Heidelberg United’s headquarters at Olympic Village have been undergoing major renovations and the same can be said of coach George Katsakis’s senior squad over the pre-season as it prepared for a new NPL campaign which it kicked off on the right foot.
Having put together a squad with seven or eight new faces, Katsakis says he always expected the pre-season to be tough. “ People have to get acquainted to our playing style, to our culture, to a lot of things. It hasn’t been great, but by the same token I’m very impressed with what’s come in,” Katsakis told Neos Kosmos midweek ahead of their opening round fixture away to arch rival South Melbourne.
At the end of last season’s finals run, many around Olympic Village sensed an era had come to a close particularly with the departures of key players Steven Pace and skipper Luke Byles, as well as experienced players such as forward Tom Cahill, Andrew Cartanos and Alex Schiavo as well as Paul O’Brien. Asked about the loss of veteran centre backs Pace and Byles (the Twin Towers in defence), Katsakis said “ Those sort of people don’t get replaced very easily. It’s a huge challenge. It’s definitely the main thing I’ve been thinking about in terms of our defensive duties. But having said that, it also creates opportunities as well. So along with losing some very experienced players, there’s new hope as well.”
Most of the new recruits are younger players, 25 years or younger, with the exception of attacking midfielder Dusan Bosnjak. When asked about the new recruits, Katsakis said, the focus in selecting the new recruits, was on.
“The quality of person, the quality of player and with a long time objective… We dropped our average age by almost 3-4 years. We’ve brought in players 25 year old or less, a younger brigade that possess a lot of talent.”
They include striker James Demetriou ( “a lot of overseas experience”), Amir Abdallah ( “ an exciting young kid, very fluid in going forward, very mobile and technically gifted”), Anthony Theo ( “ loves to get forward as an 8 or 10), as well as defenders Ajdin Fetahagic, Lachlan Barr and keeper Nick Eres.
The Bergers have achieved a remarkable hat trick of minor NPL premierships and it would be a tall order for any team, let alone a revamped squad, to extend this sequence to a fourth minor premiership. Katsakis says “ It’ll be fairly difficult to back up the triple premiership plate. Everything’s possible in football and we’ll do whatever we can to make sure we’re amongst the top 5-6 teams. I think the new challenge, with the new squad, is if you can make finals, you’ve achieved very well.”
Given that the team will be playing its first eight rounds away from home until Olympic Village’s renovations are complete, Katsakis says, “A lot of emphasis is not conceding goals. To try and gather up as many points as we can away from home, will be very important. So definitely our objective is not to concede many goals and give us the opportunity to win games.”