Soccer fans and pundits alike have been salivating for much of the season about the impact made on the A-League by Sydney FC’s Polish international Adrian Mierzejewski – and with good reason.
The frontman had scored eight goals in 12 games leading up to the round 16 clash with Adelaide United on Sunday night as well as being credited with five assists, proving his all-round contribution to Sydney’s terrific season.
But Mierzejewski might not necessarily be a lock for the “best new foreign player” of the season title, despite the huge impression he has made with the league leaders.
Leroy George, Melbourne Victory’s Dutch winger, has been chalking up a similarly impressive pile of statistics for himself in the Victorian capital, an arguably more difficult task given that his team has not been playing with anything like the fluency or success that Sydney have enjoyed so far this campaign.
George, a junior international for the Netherlands, has played more often, having played in all 16 of Victory’s matches.
His goal-scoring ratio is well down, George having netted three to Mierzejewski’s eight before Sunday night’s game.
But he is far ahead on the assists ladder. He had been credited with seven going into Saturday night’s dramatic win over Perth Glory, but he lifted that tally to 10 by creating all three Victory goals, all in different fashion.
He arrived late, just before the season started, and has had to work his way to full fitness, which makes his numbers even more noteworthy.
Now Muscat and the Victory board know they really do need to make him the sort of offer attractive enough to retain him in Melbourne and to persuade him to relocate his family from Amsterdam.
His partner and young son live in the Dutch capital, while another son with a different partner is currently starring in the Ajax boys’ team, so Victory would need to be persuasive to get him to commit beyond this season.
Muscat, for one, knows just how important he can be.
It was his one-two with Besart Berisha and then his shot that set up Victory’s opening goal for James Troisi against Perth, his free kick that created Mark Milligan’s chance to put Victory in front and his lovely crossfield pass that allowed Kosta Barbarouses to fire home a last-gasp winner.
Although nominally a wide man, George has shown his versatility by playing as an attacking midfielder and as a central striker at times this season.
“It was fitting in the end that Leroy sets up the [winning] goal. He set up all three and he deserved to be on a winning team,” Muscat said after the game.
“We spoke at the start [when he joined the club] that it would take him a little bit of time because he joined us late and didn’t have a full pre-season.
“But he has played in every position in that front third of the park while he’s trying to get used to the way we play and the intensity.”
He has also had to adapt to the vagaries of n weather and lengthy travel for away games.
“One week it’s 41 degrees and four days later you are playing in cold conditions. There’s a lot to get used to for foreigners who come over, but he has adapted unbelievably well.
“Three games in a week he has played now, down in Geelong (in heat on January 6) in different conditions to Wellington (January 10) and different conditions tonight (torrential rain).
“He is certainly enjoying himself here. I think he understands how he is appreciated by his teammates, myself and the club. Certainly by our fans and members.”
Muscat also paid tribute to Leigh Broxham, who came off the bench in the second half against Glory to register his 250th appearance for Victory, the most by any A-League player for a single club.
“He has earned everyone of those 250 games he has played for this club; he has had no handouts, he has had no chopouts.
“I could not have been happier for him that he was out there at the end with the boys as they kept pushing, it was fitting that the team and everyone out there showed a typical Leigh Broxham attitude to keep going and get a winner.”
Muscat is due to submit an Asian Champions League roster on Monday, and it is expected that Argentinian Mathias Sanchez will be the foreigner who will miss out as the club can select only three visa players.