July 15, 2015 – 9:57PM
Recent signing for Melbourne City: Michael Zullo. Photo: Getty Images
For many of the Melbourne City squad that boarded a flight to the Gold Coast on Wednesday afternoon, Saturday’s clash with sister club Manchester City will be a career highlight as well as a steep learning curve.
With several of the Melbourne club’s first team squad still recuperating from injury, off-season surgery or other ailments, coach John van ‘t Schip has included a large number of youth team and fringe players in the travelling party for the first ever meeting between the two teams, both owned by the City Football Group.
That common ownership is largely where the similarities end.
The English Premier League club this week splurged £50 million on former Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling. That’s more than $100 million – enough to pay the current A-League salary cap of $2.55 million for almost 40 years!
For Manchester City, who kick off the new Premier League season in less than a month’s time, matches such as this are essential.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini will look at fringe players, bring in new signings and try to find the right blend for the Sky Blues to mount a serious title challenge against last season’s league winners, Chelsea.
But in its way the game is just as important for van ‘t Schip, as he too will use fixtures like this, and the more competitive games in the FFA Cup that are just over the horizon, to try to blend in his new acquisitions and work on a game plan for the new campaign.
This will be a new-look Melbourne and the ambitious club, which reached the last four of the competition last year, is looking to mount a serious title tilt of its own this season. With cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory holding the trophy, City will lack for nothing in motivation.
Signings such as Socceroo full-backs Michael Zullo and Ivan Franjic are a major upgrade on the flanks, while veteran Northern Ireland centre-back Aaron Hughes will bring stability and experience to the defence.
Aaron Mooy has been linked with a potential move to Europe, but City could offer last year’s player of the season an upgraded new deal and, with the retirement of former Socceroo Josh Kennedy, make Mooy the club’s Australian marquee.
City has been linked with a number of targets in the transfer rumour mill – including former Danish international goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and Uruguayan striker Bruno Fornaroli – but van ‘t Schip would offer no comment on Tuesday.
Having let Andrew Redmayne go to Western Sydney Wanderers, City now only have one experienced shot stopper in Tando Velaphi. Sorensen is vastly experienced, having spent 17 years in the Premier League and played more than 100 times for his country, but he has just turned 39.
Fornaroli has been something of a journeyman in a career that has taken him from his native Uruguay to periods in Italy and Greece as well as a stint in Brazil.
Asked about finding a like-for-like replacement for the tall Kennedy, whose back injuries forced him to call time on his career last month, van ‘t Schip said it was important to find a player who could cope with the rigours of the A-League.
“We are looking for a player who can manage the load, who can do the things that we have in mind. There are a few players that we have on target and hopefully we can get one of them in soon.”
Asked to comment on Sorensen and Fornaroli, the Dutchman was short and sharp.
“We still have some spots to fill in and hopefully we can come to a quick solution in that. ”
He is looking forward to his young players learning plenty from their clash with City on Saturday.
“It’s an historic moment for both clubs, for us especially of course playing in Australia against our sister club. It’s going to be a great moment for our players to step on the pitch and play against them.
“It’s a pre-season game; we will have a lot of changes both teams. For us it’s going to be the first hitout. We don’t know what to expect, we just have to focus on our own team. We saw then in England last year before they went to the US, we were there together in Abu Dhabi in their winter, so this will be the third occasion that we are meeting as teams, but now on the pitch,” van ‘t Schip said.
“It’s going to be an experience for the young players: they will see their movement, the way they play, the touches they have. But we are good players ourselves, and we have to prepare ourselves in a good way and give them as hard as possible a game.
The Canberra Times