This piece originally appeared here back in 2013. I forgot I wrote this and reading back on it I feel like I was bang on the money, except for the captaincy.
Earlier this week I read fellow @FTSAUS blogger Andrew Smith’s article on Sydney being Champions in hiding next season. I laughed the title off. But I read his article to see his opinion. I found gaps that need to be filled before Sydney can even think of title glory.
I like Andrew’s optimism. He has very high hopes for the future of Sydney FC, at least when it comes to on-field results. Me however, not so much. I’ve maintained that with the current roster and contracts, Sydney is at least 3 years away from being Premiers and/or Champions. I’m going to play the Devil’s advocate here, but in reality this is my assessment of the team and my view on Andrew’s article. I’ll dissect most of the paragraphs of his article and counter them with why I disagree that Sydney will be champions this season and/or next season.
Right off the bat, Sydney should never be underdogs. Ever. They should dominate every team, every day of the week. Their inconsistencies since the Premiership/Championship double season have been exposed. The fact is that poor recruitment (either in buying/selling players or hiring coaching staff) has been the key in Sydney’s decline in recent years.
Andrew’s optimism is probably best highlighted by the fact that he bracketed Sydney in the same breath as Manchester United, FC Barcelona and Central Coast Mariners. The fact is that right now, Sydney is an average team at best. They have no right to be talked about alongside the best teams in the world, let alone the best teams in the A-League. The difference is that the best teams in the world lose, on my average, 3 games all season and maybe draw 3-5 games as well. Central Coast have lost 3 games and drawn 6. Bayern Munich have lost 1 and drawn 3. Manchester United have lost 3 and drawn 2. Barcelona have lost 1 and drawn 2. To put Central Coast’s stats in perspective, Western Sydney Wanderers are in second and they lost 6 and drawn 2.
The run home means nothing either. It does not matter whether you have an ‘easy’ or ‘tough’ run home. The fact is that football is won on the pitch and the draw is made months in advance. What A-League clubs demonstrate particularly well is (and most leagues worldwide) there are always sides that struggle, irrespective of the reason (injuries, poor season in general, can’t win at home, can’t win away, etc). Sydney’s season has been nothing short of calamitous and they are now paying for it with having to win every game to assure a top six spot. In my view, that’s a big ask because Sydney have struggled on the road in recent times. Sydney have gone 6 away games without winning. Furthermore, Sydney have no right to be called favourites against any of the top 3 sides in the run home. They may find form and get wins. But against Central Coast and Western Sydney they will be the underdogs. The only game they may walk into as favourites, taking their recent form into consideration, is the game against Melbourne Victory.
Andrew makes good points when saying that Sydney need to make the top 6 this season. It is a must, especially considering that Sydney have clawed their way back into top 6 contention. Sydney have enough players with experience and talent to get into the finals. After that, finals football is a different kind of football.
From here Andrew moves on to talking up season 2013/14. It’s difficult to talk up next season as there are, from memory, 8-9 players off contract at the end of this season. Having a good pre-season is all well and good and I believe Anthony Crea will get them fit. I’m still not sure if Frank Farina has the tactical nous to get Sydney playing his way or in a certain way. I say this because at times it seems as though they have relied too much on their experienced stars as opposed to a collective team effort during Farina’s reign. Admittedly, Farina’s task at the moment is no doubt to steer the club into the top 6 by any means necessary. Farina will have a pre-season to implement his ideas and it is next season which we’ll be able to see whether he has expanded his knowledge since his last stint in the A-League.
Sydney’s only long term signing this season thus far has been Joel Griffiths. He’s 33. By the time his contract is up he’ll be 35. During this time, Farina (or a delegate) needs to source a new, younger striker to assume Griffiths’ position.
I have big reservations about Lucas Neill. He’s 35. He’s been found out by quick players in recent years while on duty with the Socceroos. He’s also struggled with game time for his last two clubs. He may bring stability in defence while he’s at Sydney but I wouldn’t want him beyond this season. His reputation indicates that he’ll be after a big money deal and it’s hard to imagine Sydney squeezing him in beyond next season when you have Del Piero, Brett Emerton and the forgotten-on-loan-man Nicky Carle taking up the marquee spots. Obviously Del Piero isn’t giving up marquee wages. Emerton and Carle are left and if Sydney wants to keep Neill, who gives way? If it was my decision I wouldn’t keep Neill anyway and I’d be asking Emerton to take a pay cut to fit in the cap or he can leave. Injuries aside, Emerton’s been rather disappointing in his return to Australia.
Tony Pignata seems to have brought stability. He’s also resolved the coaching position for the next two years. But I remain sceptical of Farina’s reward of the permanent coaching position. I saw a Twitter conversation revolving around stability for stability’s sake. I wonder if that’s what Pignata has done here. Has he just awarded Farina the role just because of his results and the convenience of the situation? Has Farina got a plan for Sydney in the next two years? Was Pignata better off looking locally and worldwide for somebody with a better record and ideas?
Andrew goes on to argue that Sydney has the best team on paper without knowing what the make-up of the team will be next season. That’s all well and good. But as I mentioned earlier, games are won on the pitch. Every good team has two good players for each position. Sydney doesn’t have that. In a league restricted by a salary cap, the bench needs to consist of players capable of ding a job. Brisbane Roar did it for two years. Central Coast has been as well.
Everybody knows that Alessandro Del Piero is the main man at Sydney. Sydney’s best efforts and goals usually come from him. The tough thing for him has been that he has no doubt realised how far from good a lot of Sydney’s players are. The arrival of Joel Griffiths and Peter Triantis’ recent performances has lessened Del Piero’s load but there are still areas of concern on the playing roster. This is where recruitment has played a factor and needs to improve on.
Blake Powell has for mine been largely disappointing this season, as has Mitch Mallia and Joel Chianese. All have suffered for one reason or another, either through being injured or just not being up to A-League level. Each player has a good quality but on a technical level are not good enough to be playing A-League. On the other hand you have Terry Antonis, who has been criticised this season for not developing as much as people had hoped when he first burst on to the scene. He’s had extenuating circumstances, but I believe his recent performances on Sydney’s flanks have shown other things he has to offer.
I also agree with Andrew’s view on the captaincy, but not for his reasons. I would make Del Piero captain, not only because of his experience (far greater than Lucas Neill who was Andrew’s other suggestion) but because Terry McFlynn is not A-League material anymore. No doubt, McFlynn is a great captain. He’s always put the club and team first. But his ability has diminished so much that he’s already been surpassed by Triantis. Some will argue that McFlynn’s had better performances this season since initially being dropped and I’ll agree. But overall, for Sydney to evolve he needs to not have his contract renewed.
Andrew goes on to discuss changing Sydney’s formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. Sydney have played both formations this season to varying degrees of success. Just because Sydney might have good attacking players doesn’t mean they’ll be good in a 4-3-3 formation. This is where Farina comes in and what he gets paid for. Farina needs to recruit players to play his formation, whatever that may be. Alternatively, he needs to find a formation that suits the players available to him. I’m not sure if 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 is the way to go for Sydney.
Supplementing Andrew’s opinion on formation, he named his first choice XI in his preference of a 4-3-3 formation. Adam Griffiths at right back, Fabio at left back, McFlynn anchoring the midfield, Powell at left wing and Del Piero as the central striker is amusing to me. And as for naming Neill, who knows if he’ll be at Sydney next season. Del Piero has for the better part been ineffective when Sydney played 4-3-3 with him as the central striker during this season. It’s well known that he is better as a second striker or attacking midfielder, where he able to use the space between the lines. He has been so effective when used this way this season. Most of his goals and assists have come from when he is able to use this space.
Obviously I see a lot of gaps in what Andrew is written. But that’s his view and this is mine. I’m still very much of the opinion that there is much to do with Sydney’s playing roster, despite the (some might say minor) improvement in ladder position. I wait with much interest if Frank Farina can indeed resurrect the club’s fortunes and return them to a premier status. Instinct tells me he won’t. But hey, I can be proven wrong.