With three of his brightest young talents in Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne City Head Coach Warren Joyce is glad to welcome any kind of reinforcement he can get ahead of his side’s trip to face Sydney FC on Sunday.
Despite striker Jamie Maclaren netting in his first four games with his new club, City are without a win since they beat Western Sydney Wanderers 4-3 on 22 January; slipping them to the sixth position on the A-League table ahead of their round 22 meeting with the reigning A-League premiers and just four points clear of seventh-placed Newcastle.
And on Sunday, City will be without young starters Lachlan Wales, Riley McGree and Nathaniel Atkinson after the trio earned a call-up to Graham Arnold’s Olyroos side for a training camp and fixtures against Cambodia, Taiwan and South Korea as part of qualifying for the upcoming AFC U23 Championships.
Western Sydney Wanderers manager Markus Babbel wasn’t shy with his rancour over losing young players to Australian junior sides during the middle of the A-League season on Thursday, declaring the practice damaging to the A-League.
The Wanderers gaffer is missing three of his own most promising players thanks to the Olyroos efforts in Asia, with Abraham Majok, Tass Mourdoukoutas and Keanu Baccus all called into Arnold’s 24-player squad.
Arnold, while acknowledging the sacrifice that A-League clubs are making, has declared the training camp as a critical component of his side’s preparations ahead of their meeting with Cambodia on 22 March.
“For us, it’s a disaster and also a new experience for me,” the Wanderers manager said on Thursday.
“We try to bring young players in the A-League and the thanks from the league is they take the players away.
“You want to see young players in the A-League but you have to think twice next time if we bring so many young players here in because there is a period there where we can’t use them.”
Speaking to the media on Friday, however, Joyce struck a different tone than his German counterpart.
“It happens,” Joyce said.
“We knew at the start of the season, you know it’s not going to change so there’s no point in griping about it. Its there in the rules.
“We’re a club that wants young Aussie lads to come here and progress. We want to try and get the best young Australian footballers here and if you do that they’re going to play for their country.
“So, you either don’t bother and accept the rule and don’t try to sign them or bring any young players through or you accept things when they come along because you know what the rule is before the start of the season.”
Thankfully for Joyce, his side won’t be completely without reinforcement on Sunday afternoon, welcoming back defenders Harrison Delbridge, Bart Schenkeveld and Ritchie De Laet for the trip to the Harbour City.
The trio missed City’s previous fixture – a 2-2 draw with table-toppers Perth Glory – through a combination of injury (Delbridge) and suspension (Schenkeveld and De Laet).
They will now likely be called upon to help keep out a Sydney FC attack that at 36 has scored the third most goals in the competition and put have put five goals past City in two previous victories during the 2018-19 season.
Beyond the defence, Joyce has also flagged the possibility of even younger blood being infused into his side in the absence of his Olyroos trio, namedropping teenagers Gianluca Iannucci and Yaya Dukuly as possible additions to his squad.
Both wide players, Iannucci, 17, was a part of City’s pre-season tour of India while Dukuly, 15, made his debut for City’s senior NPL side as 14-year-old after being recruited from South Australia.
Though not making any commitments – citing Friday as a major training day for his group – Joyce said that there was a good chance that one of the two would at least feature on the bench for his group on Sunday.
“They’ll add competition to places where we’ll lose in other areas,” Joyce said firstly of his defensive additions.
“They’re (De Laet and Schenkeveld) both men aren’t they. They’re both a good age. If you look at teams that win things throughout the world they usually have predominantly players at the peak ages and they’re in and around the prime ages as a footballer.
“There’s not that many teams that have a lot of young payers and win. There’s not that many that have a lot of old players and win stuff. So, they’re good players at good ages that want to do well.
“(The absence of the Olyroos) depletes the squad a little bit, gives a chance for some of the young kids from the academy to come up and train with us and show what they can do against the first team players.
“One thing you do get with kids of any age is you get enthusiasm and keenness to impress and go against other players.
“It’s refreshing to see really. Kids with no fear that come and play and show respect, but no respect, and they knock one or two of the first-teamers on their backside and you have a little chuckle.
“It’s good to see.
“There will be younger players involved in and around the bench that perhaps have not been involved all season. They’ve earned the right over the last two weeks.
“I’m talking about Yaya and Gianluca and people like that. They’ve done particularly well so with the number that we’ve got they’ll force themselves into the reckoning.
“They’re still at school so it’s difficult, you don’t always get access to them so it frustrates me that we’ve got players with limited access to getting them in and getting them involved in the first team.
“We’ve got one big training day today, we’ll look at that and assess but looking at the way the group is they’ve got a pretty good chance of travelling and one of them has a chance of being on the bench.”