Having written a blog piece a few weeks ago about the bittersweet relationship Sydney FC was enjoying with its Italian marquee signing, A-League coverage over the past week appears to suggest that my sinister wish for the two to part ways has come true. Indeed I should have heeded the advice, ‘be careful what you wish for’ a little better.
Platitudes for the service Alessandro has done for Australian football have been nothing less than overwhelming, and certainly fully deserved by the man himself.
I had the great pleasure of being present for his first home match in the sky blue colours, and the difference in the size and atmosphere of the crowd from previous seasons attending Allianz Stadium was remarkable. In the ensuing months (and now years), there were countless moments, both live and watching on television, where Del Piero’s skill, football acumen and wily charm would force myself and others to simply stop what we were doing and take pleasure in watching him ply his trade.
Despite this, yet still reluctantly I might add, I stand by my thoughts that it was time for Sydney FC to begin a new chapter in its footballing history. A need for it to move away from its reputation as the bling club of the Hyundai A-League and draw a greater focus on the meat-and-potatos facets of the game. Building a quality team of 11 players (plus bench) with a greater level of mutual ability and less reliance on one or two superstars.
To draw a comparison with the English Premier League, my desire is that Sydney FC aim to become a little more Southampton, and stop pretending they are Chelsea.
While the league has advanced in leaps and bounds in these last few years, we are still one burdened by a slightly lower quality than the glamour leagues of Europe, as well as a stringent salary cap not present in these competitions. Both these realities ensure that the A-League will continue in its struggle to attract a league ‘s worth of world-class quality footballers. Scarcity will always be a concern.
Therefore the skill becomes about balancing high quality domestic and Asian footballers with the occasional headliner player. Striking the right balance between the continued development and celebration of footballers native to Australia and the region, and the headline footballers that Australian fans have grown up watching.
At the end of the day, I believe Sydney’s decision was about ensuring this equilibrium was retained, and it was a necessary action.
So, with all that said, I can now lament on what we have lost just a little bit further.
An interesting article by Ultimate A-League (found here in full) gives a breakdown of crowd numbers as influenced by Del Piero’s presence. It is incredible to look at:
|Team||Crowds without ADP||Crowds with ADP||Change|
Even taking into account the natural growth of the game over the past two seasons, the difference is vast (except, oddly enough, for the Central Coast fans).
The pragmatist in me accepts that big-name players from Europe, your Dwight Yorkes, Robbie Fowlers, Emile Heskeys and Alessandro Del Pieros are still the difference between attending an A-League match or not for a substantial proportion of this year’s fans. And further potential fans in Australia. It is the sad case that I expect to see a slightly emptier Allianz Arena next season for my wish of hopefully seeing a more cohesive and collaborative football effort from the Sky Blues.
So how can Sydney FC go about creating this type of play and stifling any withdrawal (en masse) of fans?
I honestly do not think they are too far away.
They were perhaps guilty of being sloppy at the back this season, ranking 8th out of 10 for goals conceded. With Ognenovski reaching the end of his career, it would be a wise time now to begin the search for a suitable centre back replacement.
For me however, the lack of domination and drive through the midfield was a bigger concern. They were often guilty of sending long balls through to an isolated Del Piero, who would then be constantly forced into a deft touch or conning dive to beat his marker and wait for his support. This will need to be a focal point of any off-season transfer strategy. Looking for experience and talent to bolster their midfield ranks and work towards a style of player with a greater emphasis on control in the middle of the park.
Within their current ranks, it will be interesting to see if Nick Carle is given another chance now that Farina has left the club. While Nick’s first spell at Sydney FC was plagued with injury and indifferent form at times, I still think he can offer a regular and controlling passing game for the Sky Blues.
Of course the obvious gap to fill will be Del Piero up front.
Sydney FC has promising young strikers in Joel Chianese and Corey Gamiero, and would do well to continue their development with regular A-League appearances. However they will need a class purchase to assist these players. Someone that can fill enough of ADP’s gigantic shoes whilst still providing some of the qualities he was missing. Like coverage and mobility. A target man that can hit all corners of the park and who is finding runs on the wing and support from his centre midfielders. It is safe to say that this won’t be easy.
Overall, as a Sydney FC I feel optimistic about the club moving forward. The end of this season offers the opportunity to correct some obvious deficiencies with how they were playing, by creating a new team post-Del Piero.
Still, I will miss the guy.