Following Western United strong start to the 2021-22 A-League Men’s campaign, midfielder Steven Lustica has heralded a big offseason and preseason to the club’s turnaround from last season.
Lustica said since day one of preseason, new coach John Aloisi has rejuvenated the playing group, crediting the combination of Aloisi’s man management and new signees for United’s turnaround in the opening five rounds of this season.
“Look obviously we did have a disappointing season last year and we’ve had a little bit of change within the club, and a lot of new players have come in, there are still some players from last season still here as well,” Lustica told The Inner Sanctum.
“Since day one of preseason, John Aloisi has come in and implemented his structure and principles of playing, and all the boys have really bought into what he’s brought to the club, and since day one of preseason we’ve been working really hard and there’s a real positive vibe at the moment.
“The boys are all together, everyone’s all on board and looking forward [to continue playing] this season.”
Looking a different side under Aloisi than under former coach Mark Rudan in the latter months of the 2020-21 season, Lustica has also credited the new coach’s philosophies off the pitch.
The 30-year-old also added though the team have started well, there’s still room for improvement.
“[He’s had] a lot [of an impact], he’s come in, he’s had time to implement his structures and the way he wants the team to play and not only that, but what he expects off the field,” he said.
“Respect is a massive thing that he’s brought into the club, into the playing group, we all respect each other, we all work for each other.
“There’s also a lot of improvement still in us, obviously we’ve had some good results so far and we’re looking to improve and work on a few things and it’s a long season and we’ll continue to work hard.”
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Having started the season hot, Lustica said there’s were no set expectations for the team to achieve this season, emphasising the improvement of the squad as the most important thing for the side.
“There were no expectations [coming into the new season], we didn’t set any clear targets…we got some new players coming in as well, some experienced players, some younger players, some players from overseas, and they take time to gel,” he said.
“The new guys have done well with the players we already had, we’ve got a good group of players here, so the expectation is to work hard every day, to improve, and we want to win football games, and the only way to win games is to continue working hard at training and that will give us a good chance to win games.
“Obviously stick to what the boss wants with his style of play and instructions and that will give us a good chance.”
A key to the side’s success this season has been the dynamic of the squad, with a combination of exciting youngsters such as Dylan Wenzel-Halls and Lachlan Wales who joined the club during the offseason, and experienced heads such as Lustica himself, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jamie Young and Alessandro Diamanti.
Lustica says the dynamic and balance of the squad has been a major factor, outlining the need to have competition for spots.
“We’ve got a great mix of young players and experienced players, we’ve got a really good squad, we’ve got competition for places,” he said.
“We’ve got a few players that are coming back from injury as well, so I think once everyone is fit, there’s going to be a lot of competition for places, and that’s a good thing because you want a good balanced squad, because without that it’s hard to be successful.”
He’d further note on the younger players of the club, with the aforementioned Wenzel-Halls and Wales having played regularly this season, United also have Christian Theoharous, Noah Botic and Seb Pasquali. All of whom came to the club following stints in academies in Europe.
Lustica believes the club is in good shape going forward, saying there’s quality youth players coming through in the senior set up and NPL set up, while also noting the importance of the experienced players to help guide them.
“The future is looking good at Western United, there’s some good players coming through at United and through the NPL side too,” he said.
“We’ve got some players make some appearances already and we’ll always have the experienced boys here to help nurture the younger boys, it’s not easy for these young boys to come through, there’s a good mix of youngsters here and that’s only going to be positive [going forward] for the club.”
The newest side based out of Victoria, Lustica feels the club aren’t intent on making a statement in trying to knock of their more established Melbourne-based rivals, Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory, off their perch and purely are just focusing on themselves.
“I wouldn’t say we’re the new kids on the block, we’re still young as a club obviously but we don’t pay too much attention to that sort of stuff,” he said.
“We’ve gone under the radar a bit, we’ve been working and concentrating on ourselves and making sure we’re improving and working hard, and like I said there’s still improvement left in us, we’ve done well so far this season but we can do a lot better.
“We’ve got more to come out of us I believe, and hopefully we’ll show that in the next coming weeks. We had our opener that I thought we were a bit unlucky to get nothing out of that game, we’ve got some positive results since then, we’re playing some good football but obviously knowing we can improve as well.”
Lustica would also note on what he hopes to get out of the season, saying he wants to be in contention for the A-League Men’s title come the business end of the season.
“For myself it’s all about the team and helping the team as much as I can, we want to win games as a club, we want to win trophies and awards,” he said.
“We want to be there at the end of the season contending for titles and a trophy, I’ll always give 100 per cent for the team, it’s all about the team and achieving those goals together.”
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