After a bit of an extension compared to other leagues around the world, the A-League Men's silly season also ended on Feb. 7. With no more late-night calls, emails or texts about transfers to intermediaries and rival officials, clubs will now (by and large) have to make do with the squads they have in their push for silverware during the 2022-23 season.
In the weeks ahead, they will either frantically move to incorporate the bevy of new faces that have been added in time to make a difference in the season's remaining months or, having stood pat, hope that continuity and form will win the day.
The lack of a domestic transfer system in Australia means that the window wasn't characterised by the same madness that gripped its European counterparts -- Chelsea's January spend of $AUD 563 million would be able to buy the entire A-Leagues as an entity and still have over $AUD 100m in change -- but there was still a flurry of activity as the deadline approached.
Of course, a proper judgement of the window and transfers made within it can only come in hindsight. Anyone that could predict with 100% accuracy what a new signing will do for a side's fortunes would likely be far too expensive for anyone involved in Australian football to afford. Nonetheless, a need is a need and potential is potential, and some clubs moved to fill and acquire one, the other or both before the deadline.
ADELAIDE UNITED (B-)
Ins: Jay Barnett (Melbourne Victory), Luke Duzel (Western United)
Following Juande's horrific leg break and Isaias' continued battles with both disciplinary issues and declining form, the Reds looked to reinforce their midfield during the January window and, in keeping with their reputation, did so with two young players that couldn't break through at their previous clubs. With 14 starts across 38 appearances in the league at just 21, Barnett will likely be given more scope by Carl Veart initially but Duzel, the son of former Melbourne Knights legend Ivan, looms as potentially one of the best under-the-radar moves of the window.
The Australia youth international showed flashes of his clear talent and understanding of the nuances of midfield play under Marko Rudan at Western United but couldn't get a look in under John Aloisi. Now, he gets a fresh start in South Australia.
Not a flashy window, but not a bad one either.
BRISBANE ROAR (C+)
Ins: Robbie Kruse (free transfer), Taras Gomulka (Melbourne City), James Nikolovski, Marcel Canadi (HNK Sibenik -- Croatia), Ayom Majok (Adelaide City), Stefan Scepovic (AEL Limassol)
Outs: Riku Danzaki (Motherwell -- Scotland), Charlie Austin (Swindon Town -- England), Connor Chapman (Melbourne Victory), Anton Milinaric
The Roar had one clear goal heading into this window: sign a striker to replace the departed Austin. And in the form of Scepovic, they got one. Great news, right? Well, potentially. The 33-year-old represented Serbia eight times before Aleks Mitrovic put a stranglehold on the position, played for the likes of Celtic, Club Brugge, and Sampdoria and at one time was a target of Juventus. But he's also had more clubs than a pack of cards across his career, failed to find the net for Cypriot side AEL Limassol in nine appearances this season, and has only signed until the end of the season, meaning that it feels like a bit of a bet each way by the Roar.
Leaving City in search of more game time, Gomulka will challenge for minutes in the midfield and Canadi should help replace some of the creative potential of the now-departed Danzaki.
And then there's Kruse. When fit, the 34-year-old 75-time Socceroo remains one of the league's smartest and most talented footballers. Age has wearied him, but the brain is the last part of a footballer to go and Kruse has an exceptional one. The problem, of course, is the casing that surrounds it, and banking on him getting through the campaign free from injury is a significant gamble.
Ins: Christian Theoharous (Western United), Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Western United), James McGarry (Newcastle Jets)
Outs: Garang Kuol (Newcastle United -- England), Kelechi John (Belenenses -- Portugal), Michael Ruhs, Thomas Aquilina (Newcastle Jets)
As one has come to expect, coach Nick Montgomery and the Mariners went bargain hunting during January, mostly bringing in younger talent with high potential without losing anyone integral to their play.
Falling down the pecking order at Western this season, Wenzel-Halls has taken a pay cut to sign in Gosford and, more comfortable operating as part of a front two, he has the potential to complement Jason Cummings -- last season's best signing of the January window -- up top. Theoharous, meanwhile, has tremendous amounts of natural talent but has been left spinning his wheels after unsuccessful stints at Borussia Monchengladbach and Western. If anyone can get the best out of him in his likely last-chance saloon in the ALM, it will likely be Montgomery.
New Zealand international McGarry will add depth at wing-back and can also play further up the pitch, albeit his arrival comes in the form of a swap deal with Newcastle and results in the loss of Aquilina.
MACARTHUR FC (C-)
Outs: Anthony Carter (released)
The Bulls clearly didn't expect to be losing coach Dwight Yorke midway through the transfer window, and it's difficult to pretend like that didn't have some impact on their attempts to bring players in.
The appointment of former youth boss Mile Sterjovski will likely see the club look to further incorporate young players from their academy into the team as the season goes on and, while some midfield depth would have been helpful, the club should have enough talent on their books to play finals football already if the former Socceroo can get them firing. In the dugout, his former Socceroo teammates Jacob Burns and Zelko Kalac have joined as assistant and NPL coaches respectively following Sterjovski's arrival.
Carter had failed to fire during his time in Sydney's southwest and with Bachana Arabuli now ensconced as the number-one striker, a move back to Portugal and second-tier side Oliveirense is disappointing but not a massive blow.
MELBOURNE CITY (B-)
Outs: Taras Gomulka (Brisbane Roar)
Sitting pretty atop the ALM table and possessing a ceiling that can't be matched by any other of their rivals, City didn't need to do anything heading into the January transfer window to remain title favourites and, lo and behold, they didn't. Gomulka potentially leaves a hole in their midfield depth but given that the club consistently pumps out some of the most talented prospects in the academy, looking at John Maisano's youth team for depth isn't the worst thing in the world.
Of course, that's not to say that City didn't try to make a move anyway; coach Rado Vidosic, fresh off shedding the interim tag from his title confirmed on Thursday that the club had staged talks with some targets with the intention of their arrival before the end of the season but would now shift to bringing them ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.
Ins: Bruno Fornaroli (permanent), Bruce Kamau (OFI Crete -- Greece), Connor Chapman (Brisbane Roar), Damien Da Silva (Lyon -- France), Fernando Romero (on loan from Cerro Porteno -- Paraguay)
Outs: Matthew Spiranovic (retired), Nick D'Agostino (Viking FK -- Norway), Jay Barnett, Noah Smith
Sitting bottom of the ALM despite being widely regarded as the last offseason's champs™, Victory knows very well that a good window on paper and a good window out on the pitch are two very different things. Nonetheless, there's enough in their latest moves for at least some tempered optimism that they can make a move up the highly contested table.
Da Silva and Chapman should reinforce a backline that has lost Spiranovic and been increasingly haunted by boneheaded errors and though the wing didn't appear to be a need for the club, Kamau can hardly be considered as a net negative even if he doesn't rediscover his previous form at Western Sydney. The loan signing of Romero from Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno also represents an intriguing bit of business. Reports indicate that there is an option to make the signing permanent at the end of the deal, if the 22-year-old can find form in the ALM then not only could he help Victory this season but also prove an asset down the line.
Nick D'Agostino's transfer to Norwegian side Viking is a blow but given that he reportedly fetched a fee of roughly $AUD 1m, making his sale one of the richest in ALM history, and represented an excellent opportunity for the 24-year-old, it was a move the club had to make. Nonetheless, while Chapman can play as a six, a lack of reinforcement in central midfield is a concern -- Victory is still not a side that functions all that well during extended periods of possession.
NEWCASTLE JETS (B-)
Ins: Manabu Saito (Suwon Bluewings -- South Korea), Thomas Aquilina (Central Coast Mariners), Phillip Cancar (Livingston -- Scotland)
Outs: Jordan Elsey (Perth Glory), Rory Jordan (loan), James McGarry (Central Coast Mariners)
Alas, the Jets' biggest need wasn't addressed during the window as the club remain in a holding pattern, waiting for a new owner to finally come in and allow them to plan for the future with a bit of certainty. Something seemingly always in the works and an announcement almost whispered to be imminent, fans in the Hunter will now have to hope that any new custodians are in place ahead of 2023-24.
But while he can't take on custody of the club, Saito, capped six times by the Samurai Blue should at least help support Beka Mikeltadze in the attack. The left-sided winger should also provide a different kind of option to the speed demons Trent Buhagiar and Jaushua Sotirio on the flanks.
Cancar and Aquilina are also good additions but the press release accompanying their arrival seemingly indicated that they won't play for the Jets until next season - not exactly that helpful right now.
PERTH GLORY (B)
Ins: Jordan Elsey (Newcastle Jets), Adam Taggart (Cerezo Osaka -- Japan)
Outs: Ben Azubel (BG Pathum United -- Thailand)
Elsey's arrival was peculiar, given that Glory didn't exactly strike as needing extra reinforcements down back. Taggart, though, should prove a much more intimidating presence than Azubel proved to be in his brief stint.
The Socceroos striker netted a brace upon his first game back out West, indicative of the threat that he will bring to ALM defences this season. Indeed, after injuries and poor form in Japan cost him his chance to represent his nation at the FIFA World Cup, a stint back at Glory, scoring for fun, might be just what Taggart needs to re-impose himself on Graham Arnold's plans heading into next year's Asian Cup.
SYDNEY FC (C+)
Ins: Joel King (on loan from OB -- Denmark)
Outs: *Patrick Yazbek (Viking FK -- Norway after Feb. 18), Connor O'Toole (released), Adrian Vlastelica (end of contract)
The Harboursiders have found some form in recent weeks, likely saving coach Steve Corica's job in the process, and after a quiet January window, they'll be banking on this being something approaching the playing group's new normal ahead. King didn't really address a need either as the club brought in Diego Caballo this offseason but, given that he had fallen badly out of favour in Denmark and is one of Sydney's favourite sons, the thought process behind the move is at least identifiable if not all that pressing.
Given the standing of the ALM in the global pecking order, Sydney couldn't stand in the way of Yazbek's move to Viking, especially given that he fetched a club record fee for an academy graduate, while O'Toole and Vlastelica were hardly seeing the field.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX (C+)
Ins: Nikko Boxall (Auckland City)
Outs: Ben Waine (Plymouth Argyle -- England)
Coach Ufuk Talay had spoken about his desire to bring in a new defender and, after a few false starts, he eventually got his man in Boxall. A six-time Kiwi international, the 30-year-old younger brother of former Phoenix centre-back Michael Boxall inked his ALM deal just days after representing Auckland City at the Club World Cup.
He's not a flashy signing and doesn't possess the kind of resume that suggests he's going to suddenly become an ALM stalwart but, given the need the 'Nix had to reinforce their defensive third in the face of injuries and depth issues, to say nothing of protecting leads that their increasingly humming attack is providing, he should nonetheless prove useful.
Given that League One side Plymouth claimed to have fended off interest from the Championship to sign Waine, the undisclosed fee that the Phoenix received for 'the Waine Train' has the potential to be decent.
Ins: Morgan Schneiderlin (on loan from Nice -- France), Nicolas Milanovic (Western United), Amor Layouni (on loan from Valerenga Fotball -- Norway)
Outs: Sulejman Krpic (Zeljeznicar), Ruon Tongyik (on loan to Mes Kerman -- Iran), Ramy Najjarine (Western United)
Coach Marko Rudan having constructed one of the league's stoutest and arguably most structurally sound defence, the Wanderers entered the window urgently needing an upgrade up front after the failed tenure of striker Sulejman Krpic and, while they had to wait until the end of the window to do it, finally got their man in winger Tunisian attacker Layouni.
Capped three times by the Eagles of Carthage, the 1.91-metre attacker scored eight goals and registered five assists for Norwegian side Valerenga in 2022 and while he doesn't fill the void at centre forward, he should still serve as an asset if his mindset is right.
The most well-credentialled recruit of the window, Schneiderlin doesn't fill a position of need for the Wanderers and fans are already wary that he might take minutes off rising star Calem Nieuwenhof. However, his class and experience should, in theory, prove a major asset in the big games and he will provide a strong presence in the midfield.
Returning to Sydney for family reasons and reuniting with the man that brought him into the ALM in Rudan as part of a swap deal with Western, Najjarine going in the opposite direction, Milanovic has the potential to be the best signing of the window. Comfortable in receiving the ball to feet and brave enough to operate with it in tight areas, the 21-year-old was leading Western's goalscoring charts despite infrequent starts at the time of his move. Should he receive continued opportunities to play and maintain the developmental trajectory he's on, he shapes as a star.
WESTERN UNITED (D+)
Ins: Michael Ruhs (Central Coast Mariners), Connor O'Toole (Sydney FC), Ramy Najjarine (Western Sydney Wanderers)
Outs: Christian Theoharous (Central Coast Mariners), Dylan Wenzel-Halls (Central Coast Mariners), Dalibor Markovic (released), Luke Duzel (released), Nikola Milanovic (Western Sydney Wanderers)
It needs acknowledging that, in a vacuum, Ruhs, O'Toole, and Najjarine are all handy additions. Ruhs can work off incumbent striker Aleks Prijovic and provide a young and cheap infusion of pace and power up top. O'Toole will provide important depth at wingback in the wake of Ben Garrucio's long-term injury. Ramy Najjarine has the skills needed to be a difference maker in attack either out wide or more centrally as a No. 10. United addressed needs this January and, importantly, held onto Prijovic. The squad is still largely the same one that won a title last season.
However, Western's window has to be examined not just in the context of who they brought in, but who they also lost. Even if personal reasons gave the club little choice, the loss of Milanovic could increasingly sting in the years ahead, whereas Theoharous has already flashed signs of rejuvenation in Gosford after failing to impress in Tarneit.
Wenzel-Halls was on a fair bit of coin, especially for someone playing as few minutes as he was, but he still showed during Western's run to the title how useful he could be. Duzel and Markovic never really got a look in under Aloisi and though the latter hasn't resurfaced in the ALM, the former has the potential to be a difference-maker.
United gained some pieces, but they also lost some that though they might not be right now, have the potential to be quite good.