Fresh off securing a front three of Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, and Mathew Leckie for the next three years, Melbourne City anticipates locking in the majority of its squad soon after what they hope will be a successful Grand Final on Sunday. Don’t, however, expect Daniel Arzani to be among that number.
After announcing the signing of sometime Socceroo captain Leckie and Nabbout to three-year deals in early June, City dropped a Grand Final week bomb on their fanbase on Wednesday with the news that runaway Golden Boot winner Maclaren had inked a deal that would add a further two years to his existing one-year pact.
Ostensibly entering his prime at 27-years-old and coming off a season in which he provided 25 goals and five assists, the hitman had been expected to head overseas at the conclusion of the current season, and he himself admitted that he had attracted interest from “Europe, Middle East, Asia, even America.”
However, the former Green Gully junior’s comfort levels at City and ability to reliably play week in and week out in a strong team ultimately led to him spurning that interest.
“To be honest with you, it was a pretty quick negotiation,” City Director of Football Michael Petrillo told Kick360.
“We approximately signed the deal around  days ago. Obviously, with everything else going on we decided to announce it on Wednesday.
“The negotiations, I think, were done within about two weeks. When one party wants to stay and the other party wants you to say then negotiations are usually pretty smooth.
“I think it was the quickest negotiation I’ve ever had with a marquee player in the 16 years I’ve been involved in the A-League. It was great to get that commitment from him pretty quick.
“There’s always [overseas] phone calls and enquiries but I don’t think there was anything definitive on the table. I think, more importantly, that Jamie wanted to stay and saw his future here long-term.
“It was a good negotiation. One of the easiest in terms of how quick we were able to come to an agreement.”
Although the ABC Grandstand A-League Podcast has reported that City is set to lose dynamic winger Craig Noone to Macarthur FC, the securing of Maclaren and the newly crowned premiers policy of signing players to multi-year deals means it is already built a rock-solid foundation for its 2021-22 campaign.
The vast majority of its playing group is already under contract, and it is understood the captain Scott Jamieson has inked a yet-to-be-announced contract extension.
While not going into details on any specific players, Petrillo said that he expected City’s squad to be settled pretty quickly.
“There’s a couple of players we still need to re-sign and there could be one or two from outside the group depending on how those negotiations go,” he explained.
“This week’s, obviously, all about the Grand Final and any other negotiations are going to have to wait until after the Grand Final is finished.
“We’ll make a few decisions straight after the Grand Final to complete the squad.
“It would have been a lot better if we had the CBA negotiations finalised some time ago but, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I hope that they’ll all conclude this week so we’ll know exactly where we are next season.”
One player that won’t likely be announced as an addition, however, is Arzani.
Currently in Dubai ahead of his expected naming in Graham Arnold’s 18-player Olyroos squad for the Tokyo Olympics, the winger remains unquestionably one of the most naturally talented and brightest prospects in Australia’s ranks but has struggled for fitness and game time in recent years.
After an injury-riddled loan spell at Celtic, the 22-year-old moved to Eredivisie outfit FC Utrecht on loan last year but, after sporadic game time, left in January to join Danish side AGF Aarhus. Once in Scandinavia, however, more niggles restricted him to just 120 minutes of first-team football.
After initially bursting onto the scene with City in 2018 and putting together a series of games that saw him come off the bench three times in the Socceroos World Cup campaign in Russia, there had been some speculation surrounding the possible return of the AIS graduate to the A-League.
“He’s still got another year to go with his contract [with Manchester City],” said Petrillo. “So, I would imagine and knowing what the thinking has been internally, the thought is to try and keep him in Europe and playing somewhere.
“I think it would be unlikely [for an A-League return] but you can’t rule out the possibility. It will really come down to what Daniel wants to do.
“I know that he’s driven to make it in Europe and give it his best shot. And we hope that can happen and we’re confident it can still happen.
“He needs to find the right club and get some consistency, that’s what he’s probably missed since coming back from injury.”
Instead, Petrillo, A-League coach Patrick Kisnorbo and the staff at City will look to continue the production line of talent in their own academy that this season contributed the likes of Connor Metcalfe, Nathaniel Atkinson, Stefan Colakovski, and Raphael Borges Rodrigues to the first team.
“What we’ve tried to do, particularly over the last two or three seasons, is think ahead rather than plan for one season at a time,” the City Director of Football detailed.
“We’ve been trying to think about what happens in 12, 24, 36 months time if a player goes or if we sell them or whatever might happen in football. We’ve tried to make sure that our scholarship players are players that we think are going to be future A-League players at some point — anyone that has a scholarship with us is players we think can play A-League within three years.
“And I think that keeps a bit of a succession plan happening and we identify positions that we have a real need in and make sure we don’t overload in one position, because then you just create a bottleneck.
“I think we have a good mix of different players in different positions across the board. Probably a little bit more skewed to the front third at the moment but we’ve also got [Kerrin] Stokes and other players like that can play in different positions defensively.
“So we try and get a good balance of different players and age groups and players at different stages of their development both physically and technically and tactically. We talk about it as a group, coaches and we’ve got a recruitment team as well. The Head of Talent Recruitment is James Poole who we’ve brought from Manchester.
“So we’re well resourced in that area — the best resourced in Australia — so we can spend a little bit more time and resources on longer-term strategy management and planning in terms of our scholarship players.”
Across town, it is understood that Melbourne Victory is targeting former stalwarts Jason Geria and James Donachie as defensive reinforcements as they seek to rebuild under new coach Tony Popovic and Football Director John Didulica.
Image Supplied: Melbourne City