It is a huge week for Perth Glory, with six points up for grabs and their season resting on the two wins required to stay in touch with the top six.
After the shock resignation of Ian Crook as Sydney FC coach, the revolving door at Sydney continues.
The last few months have been a whirlwind for the club and the league. The arrival of Alessandro Del Piero has changed the nature of the ‘marquee’ system, prompting a flurry of other high-profile signings.
The arrival of the Italian has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response. And rightly so. The man is a credit to the game, and an asset for the A-League. For perhaps the first time in the competition’s history, Australian football is receiving worldwide attention.
Moreover, Sydney FC are benefiting economically from their investment through unprecedented shirt sales and match-day tickets.
Unfortunately, Del Piero’s arrival has coincided with one of the most shambolic starts to a season from Sydney FC. In between moments of brilliance from their new number ten, Sydney have been disorganised and directionless, conceding sixteen goals in just six games.
Pundits quickly began calling for Ian Crook’s sacking, yet few paused to ask whether the arrival of Del Piero is, in fact, indirectly related to the team’s poor start.
Respectfully, and with many qualifications, I want to suggest that it is.
After the board missed out on snaring Graham Arnold from the Central Coast Mariners in the off-season, Ian Crook – one of the foundational coaches for Sydney FC – was appointed to lead the club.
From the outset, Crook promised a new style of football at Sydney based on possession and organisation. It is clear that along with many other A-League clubs and coaches, the lessons of Brisbane Roar’s success has been heeded. Crook himself called it ‘bums off seats football.‘
With a high turnover of players in the off-season, Crook was able to build his own squad. The message in his signings were speed, movement and technical ability. Krunoslav Lovrek was signed to play as a number ten, new pacy wide players were added, and the dead weight was cut.
In the pre-season, Ali Abbas was linking well with Fabio down the left flank, and the pace of Yairo Yau, Joel Chianese and Mitch Malia was to be exploited by Lovrek.
Crucially, Nick Carle was the centrepiece of the arrangement. Playing deeper as a number six, Crook looked to use Carle’s ability to dictate the tempo and control possession as a link between defense and attack. Admittedly, the pre-season games were mostly against state league opposition, yet Sydney’s shape looked good, and their squad as balanced as it ever has.
And then Nick Carle was signed by Emirates side Baniyas SC, and the Del Piero show began. To steal a line from Zinadine Zidane,, Sydney gained a Ferrari (or should that be Fiat?), but sold the engine.
Alessandro Del Piero is, to be sure, the classiest player ever to play in the A-League. Yet in his signing, Sydney’s structure was displaced on the eve of the season proper. There would be no pre-season matches to ease Del Piero into the squad.
It is hardly surprising, then, that most of Sydney’s attack has centred around their Italian superstar. Whenever the great man asks for the ball, he duly receives. At the moment, it looks a one-man show, and bums are off seats not for team performances, but for moments of individual brilliance.
Admittedly, Sydney’s defense has been tragic, which Ian Crook and his staff deserve criticism for. However, it is hard not to feel sorry for Crook, who had the carpet pulled from under him just one month before the start of the season. His marquee man is undoubtedly a brilliant player, but Crook has been forced to readjust his squad on the run.
Many will welcome Ian Crook’s resignation. However, it is worth taking a longer view of his short tenure. His signings were smart. Fabio has been excllent, Yairo Yau promising, Ali Abbas a revelation. Crook’s promotion of youth has been laudable, although Malia has started out of position and Terry Antonis and Joel Chianese have been largely unavaliable through injury.
What is missing is organisation in both defense and attack. Sydney are a long way from playing as a team. For all his good intentions, Crook seemingly has not been able to communicate his message to the players. Yet it worth noting that at the moment, Sydney are trying to play passing football without a proper central midfielder. No other team has this conundrum.
In this context, the return of Jason Culina may prove a turning point, as he can fill the role vacated by Nick Carle.
Of course now that he’s here, nobody in their right mind would wish to see Del Piero benched. His absence in last week’s thrashing at the Central Coast was particularly telling. The club needs his experience and class now more than ever.
However, considering the haphazard nature of his arrival, and the loss of Nicky Carle that it was predicated upon, it is worth asking the seemingly unthinkable question – would Sydney have started the season better without Del Piero?