It’s probably an understatement to say a lot has changed at Northcote City, both on and off the park, since the end of its successful NPL 2 campaign last season when it won the title and more importantly achieved the difficult feat of bouncing straight back into the NPL 1.
A new senior coaching team headed by Eric Vassiliadis has been assembling a new squad involving a huge turnover of players. Just four of last year’s first team squad remain including Phil Petrovski, Anthony Ramzy, George Stavridis, and Otman Benhaddou. The significant turnover has meant a particularly busy pre-season of recruitment for coach Vassiliadis, he explained to Neos Kosmos earlier this week.
“To be frank that’s a fairly abnormal number. Some of the departures were driven by us but most were players that just got tempted elsewhere. That was pretty much the turnover, so in a squad of 22 we’ve had to go out and recruit 18 players which has been hard work.”
Having to recruit on such a large scale under the restriction of a points cap system, has prompted Vassiliadis and the club to look at a different way of doing things. The club has taken the bold step of recruiting six players out of the A-League junior system.
“There [are] quite a few younger players we’ve signed out of the Melbourne City system. That was a calculated decision on behalf of myself and the club. We couldn’t sign 18 established players [from] the premier league because they would incur too many switching points. Hence we’ve managed to bring some very good young players to our club but also stay within the points cap.”
Players such as Gerrie Sylaidos, Anthony Theodoropoulos, Alex Petropolous, and Nenad Nikolic are part of a contingent of Melbourne City youth players who have joined the club.
Vassiliadis adds, “We’ve got to get the squad balance right. I think it’s unfair to put 10 kids out there. So we’re going to have some good young footballers out there but surround them with established footballers who are experienced.”
Those established players, are Ross Honos (ex-Bentleigh Greens), keeper Fraser Chalmers and forward Danny Dixon (from Melbourne Knights), defenders Charlie Beverley and Thomas Lakic, as well as two Spanish visa players, centre back Alberto Balta, and striker Juan Gallego.
History tells us that of the eight clubs that have won promotion into the NPL1 since its inception, five have been relegated after just one season in the top tier. History also tells that Northcote City’s last season in the NPL 1, 2016, suffered from a horror start in which the club only scored one point from its first seven games.
Vassiliadis says his squad is ready mentally and physically for the start of the new season but admits that, given it’s a new group, it’s going to take some time for the squad to reach the level of tactical performance he’s aiming for.
“So together with my assistant coach David Chick, we have to get that balance right between trying to get results early and probably worrying about style and philosophy later. We’ve got to make sure that we’re very hard to beat, in so far as we’re defensively structured, sound and aggressive.”
Along with changes to the senior playing and coaching personnel at Northcote, the club has invested in infrastructure developments at John Cain Reserve.
Coach Vassiliadis says, “I’m pleased to say anyone who hasn’t been to Northcote in the last three months won’t recognise the place on or off the park. There’s been considerable investment in infrastructure, spent on clubrooms, coach’s offices, a corporate box, and new lights.
“It looks like we’re going to have the grand opening of the club and the new lights at our first home game which looks like it will be a round three clash against Melbourne Knights on Labor Day. So there’s momentum building on and off the ground for us which I’m excited about.”