The numbers behind John Aloisi's rejuvenation of Western United - and his managerial career
Western United coach John Aloisi is undoubtedly one of Australian football’s most popular personnel. His name will always be tied with ‘that penalty’, sending Australia to the 2006 World Cup after a 32-year long absence, and there is nothing that could change that.
However, his career in the managerial hot seat hasn’t brought about the same personal success that he saw in his playing career.
His time in Brisbane saw him slowly fall out of favour with the Roar faithful. Meanwhile, his first foray as a manager, a highly unsuccessful stint with the then Melbourne Heart, had people question whether management was a worthwhile path for the Socceroos legend.
Hence, when he was unveiled at Western United, there was a mountain of scepticism about his ability to set the club back on track.
Many people doubted Aloisi's ability to steer Western United back on track. (WUFC)
Western United finished the 2020/21 A-League season on the back of eight straight losses, which saw Mark Rudan relieved of his duties as manager.
This sacking also coincided with several player departures, meaning whoever followed had a challenge, or perhaps an opportunity, to rebuild the club and squad.
And Aloisi has, so far, exceeded all expectations in this regard.
He wasted no time ensuring squad improvements were made, with ten signings allowing for a wholly rejuvenated squad in the off-season.
Following the announcement of his appointment on July 15, the club signed Ben Garuccio (a member of Aloisi’s Melbourne Heart side), Nikolai Topor-Stanley, and Jamie Young, with the latter reuniting with his former Roar coach.
Neill Kilkenny, Leo Lacroix, Aleksandar Prijovic, and Rene Krhin arrived with plenty of time to settle in before the new season. Although the latter has battled with injury, Aloisi has had time with his recruits to ensure that the whole squad has adapted to the playing style he and the rest of the Western United coaching staff wants to implement.
Aloisi's off-season signing of Leo Lacroix has proven to be key to this Western United side. (FTBL)
On top of the quick assimilation of his new signings, Aloisi has also brought out the best of those returning from last season’s dismal campaign.
Lachie Wales and Connor Pain are looking rejuvenated and playing well, while Steven Lustica, another of Aloisi’s Roar contingent, is in career-best form.
But it’s the playing style and philosophy that Aloisi almost handpicked these players for that has been the most significant factor behind their success so far.
Western's most common starting XI has an average age of 30.8 years. It's no secret that they don’t have the same energy as some of the younger squads in the competition.
But what the squad lacks in energy and physical prowess, they make up for in an abundance of football intelligence.
Neill Kilkenny and Alessandro Diamanti are perfect examples of this trait. At 36 and 38, respectively, their leadership and experience have proven invaluable to the team.
The ageing legs of most of the squad have seen Western approach games more conservatively, with their 13 games this season seeing them average 43.6% of possession, the lowest in the A-League Men.
This approach has been significantly different to what we saw from Aloisi's Brisbane side, particularly at the beginning of his tenure in the 2015/16 A-League season.
With young stars such as Jamie Maclaren, Brandon Borrello, and Dimi Petratos at his disposal, Brisbane was a much more attacking side. They averaged 1.57 goals per game at the same point in that season that Aloisi’s Western United side are at right now. They finished the campaign with an average of 1.7 goals per game.
Western has scored 1.21 goals per game, closer to the record from Aloisi's final season and a bit with the Roar (1.16 goals per game).
With goals not coming aplenty, Western's defence has set them apart from the rest of the competition.
They have only conceded 0.8 goals per game, with Perth Glory the next closest at 0.9 conceded per game.
Western has also kept eight clean sheets in 14 games; currently, a league-best and at least double the amount any other team has managed this season.
Jamie Young has kept a league-high eight clean sheets for Western this season. (Getty Images)
Meanwhile, Perth has only managed two clean sheets despite being slightly behind in goals conceded per game.
However, Aloisi’s attacking philosophy may not be a distant memory, as Western’s recent form suggests they haven’t reached their potential yet in this area.
Despite setting a record for 1-0 wins in just 14 league games (7), four of those came in their first seven matches.
In those first seven, they managed six goals, while across all of the games since they have put 11 past their opponents, almost doubling their early-season efforts.
This increase in attacking output has coincided with Prijovic finding fitness and form, who has four goals and four assists in the last seven games.
Prijovic has settled into Victoria well and is becoming key to Aloisi's side. (Getty Images)
The star striker continues to find his feet and stamp his authority on the competition. The thought that Aloisi can still get more out of this side is a scary proposition for everyone else.
Considering how topsy-turvy his managerial career has been, there's no doubt Aloisi is currently experiencing his best stint in the hot seat.
Western are top of the table with a game in hand on Melbourne City. Their star players are proving their worth, and the feeling that we may still have more to come from this team will have Aloisi's doubters feeling a sense of bewilderment.
Few would have predicted him to do this well with Western, and even fewer would have foreseen such dominance coming early in his tenure. The Western United board will be feeling pretty good about their bold appointment at the moment.
There's still plenty of football to come, and they are by no means champions just yet.
But the football being played and the position they’re currently in will have the Western Service Crew quietly confident of a successful season.
Aloisi and Western United are putting the league on notice. (Getty Images)
Should the wins keep coming and result in silverware this season, it will help complete an Australian football hero's well-deserved managerial redemption arc.
In the meantime, Aloisi's primary focus will be on getting another good result against the Newcastle Jets this Saturday at AAMI Park, which will kick off at 3:05pm local time.
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