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The youngest and most multicultural group of A-League foreigners for years

One of the most appealing aspects of the A-League Men has always been its multicultural make-up, something that was seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, after two seasons where domestic youth filled the gaps created by the smaller number of foreign imports setting up digs in Australia, the league has rebounded with force.

Players from all corners of the globe have signed on with clubs now armed with the power to add a second designated player to their books.

It is unlikely that all clubs will be financially able to find the somewhere near $600,000 required to reimburse a now permitted second designated player to be positioned outside the salary cap, yet some might.

The fact that clubs could now potentially have two marquees and two designated players, subsequently using their entire salary cap on the remainder of the squad, is an enormous transition for the league, with better foreign talent the likely outcome.

At the time of writing just three clubs – Adelaide United, Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets – are still to fill their fifth visa spot for 2022-23, with the remaining teams seemingly locked and loaded from an import perspective and frantically attempting to have their new men up to speed physically and psychologically for the first round of the season in a fortnight’s time.

While new foreign signings have been announced steadily since June, there was something rather quirky and symbolic about the most recent batch, with the variety of nations represented saying a great deal about the truly global nature of modern football.

In the most recent 13 signings, 11 countries were represented.

In recent days, 24-year-old Brazilian Marco Tulio became a Mariner, Macarthur FC picked up Barbadian defender Mario Williams, Tunisian midfielder Salim Khelifi linked with Perth Glory, and a famous name has recently returned, with Kosovo international Valon Berisha’s arrival at Melbourne City.

Georgians Beka Dartsmelia and Bachana Arabuli join Newcastle and Macarthur respectively, Mali international Tongo Doumbia slots into the Western United midfield and Melbourne City look to have a potential star on their hands in the form of Finnish central defender Thomas Lam.

In mid-August, the Mariners picked up Nigerian defender John Kelechi, Sydney FC confirmed a massive signing in the form of Englishman Joe Lolley and the recent multicultural spree began with Wellington securing the signature of Brazilian Yann Sasse.

New Sydney FC signing Joe Lolley with Steve Corica

Sydney FC head coach Steve Corica (L) and new signing Joe Lolley (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Alongside the earlier signings of Slovakian Robert Mak (Sydney FC), Bosnian Sulejman Krpic (Western Sydney), Bulgarian Bozhidar Kraev (Wellington), Irish midfielder Aaron McEneff (Perth), Portuguese Nani (Melbourne Victory) and Israeli Ben Azubel (Perth), the recent deals add to a fresh and exciting international feel heading into the new season.

Back in the depths of winter, Ghanian Paul Ayongo joined the Mariners, Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Yeni Ngbakoto and Frenchman Romain Amalfitano agreed to terms with the Wanderers, and Melbourne City snared a new Dutchman in Richard van der Venne.

When those contracts are added to the list of recent signings, the multicultural landscape of the A-League looks as broad and diverse as has ever been the case.

In total, 33 countries will be represented (listed below), something of which the competition should be proud, especially considering its financial restrictions and overall pulling power when compared to bigger leagues around the world. It is a snapshot of diversity and inclusion that enlarges when the heritages of many domestic players are also taken into account.

In perhaps the most positive news of all, the new crop of foreigners do not arrive as a rag-tag bunch of beat up and weathered pros looking for a quick earn before the sun sets on their careers. Of the 29 signings, just eight – Doumbia, Mak, Nani, Krpic, Amalfitano, Brisbane’s Charlie Austin, Western Sydney’s new Brazilian Marcelo and Mark Beevers in Perth – are over 30.

Of the remaining 21, 15 are 28 or under and with an average age across the new class of 28.6, there should be a distinct absence of the traditional and cynical Dad’s Army jokes this time around.

Of course, how they perform will be the test. Yet if the age and demographic of the latest group of A-League foreigners does not get fans excited about the pending kick-off, I’m not sure what will.

The 33 nations
DR Congo
Ivory Coast
New Zealand
North Macedonia

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