11 MINUTES. That’s all Jack Hendry had played for Celtic this season before heading Down Under to sign for Melbourne City on loan, coming off the bench in a Betfred Cup win over Partick Thistle in September. While Brendan Rodgers appeared to be a fan of the 24-year-old, Neil Lennon wasn’t so convinced and so it was always likely Hendry would seek first team football elsewhere in January. What wasn’t so predictable was where the defender would end up.

Scottish expatriates might not be in short supply in Australia, but the footballing trade links between the two countries are not so strong. By signing for Melbourne City until the end of the season, Hendry became just the third Scottish player currently in the A-League after Tom Aldred (Brisbane Roar) and Ziggy Gordon (Central Coast Mariners).

Rather cruelly having spent so much of the 2019/20 season watching from the sidelines, Hendry is now expected to miss the next three months of action after suffering a knee injury in only his second appearance for his new team on Saturday, but he will still get a real taste for his new surroundings on Friday when Melbourne City host Melbourne Victory.

HeraldScotland:

While the Melbourne Derby might not boast the history of the so-called ‘Original Derby’ between Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory or the regional tension of ‘The Big Blue’ between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, it has become one of Australian football’s fiercest contests, with City Football Group’s (CFG) takeover of Melbourne City, previously named Melbourne Heart, in 2014 raising the stakes.

Friday’s clash promises to be one of the matches of the A-League season even with Melbourne Victory suffering a disappointing campaign, slumped third bottom of the table having won the league title as recently as 2018. Second-place Melbourne City, on the other hand, have their sights set on silverware with the end-of-season play-offs, officially called the ‘Finals Series,’ starting in May.

“There’s definitely quality there,” former Dundee and Rangers midfielder Gavin Rae who is now the head coach of Hakoah Sydney City East FC. “It’s a league that’s got a lot of tricky players, a lot of very good athletes. It’s a decent enough league and it will be tough for him. It’s similar to Scottish football in a lot of ways in terms of the quality.”

That Hendry is at Melbourne City is interesting in itself. Celtic have struck up a strong relationship with CFG over the past few years - see how Derrick Boyata, Jason Denayer, John Guidetti, Olivier Ntcham and Patrick Roberts have all swapped the Etihad Stadium for Celtic Park with Ronny Deila even hired as New York City FC’s new head coach after impressing CFG in dealings during his time in charge at Parkhead - and Hendry’s loan switch to Oz only strengthens this.

HeraldScotland:

CFG have big plans for Melbourne City, even if the growth of the A-League as a whole has plateaued in recent years.

“Things need to change for the A-League in terms of its support and coverage from the press otherwise it will continue to face challenges,” says Rae, highlighting how the A-League has to compete for mainstream attention with the Premier League and other European leagues. 

“There’s so much to do here that going to football on a Saturday is not the be-all-and-end-all like it is for us in Scotland. However, there is definitely a product there. It's about fine-tuning it and selling it better.”

Friday’s Melbourne Derby will present quite the product to Hendry, even if it’s from the sidelines.