The long-serving player has agreed a new two-year deal with Melbourne Victory. It's both an endorsement of his improved form and a sign of the club's vulnerability
September 17 2013 can't have been an easy day for Adrian Leijer. Having had the Melbourne Victory club captaincy taken off him by Ange Postecoglou, the defender was called on to pose for photographs with his replacement, Mark Milligan, as a deliberate show of unity over the potentially divisive decision.
Despite being one of the club's longest serving players, Leijer's Victory future didn't look too bright at that point. He started every game of Postecoglou's first season in charge, but struggled initially to adapt to the demands of the coach's possession-heavy approach. Some costly errors were committed, and perhaps only a season-ending injury to newcomer Nick Ansell prevented Leijer from being dropped.
Postecoglou claimed taking the armband away was intended to allow the centre-back to focus on rediscovering his best form.
But with Leijer out of contract at the end of 2013-14, former Chile international Pablo Contreras brought in as international marquee and big things expected of both Jason Geria and Ansell, it looked as if the writing might have been on the wall for the Victory stalwart.
Fast forward to May 2014, and the 28-year-old has agreed a new two-year deal, contracting him to the club until the end of the 2015-16 season, quite a turnaround for a player who had appeared to be heading toward the exit.
Honoured to sign for a further two years at the club I love. Proud of the journey so far and what the future holds. @gomvfc— Adrian Leijer (@adrianleijer) May 2, 2014
Several factors have contributed to the rehabilitation. The departure of Postecoglou and promotion of former team-mate Kevin Muscat may have had positive effect on Leijer's confidence and morale.
Contreras struggled for consistency in the first half of the season, his absence through suspension early in the campaign requiring Ansell to deputize and cementing Leijer's place in the backline.
Geria wasn't used at all as centre-back, with Muscat and his coaching staff preferring to convert midfielder Leigh Broxham or fullback Adama Traore to that position when denied the use of two of Leijer, Contreras and Ansell simultaneously.
A suspension and then injury caused Leijer to miss a chunk of the season between late January and mid-March. Rather than undermine his position within the pecking order, the absence served to highlight his value, with his services missed after taking a Matt Simon boot to the face and suffering a series of facial fractures.
He later picked up a knock to the foot at home to Guangzhou Evergrande, sat out the elimination final against Sydney and then played through the pain barrier away to Jeonbuk Motors, that effort and the toll it took costing him a chance of featuring in the semi-final at Brisbane Roar.
Aside from his generally improved level of performance and admirable willingness to put his body on the line, there is another reason for Victory to gladly retain his services.
An off-season of change bordering on turmoil if things don't go to plan awaits the team in navy blue and white.
Besart Berisha is arriving from Brisbane Roar, but the future of out-of-contract stars Guiherme Finkler and Adama Traore is uncertain. It remains to be seen if James Troisi can lured back on loan or on a permanent basis, while the worst-case scenario (a worryingly real possibility) is losing inspirational captain Mark Milligan, still under contract but sure to be the subject of interest from Europe and the Middle East.
So while Leijer's new deal is thoroughly deserved, extending his contract and that of veteran forward Archie Thompson, who has committed for one more year but is no longer the Australian marquee, is a pragmatic move by a club with plenty of work to do to ensure they are still competing at the right end of the table next season.