The bookmakers might have installed Melbourne Victory as favourites for this season's A-League title but Perth Glory striker Shane Smeltz is not convinced new coach Ange Postecoglou will bring instant reward.
After taking less than a season to settle with Brisbane Roar, Postecoglou transformed the team and led them to two successive titles, including last season's drama-filled grand final win over Glory.
He is now expected to turn Victory from strugglers last season into the new campaign's wonder team.
Smeltz, though, says Postecoglou faces a tough task, especially in a competition that is getting better, and more difficult to win, with every season.
"You can't read too much into pre-season but we've played Melbourne (Glory won 2-1) and I don't think they're quite gelling as people would expect right now," Smeltz said.
"But you have to give Ange time. It was like that when he went to Brisbane. It didn't happen overnight."
Victory have done away with the Harry Kewell experiment, the former Liverpool attacker having departed after just one season, and will look to past A-League player of the year Marcos Flores to add his X-factor to their attack.
The Argentine was a revelation with Adelaide in the 2010-11 season and has returned to Australia after a spell in China with Henan Jianye.
If Flores was a star in his last stint, then an altogether greater celestial experience is expected of Italy's Alessandro Del Piero, whose arrival in Sydney to play for the Sky Blues attracted worldwide attention.
At 37, his most nimble days are behind him but there is an expectation that his vast experience - he has World Cup, UEFA Champions League and Serie A titles on his resume - will ensure he lights up the competition.
"He's an absolute superstar in the game," Smeltz said. "It's fantastic to have someone like that come to our country and I hope he does well. You don't want to see someone come here at his age and not really perform on the pitch or produce for Sydney. Every other code would then jump on his back and say 'what a waste of money'."
Despite their coaching change, Brisbane are strongly fancied to finish high on the table. Their new boss, Rado Vidosic, was an assistant to Postecoglou and a smooth transition is expected.
Importantly, they have also retained most of their key men, including German import Thomas Broich and last year's grand final protagonist Besart Berisha.
Smeltz is adamant Glory can again challenge for the title, despite expecting an even more closely fought battle for honours.
Aside from the calibre of players in the competition, the attention to coaching detail has made a marked difference, according to Glory's New Zealand international, who spent most of his off-season playing at the London Olympics and in World Cup qualifiers."Coaches and clubs are now having to do a lot more homework on other teams and their systems," he said. "The standard is rising all the time."
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