A-League Preview

Victory: The name of the game

October 9, 2013
By Rob Brooks

Ten months ago Pablo Contreras helped extend Arsenal's infamously poor run of form by claiming a 2-1 Champions League victory alongside his Olympiakos team-mates in Athens. Now, the 67-time Chile international is charged with convincing the A-League he is worthy of marquee status.

Pablo Contreras has battled some of Europe's best, bringing a fine pedigree to the A-League.
GettyImagesPablo Contreras has battled some of Europe's best, bringing a fine pedigree to the A-League.

Confusing? Let's delve a little deeper.

Melbourne Victory's pre-season has been dominated by the club's search for a marquee signing. Greek hero Giorgos Karagounis and enigmatic Italian Fabrizio Miccoli barely slipped out of their grasp, leaving coach Ange Postecoglou in need of an established name to challenge that of Alessandro Del Piero at bitter rivals Sydney FC.

• Rd 1 v Melbourne Heart

William Gallas was then linked to the club. So too Giourkas Seitaridis. But, ultimately, the club looked to on-pitch performance rather than name alone, bringing in the steady Contreras.

It is hoped by Postecoglou that the 35-year-old defender will be able to guide the team from the back, offering his experience and knowledge garnered from time spent at Olympiakos, Celta Vigo, Monaco, and on the international stage.

Indeed, Contreras' international caps -- including at the 2010 World Cup, numerous Copa Americas and the 2000 Olympic Games -- generate a newfound gravitas around the Melbourne defence which has been sorely lacking in recent seasons.

But some alarm bells surely sounded at the club when A-League fans created more hype around the capture of fringe Australia international James Troisi on loan from Atalanta than of marquee man Contreras in the same week.

The Chilean, though, remains calm over the debate surrounding his signing, and the near misses which went before him.

"First of all, the option that was presented [by Melbourne Victory] was what motivated me to come," Contreras told ESPN. "I analysed the idea with my family and my career in mind, and I found that coming to Australia would be a very positive move for me.

"I researched the team and found that it was very big and successful and thought it was the perfect opportunity to continue growing my career, and I hope it's one that proves fruitful for me and the club.

"My name was brought up to my representatives in Athens and, given the circumstance there at the time, I considered it with my family and it was also a personal wish of mine to see and experience new football after 13 or 14 years in Europe where I pretty much played my whole career."

With the demotion of Contreras' fellow central defender Adrian Leijer from the club captaincy, responsibility will inevitably land on the newcomer's shoulders to utilise this experience in leading the side around the pitch.

Leadership is a duty which Contreras takes effortlessly in his stride, which is perhaps the first sign football supporters have seen of the motivation behind Postecoglou's faith in him.

"Without a doubt it's a very important trait and one that I have carried with me throughout my career due to my personality and the way I like to go about things.

"I like to keep things calm and not let nerves take over -- and that can be seen through my actions. I like that my team-mates can see those traits in me, but I insist that the thing that makes me happiest is to lead by example on the pitch, and also on a day-to-day basis around the club.

"I think that the best thing a player can do is to let his football do the talking.

"I arrive at this club understanding the history of it. I understand that a lot of good players have come through the club and left their mark on the place. If I can be half as good as some of the players to have played for Melbourne Victory I will be very happy. I hope that I can leave my mark on the club and be remembered as someone who contributed to its success."

Perhaps key to Victory's success this season -- along with the integration of Contreras -- will follow on from the club's ability to hold onto Australia midfielder Mark Milligan, despite numerous bids from Premier League side Crystal Palace.

Fellow Socceroo Archie Thompson, Milligan, Contreras and goalkeeper Nathan Coe provide a stable spine for Melbourne, and the World Cup hopes of the quartet hinge on their ability to gel for Melbourne.

Melbourne Victory boss Ange Postecoglou has shown great faith in Pablo Contreras.
GettyImagesMelbourne Victory boss Ange Postecoglou has shown great faith in Pablo Contreras.

The Chilean, certainly, is hoping to add to his recollections of La Roja joy.

"In respect to the national team, I only have very happy and fond memories and they are ones that I will never forget. For instance, my debut in 1999, the opportunity to represent Chile at the Olympics in Sydney 2000 and winning the bronze medal. "Having played in numerous Copa Americas which also leaves me with a bit of a bitter feeling as we never managed to win a major tournament with the senior national team, but perhaps the most beautiful memory was having the opportunity to play at the World Cup which is every footballer's dream.

"In respect to my club career, when one goes through bad moments we have to try and find the positives and learn from the circumstances at the time. And, as you're about to finish your professional career, I think you really value the things you learn during the tough times. Having played in the Copa Libertadores I have very happy memories and also playing most of my career at the highest levels for which I am very thankful," he recalled.

Will he have the same effect on Melbourne and the A-League as those the Victory missed out on? Have the club made the right decision to abandon their search for a household name? Will anyone care if he can simply deliver on the pitch?

These are the questions that remain unanswered heading into the season. The only point of certainty is that, while the debate rages around him, Pablo Contreras will be calmly going about his business, which nobody could argue he's done impressively up to now.

Melbourne Victory at a glance:
Last season finish: 3rd
Ins: Mitch Nichols, Kosta Barbarouses, James Troisi (loan), Pablo Contreras
Outs: Marcos Flores, Diogo Ferreira, Tando Velaphi, Marco Rojas, Daniel Mullen, Billy Celeski, Sam Gallagher, Spase Dilevski, Theo Markelis, Matthew Foschini
Prediction: The departure of Marco Rojas to VFB Stuttgart is dampened by the signing of James Troisi. Indeed, the club has recruited well across the board and, with Ange Postecoglou's trademark style of play as the blueprint, are legitimately title contenders heading into the new season.


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