So, an at-times tumultuous decade of A-League football has come to an end.
The competition is now approaching the halfway mark of its 15th year and there have been plenty of highs and lows over the past 10 years.
Now, with the fate of the competition finally in the hands of the clubs, and with the drawn-out process of expansion — including the development of a second division — finally taking place, the time is now for the league to explode.
With this positivity slowing blooming on the horizon, looking back misty-eyed at a competition that was widely acknowledged to be getting stale perhaps seems incongruous.
But we’re not concerned with that as we celebrate the best of the best, looking at the best teams and players of a decade that has produced some of the most fantastic, occasionally undervalued football that we’ve seen on these shores for many a year.
This is clearly a subjective look at the decade that was in the A-League, so it is your absolute right to disagree with my conclusions, but why split hairs over excellence?
Team of the decade
If you’re here for a best XI, featuring the best players in each position over the past decade of A-League football, you’re in the wrong place.
The purpose of this endeavour is to find the best single-season team that has graced the A-League over the past decade of action.
But who to pick?
To be the best in our books, you had to win the premiership/championship double. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
After a rigorous debate in the office, we determined the following criteria should be used to reveal the decade’s best team; its record, followed by the more arbitrary measures of its watchability — or entertainment value — and its star power.
Looking at the team’s records, I decided that unless a team won the premiership/championship double, it is ineligible — which helpfully allowed us to ruthlessly cull close to 95 per cent of teams.
W-League team of the decade
I know this is an article about the A-League, but we can’t ignore the only side to go unbeaten through an entire season this past decade.
Melbourne City’s 2015/16 W-League side won all 12 of its games, scoring 38 goals and conceding just four in what was their inaugural season, also winning the grand final.
An impressive effort, and it marked the start of a Melbourne City dynasty. City has won the last three W-League grand finals, but only won the double in that year.
Of the six teams who had won the double since the 2009/10 season — Sydney FC (2009/10 and 2016/17), Brisbane Roar (2010/11 and 2013/14), Melbourne Victory (2014/15) and Adelaide United (2015/16) — two clearly stand out above all others, Sydney’s 2016/17 team and the Brisbane Roar side of 2010/11.
There is a caveat to using this criteria in that it rules out the 2013/14 Western Sydney Wanderers team.
The Wanderers may have only finished second in both the premiership and championship races that season but they bypassed those meagre domestic awards by becoming the first Australian side to win the Asian Champions League, beating Saudi Arabia’s then-two-time Asian champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on aggregate, including with a dramatic 0-0 draw in a pressure-cooker atmosphere in Riyadh.
The Wanderers achieved all this in just their second season, making it arguably the most extraordinary achievement in A-League history.
It seems a shame to exclude them, but having invented the rules, it would be a shame to break them after just five paragraphs.
So back to our two contenders, who veritably cantered to their premierships by losing just once across their respective title-winning seasons.
Both teams oozed quality across the park, with Brisbane providing seven of the 11 players named in the PFA team of the year in their double-winning season, with Sydney having six named.
Looking at the raw numbers, Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC team, featuring stars such as Milos Ninkovic and Bobo, are the standouts.
Sydney FC were utterly dominant in 2016/17, finishing a whopping 17 points clear of second-placed team Melbourne Victory with a league-record 66 competition points, all off the back of the most iron-clad defensive record the A-League has ever seen.
Game of the decade
Two words. Orange. Sunday.
Grand finals are always nervous, tense affairs, but there have been few as dramatic as the 2011 match between the Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners.
After 90 minutes the match was locked at 0-0, but two goals in the first half of extra time from Adam Kwasnik and Oliver Bozanic blew the game open for the Mariners in front of 50,168 fans at Lang Park.
However, Brisbane were not done. Thomas Broich and Jean Carlos Solorzano linked up with Henrique to score the Roar’s first, before Erik Paartalu powered home a Broich corner to level things up in the 120th and final minute.
Michael Theoklitos then saved penalties from Daniel McBreen and Pedj Bojic in the shootout to complete a remarkable comeback and send Brisbane into raptures.
Sydney conceded just 12 goals in the regular season — that’s a goal every 202 minutes of game time, with Danny Vokovic keeping 15 clean sheets.
On the balance of those stats, you’d have to favour Sydney’s 2016/17 title winners as the decade’s dominant best — but that’s not the only factor we’re considering here.
Brisbane Roar, featuring overseas pair Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha, were just as dominant in 2010/11 — but it was the way they dismantled opponents that made everyone sit up and take notice.
Ange Postecoglou’s side played stunning, attack-minded football at a level not seen before in the A-League and arguably not seen since, giving them a wow factor that Sydney just didn’t quite match.
Adding to that is the resoluteness of the Roar side. After losing 3-0 away to Melbourne Victory in round five, the Roar went 28 games unbeaten — a run they would go on to extend to 36 games, a new Australian sporting record.
For reasons of style, combined with their undoubtedly impressive record, I’m colouring this decade orange, 2010/11 vintage.
Brisbane Roar’s first double-winning side was the greatest of this decade. (AAP: Steve Holland)
Player of the decade
Has there ever been a player to make as big an impact on a single team as Thomas Broich on the Brisbane Roar?
The unheralded German came to Australia having failed to live up to the early promise shown in his homeland — but he made amends for that in the orange of Brisbane as the lynchpin of Ange Postecoglou’s historically dominant side.
Broich is the only two-time Jonny Warren medallist in A-League history. He also claimed a Joe Marsden medal for best on ground in the 2014 grand final when he helped the Roar come from behind to win its third championship being instrumental in both goals in that final at Lang Park.
Coach of the decade
There is a strong case to be made for Ange Postecoglou for his work with the Brisbane Roar — but according to the stats, it has to be three-time A-League coach of the year award winner and current Socceroos coach, Graham Arnold.
Arnold stands atop the pile with three A-League premierships with two different clubs (Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC), and he is the only coach to win two championships with two different sides.
His win/loss ratio is the best of any coach as well; 2.88 compared to 2.24 for Postecoglou and 1.81 for Kevin Muscat.
Not only that, but he guided the Roar to its three championships and two premierships in the heart of its midfield, winning three club player of the year awards.
His medals tell part of the story, but from a personal perspective, watching Broich play gave me the most joy of any player we have seen in the A-League — and for my money, he has been the most influential as well.
That’s not to say there have not been other players who deserve a mention.
Broich’s one-time teammate Besart Berisha would have a case for being one of the most impactful players in A-League history — as well as one of the more polarising.
His sustained goal threat for four different teams marks him out as one of the players of the decade. His current tally of 120 goals in 194 matches is unsurpassed by any player in A-League history.
Thomas Broich (left) and Besart Berisha (right) are two of the most decade-defining stars to play in the A-League. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
So too his total of five hat-tricks — one of which came in just six spell-binding minutes for the Roar in 2011.
It’s also easy to remember that English Premiership stars Aaron Mooy and Matt Ryan made fleeting appearances in the A-League this decade — although their best work came overseas, so their limited A-League impact excludes them from consideration.
Similar arguments count against an aging Harry Kewell and transient Tim Cahill from this pantheon of A-League greats.
Since 2015, Milos Ninkovic has scored 25 goals in 114 games for Sydney FC. (AAP: Hamish Blair)
Competition stalwarts such as Diego Castro, Milos Ninkovic and Archie Thompson should all be commended for their impressive bulk of work.
Of the more recent inclusions, Englishman Adam Le Fondre is certainly building a case for being one of the most influential strikers in the competition’s history, as is returning Socceroo Jamie Maclaren, with both slamming goals in for fun this season in particular.
But by almost every metric that I’m willing to consider, Broich is streets ahead of the field and earns the crown of A-League player of the decade.
Thomas Broich played 181 A-League games, scoring 21 goals for the Roar. (Dave Hunt: AAP Image)
Goal of the decade
You didn’t think we were going to go through an entire decade of A-League history without mentioning (and watching repeatedly) this goal did you?
Riley McGree’s insane scorpion kick for Newcastle came in a pretty consequential match as well; the semi-final of the 2017/18 season.
Newcastle was trailing Melbourne 1-0 in the second half of their semi-final clash, looking at elimination one step before the finals.
However just before the hour mark, McGree dipped into his box of tricks with an extravagant flourish of the back of his right foot to turn the tide and set up a memorable victory.
That McGree was just 19 at the time adds another dimension to a wonderful A-League goal that was even nominated for the Puskas award that year.