8. Ante Covic
At 39 years of age, Ante Covic would have to be the oldest member of this year’s TURF20, but with the form that he’s displayed over the last 12 months, could anyone really argue with it? (Apart from maybe Ange Postecoglou…)
Born and raised in Sydney’s west, Covic came through the old NSL system with the Marconi Stallions until Europe came knocking in 1999. Largely unsuccessful tints with Euro giants POAK and Dinamo Zagreb and were interspersed with two less glamorous but more fruitful spells in Sweden, as well a return to Australia to help the Newcastle Jets earn their maiden A-League crown.
Another A-League return was to follow in 2011/12 when he took over as Melbourne Victory’s custodian, but despite winning the club’s Player of the Season award, he was only there for a solitary year, as Ange Postecoglou took the reins and his subsequent rejuvenation of the squad saw the aging keeper clubless.
Fortunately, this somewhat surprise sacking opened the door for Covic to return back to where it all began, claiming his place as the inaugural no. 1 for the newly formed Western Sydney Wanderers, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A spectacular debut season saw the club reach their maiden Grand Final appearance, whilst their second season brought the Premier’s Plate – largely on the back of a highly-organised defensive unit, headlined by the commanding Covic between the sticks. Missing only 3 games in 2 full seasons, Covic’s record of 29 clean sheets in 69 appearances gives him a remarkable 42% record, which is up there with the best.
Their success landed the Wanderers in the Asian Champions League, which of course they would go on to win in historic fashion last month, thanks largely to Covic’s continued heroics throughout the campaign. This was most evident in his 86th minute, point blank, fingertip diving save to deny the Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal in the away leg of the final, and saw him claim the honour of 2014 AFC Champions League Player of the Tournament and selected as goalkeeper in the ACL Team of the Year.
Despite his undeniable form, Covic has somehow been unable to add to his 2 international appearances made back in 2006 and 2008, not even selected as one of Ange’s 5 keepers for the Asian Cup 46 man squad.
“I know my form is good enough to be in there, but we’ve got a coach that clearly has a different view. There’s not much I can do about it. It doesn’t change the fact that I go out for the Wanderers every game and want to put those performances on the field every single week.”
It’s something that Wanderers fans will be happy to hear, as even though Ange might not see a place for him in the Socceroos setup, Covic seems to embody that old cliché of a fine wine, with each year only bringing more experience and wisdom to his arsenal, whilst his agility and reflexes remain as sharp as ever.
7. Matthew Leckie
Unquestionably one of the most positive outcomes of Australia’s World Cup campaign was the revelatory unveiling of Matthew Leckie onto the world stage. After making the move abroad, to Borussia Mönchengladbach, at age 19, Leckie’s career in Germany’s top flight didn’t start out quite as he would have hoped, as he was quickly loaned out to Bundesliga 2 club FSV Frankfurt. But, after making a permanent move following that initial loan, Leckie got that precious game time with the second tier club, and made 31 appearances for them last season, scoring an impressive 10 goals. Just before the 2014 World Cup, he signed for fellow second division side FC Ingolstadt 04. Though he has publically stated that he doesn’t regret making the move before the World Cup (that premier shop window for young players) began, his private view might be a little different, as his stock rose considerably during the tournament.
The sight of Leckie tearing down the flanks, clad in green and gold was one that swelled the heart in Brazil. He terrorised the Chilean full backs in the opening group stage match, flying past them easily, and was a danger for the Dutch and the Spaniards in the following games. Of course, what catches the eye most about Leckie is his prodigious pace, but a one trick pony the lad is not. High-octane dribbling is an art that must be honed meticulously, and the ability to keep the ball under control at such breakneck speed requires advanced technical prowess. His crossing was also a highlight, and he seems to have a much more considered tact when it comes to the skill; his neat work at the World Cup in this regard made for contrasting viewing when compared to the hit-and-hope, slightly profligate approach of his colleague Tommy Oar.
He is already one of our finest attackers, and is sure to play a leading role in the future of the Socceroos’ attack and. If he continues this sort of progress, Leckie won’t have to wait long for a move away from the relative obscurity of the German second division.
Words by Nick Leggatt & Evan Morgan