Heskey last piece of puzzle

The Newcastle Jets were in a tailspin in April.

Owner Nathan Tinkler had hit the eject button and announced he was handing back the club's A-League licence to Football Federation Australia.

A meeting between Tinkler and FFA chairman Frank Lowy, fittingly in an airport hangar in Brisbane, prevented the ultimate crash-landing.

Six months later, not only are the Jets airborne, but rarely has there been as much hype and anticipation about the start of an A-League campaign.

Tinkler's business interests may be under pressure but that hasn't stopped the coal baron from splashing out on a marquee player, signing former England international Emile Heskey to a seven-month deal worth $700,000.

Almost instantly, the Jets went from outsiders to contenders for the top four.

Heskey's experience and ability to hold the ball up and bring the Jets' young flyers into the game was the final piece to a puzzle coach Gary van Egmond has been shaping since he returned to the club after three rounds last season.

It took van Egmond half the season to get the players to buy into his possession-based game. In the end they finished seventh, losing to Sydney FC in the final round and missing a place in the finals.

Once the ownership issue was resolved, van Egmond quickly went about overhauling his roster.

Regulars Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jeremy Brockie, Tarek Elrich, Francis Jeffers and Ali Abbas were among 11 shipped out and replaced by athletic, technically sound, versatile youngsters tuned in to play his uptempo game.

"We have obviously been very busy in the transfer market," van Egmond said.

"I think we have the most players coming in and out of any squad this year.

"We had to have a bit of movement, bringing in players we felt we needed to do a job in the type of game we are looking to play.

"Again, we have had an emphasis on youth. A lot of good young players have come to our club.

"Obviously we have one eye on this year but also one eye on the A-League down the track."

The biggest change, both in personnel and philosophy, has been at the back.

Scott Neville, Dominik Ritter and Craig Goodwin have been the stars of the pre-season and have transformed the team with their ability to get forward.

Josh Mitchell was born in Belmont and has the perfect mentality and work ethic to lead the Jets defence.

James Brown and Brazilian Bernardo Ribeiro add silk and creativity to a midfield boasting bite and energy.

Heskey, seemingly, completes the picture.

"It is massive for a club like Newcastle - a regional club. To get someone like Emile is fantastic, not only just for the club but the whole of the Hunter area and the whole of the code," van Egmond said.

Despite the 34-year-old's arrival and the upward surge it has created, not everything has gone to plan.

The Jets enter the season without a strength and conditioning coach after the respected Adam Waterson left for Western Sydney and his replacement, Tim Rogers, lasted two weeks before being shown the door.

Brazilian defender Tiago missed the final four games of the pre-season on suspension for his part in an all-in brawl with Wellington Phoenix.

Brown had surgery to remove a bone spur last month and will miss at least the opening two rounds.

Of course, the Jets aren't the only club on the up.

The arrival of Italian great Alessandro del Piero at Sydney FC has invigorated the Sky Blues; Ange Postecoglou has shifted south determined to put the Victory back into Melbourne and taken Marcos Flores; Brisbane Roar have retained the nucleus of their championship-winning side and Adelaide have two Argentinians.

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