Here Come the Future: The significance of City's current eight-player ALW squad
An indication of the new direction being taken by Melbourne City's A-League Women's team, Rado Vidosic heads into the 2022/23 season with eight players already under contract, a stark contrast to the loanee- and one-season-wonder-fuelled dynasty between 2015 and 2018.
A successful 2021/22 campaign under Vidosic saw City streak ahead of schedule in its 'rebuild' following the team's historic-low finish of seventh in 2020/21, and having a strong squad foundation this season will only further aid that dramatic progress. For the first time in the team's seven-season history, a long-term future is under construction.
This vision will be founded upon the numerous multi-season contracts signed ahead of the 2021/22 season, with Emma Checker, Holly McNamara, Tori Tumeth, Leah Davidson, Leticia McKenna, Naomi Chinnama, and Darcey Malone already locked in for the upcoming campaign, and Chelsea Blissett committing until the end of 2023/24.
Whilst this is indeed a very young foundation to be building upon, it couldn't be in a more capable pair of hands than those of Emma Checker, who enters her fourth season at City and her third as Captain. The 26-year-old is currently out on a short-term loan (an exciting, if risky, proposition in itself) at Swedish top-flight outfit Umea IK until early November, with the new ALW campaign beginning on November 18. Renowned for her leadership qualities even from the earlier stages of her professional career, Checker has demonstrated a refreshing emotional and professional investment in the club and will continue to make both an outstanding mentor for her younger teammates and a captain that fans can be proud of.
In Holly McNamara and Tori Tumeth, City has a pair of highly-touted prospects who will be valuable inclusions into Vidosic's best XI once they have recovered from respective ACL injuries. The former has been out of action since mid-February and should be on track to return in the first half of the new season, whilst the latter suffered her injury in mid-June and may have a chance of returning to action in the latter stages of 2022/23.
Leah Davidson will almost certainly feature in Vidosic's midfield plans for a third-consecutive season, already accumulating 28 City appearances at just 21 years of age. Hoping to join her as regular features in the starting XI will be Leticia McKenna, Naomi Chinnama and Chelsea Blissett. The trio are yet to ingrain themselves as weekly starters like Davidson, though each is uniquely poised to do so. McKenna appeared regularly off the bench in 2021/22 and made the occasional impact late in games, but never quite put her best foot forward in her first campaign at the club. Following a promising run of starts late in 2020/21, Chinnama stalled in her development last season, making just six appearances. However, the 18-year-old centre-back was one of Australia's top performers at the recent U20 World Cup and could be a beneficiary of Tumeth's absence from the City defensive unit. Chelsea Blissett has long been deprived of game time by various injuries over the course of her long City tenure and is reaching the point in her career where a breakout season is needed. Her 13 appearances in 21/22 were indeed a positive return from an ACL injury, but what the burgeoning left-back will really be working towards this season is improving on the mere four starts that that included.
Darcey Malone stands alone amongst 'The Eight' as the only player who isn't an obvious starting XI candidate, with the teenager making just seven appearances, including two starts, in 2021/22. Though Malone is likely to fall behind other prospective signings in the midfield pecking order, she will be a top candidate for minutes off the bench and rotational starts as Vidosic requires.
Though the club has excelled at male youth development since the CFG takeover, it hasn't been until now that the circumstances have been conducive to producing young female talent. If City was the benchmark for player treatment and training standards in its dynasty years, Sydney FC has since emerged as the benchmark for attaining success through youth development and squad stability. Though City still lacks a formal female academy, the club has taken an important step forward by creating an environment for young, unpolished but high-potential players to enter the City system on multi-season contracts with the possibility of 'graduating' into the senior team over time.
In Vidosic's youthful eight-player squad at present, City fans should see a promising headstart to our recruitment for the new campaign. It mightn't be a series of big-name acquisitions for fans to clamour over, but the 2021 decision to secure the group's long-term futures may turn out to be the transfer business that benefits City the most in 2022.