Hundreds of other Sydney FC fans will have already rushed to their keyboards to chip in their two bob about Sydney FC’s last two outings. The first, a 7-2 annihilation at the hands of the Central Coast. The second, a 3-2 capitulation against arch-rivals Melbourne. The severity of the defeats makes it difficult to think rationally and write lucidly. The hurt of 10 goals two hours of Del-less football tends to cloud judgment, but here’s my eulogy of a hellish fortnight of football for the Harbour City club.
The Mariners match is hard to get a handle on because, realistically, Sydney was very unlikely to take anything away from a Gosford road trip. Had Central Coast won, say, 4-2, the game would have been remembered as an entertaining goal-fest (a rare treat at Bluetongue) and although the Cove would have returned down the F3 disappointed, few would have batted an eyelid. Obviously a seven-goal massacre is a different, far more rotten kettle of fish and with it comes deserved scrutiny.
Mark Bosnich always wheels out the old platitude that the true test of a team’s character is how they react to a poor result, and for 75 minutes against Melbourne, Sydney looked to have a reasonably formidable spine. They weren’t slick but no one was complaining about a 2-0 lead against the bitterest of inter-city rivals. Cue disaster, some bloke called Nabbout scoring at will and Archie Thompson kung-fuing corner flags.
A fight in Bay 26 after the final whistle neatly summed things up: some post-ADP blow-ins pouring too much stupid soup down their throats, swinging punches then throwing their weight up against the security and police, staining Bay 23’s hard-earned reputation. The volume of non-singing new faces that have made their way to the Cove this season has produced some quiet evenings in Moore Park despite the 20,000+ crowds. It would be nice if the ‘Sing or F*** Off’ maxim was heeded more readily.
Matters of the home end seem trivial compared to the deficiencies on the park, but it’s hard to accept that Sydney has a poor squad. Alessandro Del Piero and Brett Emerton speak for themselves, Paul Reid and Jason Culina (when he returns from a two-year injury hiatus) have precious experience, while Yairo Yau, Ali Abbas and Fabio have all been good signings. The concern is obviously at the back – Ivan Neceski can be a nervous shot-stopper and the back four (or, inexplicably, back three in Gosford) are equally shaky. But comparing Sydney’s squad to the rest of the A-League, the Sky Blues should rightfully expect to fulfil most people’s pre-season prediction of a top-four finish.
Ergo, the coach was the problem. Ian Crook is a great bloke, a loyal servant of Sydney FC, has tremendous English pedigree, but he clearly wasn’t up to the job. By resigning only six games into his tenure, he virtually admitted as much himself. Three points against Melbourne would have stemmed the bleeding from the Mariners game; a loss – in that manner – was a mortal wound.
Many Sydney FC fans are currently throwing confetti on Crook’s managerial grave. Some – and I’d place myself in this bracket – are happy he is out of the hot seat, and hope he remains at the club in some capacity. Others were disappointed by his resignation, perceiving it as a continuation of the club’s ‘revolving door’ coaching policy.
Firstly, it appears that Crook was a reluctant head manager, having been a fall-back option after Sydney’s bid to lure Graham Arnold fell through this winter. Secondly, Sydney has just sat through three years of Vítězslav Lavička, a fiercely conservative gaffer whose 2010 double spared him the axe in the two subsequent seasons of disappointing results. That’s hardly a revolving door.
Thirdly, even if Sydney FC has been a trifle trigger-happy (as seven managers in eight seasons indicates), I’d rather the Sky Blues earn a reputation for not tolerating bad coaches rather than a reputation for crap football. Instability in the manager’s chair isn’t great but there’s no point in backing a man not cut out for the job, especially when CEO Tony Pignata has made such a major investment like signing Del Piero. The last two weeks has cost Sydney FC thousands of potential fans (as fickle as that might sound, that is the reality of this city’s sporting landscape), so it’s fair that it cost the manager his job.
Crook’s replacement? The cupboard isn’t exactly replete with options. The same old names get tossed up: Frank Farina, Miron Bleiberg, Ernie Merrick, Branko Culina. Culina’s son Jason has recently joined the Sky Blues after leaving Newcastle, but Branko still harbours ill feeling towards the club that sacked him in 2007. Ernie Merrick would be an unpopular option considering his history in Victoria. Frank Farina is far from the worst option but Miron Bleiberg would be my choice: a vibrant character who wouldn’t wilt under the spotlight that comes with Del Piero’s Sydney FC. But considering Pignata managed to lure Il Pinturicchio Down Under, there might be a foreign option on their way.
Whoever they are, I hope they haven’t seen a DVD of the last two games.