staunch opponent of racism in football, after a very public confrontation with Brendon Santalab of the Western Sydney Wanderers during a Sydney derby last season.

At time of writing, Ali Abbas has made 58 appearances and scored three goals for the Sky Blues, and is set to make his 10th appearance for the Iraqi national team at the upcoming 2015 Asian Cup.

7. Leo Bertos – Perth Glory, Wellington Phoenix

The only Kiwi to make the list this time around, Leo Bertos made his name starting off as a no-name player for Perth GLory.

Despite an early career floating around England, in particular with lower league Rochdale, the All White was utilised in a particular right wing role at the Glory, where he quickly became a fan favourite — notching up a solitary goal in 35 appearances at the club.

Bertos would then go on to be one of the foundation players at the Wellington Phoenix and make 127 appearances in six years with the club, ranging from a Right Back to a Right Wing with the occasional spell up front.

Injuries limited Bertos to just seven appearances last season, and he was ultimately released. But the 32-year old can currently be seen in India’s Hero Super League, after linking up with former coach Ricki Herbert at Northeast United.

6. Tom Pondeljak – Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory

One of the ‘old guard’ of the NSL era, Pondeljak shocked many by signing with the Central Coast Mariners instead of former club Perth Glory in the inaugural season of the A-League.

Spending three years in Gosford, Pondeljak quickly became a fan favourite as he was used all over midfield from a wide to a central role in his time at the club, but was at his most dangerous pushing from an attacking midfield position.

In 2008, Pondeljak would move on to Melbourne Victory and play a key role in the Victory securing their second A-League championship — scoring the solitary goal in the 2008-09 Grand Final, which earned him the Joe Marston Medal.

Pondeljak would retire after the 2011-12 season, with 133 A-League appearances and 11 goals to his name.

5. Simon Colosimo – Perth Glory, Sydney FC, Melbourne Heart

Once hailed as a great white hope for the Socceroos midfield, Simon Colosimo returned to the Glory in the inaugural season and would go on to make 50 appearances, scoring 2 goals in the purple and orange.

After gaining some notoriety for deriding Glory fans, after being booed for signing a pre-contract with Sydney FC, Colosimo was played more defensively at the Sky Blues, and often found himself playing in the centre of defence in his 34 games for the club.

Colosimo would end his career also playing central defence in 63 games for the Melbourne Heart, cementing his place as one of the great A-League utilities, having played 147 games.

4. Jamie Harnwell – Perth Glory

Jamie Harnwell originally made his name as a ‘hard as nuts’ defender, so it came as some surprise when in one of his many surprising changes, then-coach Ron Smith played the 188cm Harnwell at the apex of his attack.

Scoring 15 goals over the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons with the Glory, including a hat-trick against the New Zealand Knights, Harnwell proved that knowing your preferred role only served to allow you to exploit it.

Finishing with 25 goals in 110 matches in the A-League, Harnwell also retired as the Glory’s most capped player of all time, notching up 256 appearances in both the NSL and A-League eras.

3. Mark Milligan – Sydney FC. Newcastle Jets, Melbourne Victory

Milligan originally kicked off his career as a right back and centre back for Sydney FC, and made it known early on he harboured strong ambitions of playing overseas.

After playing 32 games for the Sky Blues and starting at the 2007 Asian Cup, Milligan attempted to trial overseas but inevitably ended up coming back in the 2007-08 season to play a guest contract with regional rivals Newcastle Jets.

An Asian spell in China and Japan would follow, before his return to Australian shores in 2011 with the Melbourne Victory where he has since cemented his place in defensive midfield and excelled.

At the time of writing, 29-year-old Milligan has started 110 of his 111 games in the Hyundai A-League and been capped an impressive 33 times for the Socceroos.

2. Matt McKay – Brisbane Roar

A plucky winger with a bit of flair about him, McKay quickly earned himself the plaudits as a fan favourite and foundation player of the Queensland Roar.

Played mainly on the left wing, Queensland product McKay has played in 9 of the 10 seasons the Roar have participated in, amassing 158 appearances and 17 goals, and his performances have seen him feature in varied roles between left back and left wing.

The 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons saw the charismatic midfielder float between Rangers, Busan I-Park and Changchun Yatai after a starring role in the 2011 Asian Cup earned him an initial move to Scotland.

In early 2013, the 50 times capped McKay returned to the Roar as their domestic marquee on a two year contract, and has once again returned to his starring role on the wing.

1. Kevin Muscat – Melbourne Victory

This is probably the most controversial of all the choices, but we here at Ultimate A-League are confident that this was the right choice for our number 1 A-League utility of all time.

Muscat obviously started and finished his career at centre back, but was often deployed as a holding midfielder/defensive midfielder under Victory coach Ernie Merrick.

As well as captaining the Socceroos, Muscat maintains quite the trophy cabinet with two premierships and championships under his belt with the Victory, and as a coach looks set to add to that total in the coming seasons.

What did you make of our list? Who do you rate as being the best A-League utility players? Let us know your thoughts below. Also, make sure to check out the previous articles in this series – goalkeepers, wing backs, centre backs and administrators.

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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