The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a raft of changes to the football eco-system in Australia but one very positive side effect has been the injection of fresh, young players who have already started to set the game alight. Here Lucy Zelic takes a look at some of the players worth keeping an eye on this season.
James Delianov, 21 - Adelaide United: goalkeeper
Following the departure of highly acclaimed goalkeeper Paul Izzo, these boots were always going to be tough to fill at Adelaide United but after two games and two clean sheets under his belt, the former Melbourne City youth product is earning a name for himself.
Previous teammates will tell you that he’s the epitome of a modern-day keeper who’s good with his feet and a solid shot-stopper, which is music to the ears of Australian football fans questioning just where our future lies between the sticks.
After being released by City in 2019, Delianov joined cross-town rivals Western United but when he failed to make an appearance for the club, he chose to leave in pursuit of game time which is when the Reds came calling.
It seems as though the trust of Carl Veart and his coaching staff is all the youngster needed because so far, so bloody good.
Yaya Dukuly, 17 - Adelaide United: winger
It’s no surprise that another young player from Adelaide United has made the list because South Australia has proved to be quite the breeding ground for quality football talent in the last two years. I don’t need to remind you of the Toure brothers but allow me to introduce you to another promising talent by the name of Yaya Dukuly.
At just 17, Dukuly made his way back to Adelaide after spending the last few seasons with Melbourne City’s Youth side. Dukuly has also been capped by the Joeys twice and represented Australia at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2019 where he made a substitute appearance against Ecuador.
Pacy and very direct with the ball at his feet, Dukuly doesn’t shy away from taking players on in 1-v-1 situations and if his performance in opening game between Adelaide United and Western United was anything to go by, it’s clear that the best is yet to come.
Riku Danzaki, 20 - Brisbane Roar: attacker
When it comes to foreigners, the A-League has developed somewhat of a reputation for attracting pensioners looking to cash in on their early-bird specials but the arrival of Danzaki has well and truly put a dent in that trend.
Making his top-flight debut for J1 League side Consadole Sapporo at just 18 years of age, he scored his debut goal for the club in just his third appearance and it didn’t take long for him to impress the Roar faithful.
As it stands, Danzaki is equal second in the league for chances created with five in two games and has showcased his enviable talent.
Technically gifted and comfortable in tight situations, his creativity will go a long way to servicing the likes of Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Scott McDonald.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls, 23 - Brisbane Roar: attacker
When Wenzel-Halls first broke out onto the scene, Roar fans and beyond had plenty to be excited by.
After scoring for fun with NPL QLD side Western Pride, he was given his first professional contract in 2018 by then-head coach John Aloisi and also featured under interim coach Darren Davies but was then shunted by Robbie Fowler who opted for second-rate imports we had never heard of.
Thankfully, Warren Moon has restored his position within this Brisbane line-up and after two games in which he started both, and a crafty goal in their win against Melbourne Victory, it’s easy to see why he’s deserving of our affections.
The right-footer is known for his exceptional work rate, relentless hunger to score, natural finishing skills and is a thrill to watch whenever he’s on the ball.
As you were, Dylan.
Denis Genreau, 21 - Macarthur Bulls: midfielder
We may not have seen much of Genreau in his stint with Melbourne City just over four years ago but we didn’t need to - the fact was, his talent was obvious, he just needed more game time.
A brief but challenging spell with Netherlands outfit PEC Zwolle saw the classy midfielder rack up a handful of appearances and although the experience was priceless, it wasn’t enough to satiate his hunger.
Cue the pursuit of new kids on the block commandant, Ante Milicic.
“To be honest we expect big things from Denis Genreau this season." said Milicic after Genreau’s debut start against the Wanderers.
A versatile midfielder who can easily play anywhere in the middle of the park, whether that be a 10, an 8 or a 6 - his composure on the ball is exceptional. Beyond the pitch, the French-born Genreau has shown maturity beyond his years and has been capped six times for the Australia u23s side.
As they say, watch this space.
Lachlan Rose, 21 - Macarthur Bulls: winger
For so long, NPL advocates will be the first to tell you that the talent is out there, you just have to come and find it which according to Milicic, is exactly what he and his coaching staff did over a 12 month period.
But rather than restrict their scouting tentacles to the usual suspects in NSW, they dug all the way down to the Blacktown Spartans who are a semi-professional outfit competing in NPL2.
It was there they they unearthed Rose, who blossomed whilst trialing for the Bulls and subsequently earned his first professional contract with the A-League newcomers.
A rough diamond in these early stages, Rose is quick, energetic and he looks comfortable running in behind the defence or showing for the ball. He’s also shown that he’s not scared of serial instigator, Matt Simon.
If Rose continues to put in solid performances under coach Ante Milicic, there’s no reason why he can’t go on to do great things.
Calem Nieuwenhof, 19 - Sydney FC: midfielder
For some, it might be too early to make a call on the youngster given that this was his A-League debut but after scoring an absolute bomb in the 29th minute against Wellington in the opening round, his name was on everyone’s lips well after the stadium lights went out.
If it wasn’t for Luke Brattan’s moment of magic just 26 minutes later, the crown jewels of the night would have been left by the foot of Niuewenhof’s bed but devoted fans of the reigning champions will know this lad is more than just a one-hit wonder.
Calm and composed on the ball, Nieuwenhof’s nonchalant demeanour caught the eye of avid Sky Blues fans after he featured in every minute of every match during Sydney FC’s Asian Champions League campaign late last year.
After plying his trade in the Northern Beaches as a boy and being plucked out of the Sydney FC NPL side by coach Steve Corica - one thing’s for sure, if Calem’s star continues to rise, he may just outshine the A-League.