Could Frank Farina do the unthinkable?
Former Sydney FC coach Frank Farina. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Incumbent Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill may not command a place in Sydney FC’s starting line-up if he overcomes the calf injury that kept him out of the Sky Blues’ 2-0 win over the Central Coast Mariners.
A preposterous thought, surely? How many national captains – of any code – would get overlooked for one of the biggest games of the season – in Sydney’s case the Big Blue against Melbourne Victory this Saturday?
However, on Fox Sport’s Shootout program, Mark Bosnich was adamant that is exactly what should happen.
“You don’t change a winning team,” was his simple philosophy, one he probably wishes Alex Ferguson had adhered to back in 2000.
Sydney’s back four were a solid-looking unit against the Mariners, this in a season where the Sky Blues have leaked goals like a Labor backbencher during a leadership spill.
But leaving out the Socceroos’ captain?
No doubt, any one of Sebastian Ryall,Tiago Calvano, Adam Griffiths and Rhyan Grant would be unlucky to make way for the returning Neill. However, clean sheets are not built on the back four alone, just as Sydney’s constant shipping of goals cannot be attributed solely to the designated defenders.
There was a work ethic and willingness to get behind the ball against the Mariners that hasn’t been in evidence for much of this season.
Terry McFlynn remains an unfairly maligned figure but his screening of the central defence on the weekend nullified the attacking threat posed by Michael McGlinchy and recently deposed league top scorer Daniel McBreen.
When asked to remain central and play the spoiler, McFlynn is an asset the Sky Blues have been without for large parts of the season.
Similarly, the ascension of Peter Triantes has added energy to a midfield that often seemed bereft of ideas beyond “Get the ball to Alessandro Del Pierro and let him do his stuff.”
Too often, the ball was coming back at the back four before they had time to draw breath.
The Sky Blues defence also benefitted from not having Fabio near it. Harsh as it may seem, he has caused more heartache than joy. As well as his terrible disciplinary record, Fabio dives into tackles like a seagull going after a stray chip and has left the defence exposed far too often.
Back to Lucas Neill, though. There is no doubt he is approaching the twilight of his career, but there have been few greater contributors to the Socceroos’ cause. He has bags of experience to compensate for a drop in pace, and one of the coolest heads in the game.
In what is likely to be a heady atmosphere in front of a big crowd against the Victory, those are attributes Sydney FC will need.
Farina does not choose his team on reputation, just ask Jason Culina. In this case though, a fully fit Neill’s reputation does precede him.