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What happens to Johnny Warren medallists the next season?

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    As Sydney FC reflect, as they surely will over the next few weeks, on their triumphant double-winning campaign, there will be no creeping anxiety about next season.

    An Asian Champions League tilt is on the horizon, where they will – eventually, in January 2018 – enter as one of the A-League’s most promising participants in years.

    The embryo of a budding dynasty is forming, with hopes high for next season’s A-League charge. And, crucial to all these optimistic projections, Sydney’s best player, Milos Ninkovic, has been re-signed and secured as a marquee.

    The Johnny Warren medallist, who was coy about his future in the harbour city when asked a month or so ago, added joy to joy when the news of his re-signing broke early this week, with championship celebrations still echoing raucously throughout the sky blue half of Sydney.

    Outgoing club CEO Tony Pignata left a golden gift, and inked the Nink before stepping down. One of either Bobo or Filip Holosko, who were Sydney’s two cap-exempt players this season, has made way, with Ninkovic assuming a wholly deserved higher pay-grade.

    So, how common is it for Johnny Warren medallists to stay with their teams? The A-League is maturing its way out of being simply a springboard league for promising young players, or a holiday run-out for the aged and marketable. But, for the league’s best player, in any given season, there must always be a niggling thought in mind, that perhaps there are bigger, greener pastures that would more befit.

    Diego Castro won the Johnny Warren Medal last season, and re-signed with the Perth Glory in the months following, his bauble – a symbol of his newly minted value – jangling around his neck.

    Thomas Broich, winner in 2012 and 2014, has only this season departed the Brisbane Roar, and is the biggest reason for their sustained competitiveness over the last five years. But only these two Johnny Warren winners, along with Bobby Despotovski – the A-League’s inaugural winner – were with their clubs the season following their individual triumph.

    Ninkovic has now joined them in this regard, and it’s a sign of the growing stature of the competition; just one of the first five Johnny Warren medallists were with their clubs the next season, as opposed to four of the subsequent six winners.

    Thomas Broich celebrates a goal for the Roar

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Broich’s value to Brisbane has persisted from his first great season until his final one, a campaign ended mournfully and, according to every value metric, as well as the eye-test, rather too soon for most Roar fans’ liking.

    Castro’s sophomore season in the A-League has been one where his attacking instincts, and preciousness to Perth’s volatile system, have not waned. He is by far the most important factor in their high-scoring, semi-final-reaching 2016/17 rollick.

    Similarly, there is no reason to expect Ninkovic’s importance to Sydney to recede next season.

    His attacking play won him the league’s most prestigious individual award. His counting stats are impressive enough, but more than that, the treatment he received in the grand final betrays how the second-best team in the league – and their manager – assess him as a threat to be countered.

    The Victory spent much of the match – certainly the early periods – kicking the life out of the Serb. He won 10 fouls on the night, more than any other player from either team, and the backhanded respect that shows is a testament to his greatness. Very few teams have been able to stop Ninkovic within the rules, so Muscat attempted to limit his effectiveness with an approach that brashly stepped outside of them.

    It was a fitting way to cap the triumph, then, when Ninkovic slid home the winning penalty, unflapped despite the 120 minutes of trauma he’d just endured.

    Milos Ninkovic celebrates for Sydney FC

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    Much depends on Sydney’s striker situation. Of course, Ninkovic is an exquisite standalone talent, but his particular set of skills are best complimented by a striker who can lurk, anticipate the subtle pass about to roll off the Serb’s velveteen feet, and finish with crispness and accuracy.

    Bobo has done that this season with aplomb, and Alex Brosque chipped in with his all-purpose attacking as well. Bobo is yet to be confirmed for an extension, and Bernie Ibini has gone to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS. Matt Simon, known by some people – some hilariously silly people – as the ‘Iniesta of the Inner West-a’, has been re-signed, but his particular brand of hyper-aggressive super-subbery isn’t exactly what’s required, at least not until the final ten minutes.

    Bobo is, as was mentioned, also a marquee, and it would be worth bringing him back over Holosko. George Blackwood could ably replace Holosko in the attacking unit without too much fuss. Or, if Bobo does leave, 20 year old striker Charles Lokolingoy might also be blooded; he scored a remarkable 27 goals in 28 games at NPL 2 level, and is a hugely exciting prospect. Sydney’s recruitment has been largely excellent over the last two seasons though, so faith should be placed in that continuing.

    It’s all very exciting, and there seems very little chance of an Adelaide-style post-title hangover. Ninkovic is one of those players that needs little mitigating; he has no obvious flaws, or neglected areas in his game that need bespoke solutions in other parts of the team. It seems likely he will be the league’s best player again next season, and if Sydney can keep the core of this champion team intact, then they too seem likely to set the benchmark for the league again in 2017-18.

    The A-League’s current state is one that now attracts genuine talent, and keeps it here, and the future can only be brighter, twinkling as it is with stars like Ninkovic.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • May 13th 2017 @ 8:15am
      Fadida said | May 13th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Blackwood can replace Holosko easily?

      I’d love to see the evidence!

      • May 16th 2017 @ 8:03am
        Arto said | May 16th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        Hahahahaha!! Yeah, that gave me a good laugh too! ??

        Holosko has scored almost a goal every 3rd game (17 in 52) and assisted another 4 goals each season so whilst not outstanding numbers for a marquee, he’d be a regular starter in every other A-League team.

        Blackwood, on the other hand, will be lucky to get a contract renewal tbh… And whilst I may sound a bit harsh, the reality is he’s a long way back in the pecking order and unfortunately didn’t take his chances during SFC’s season outside the Finals…

        Plus, by some accounts, Holosko is wanting to stay on despite not being a marquee and the extra $300K in the Salary Cap will help balance the books.

    • May 13th 2017 @ 9:59am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 13th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      It’s unfortunate that the entire winning 2016-2017 SFC squad couldn’t be retain for the coming ACL. For I think they had another gear in them to show next season. I hope Arnie can fill the vacancies with real quality.

      • May 13th 2017 @ 1:29pm
        Nemesis said | May 13th 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

        Same can be said for every Premier/Champion.

        AUFC lost half their outfield team: Mauk, Djite, Goodwin, Kamau, Sanchez.

        All 5 players would walk into any ALeague side.

        • May 13th 2017 @ 3:42pm
          Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | May 13th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

          No doubt; but SFC supporters would be just a little bit curious to see how far this last SFC team could’ve gone if they had of all remained together for next season. Now we will never know; no fault to the players or club it’s just a shame the salary cap dictates the current situation and where the ACL qualification falls after the HAL. Remember the MV team will be without some very good players as well.

      • May 16th 2017 @ 8:08am
        Arto said | May 16th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

        Who’s left apart from Ibini? Tbh, Ibini suffered towards the back end of the season for not being a starter so his cameos became less consistent and I’m sure with the money he was on, we’ll find a good enough alternative – plus it probably makes keeping Carney, Dimitrijevic & Holosko easier too knowing they have moved up one spot on the pecking order…

    • May 16th 2017 @ 8:17am
      Arto said | May 16th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      My biggest fear for next season is that teams hatch a plan to neutralise SFC’s game plan (as tends to happen in most sports generally) such that SFC won’t get the same momentum they started to build early in the season.

      Obviously, Arnold will evolve the game plan so that we’re not a carbon copy of this season, but I think the matches against MV & WSW will be particularly close (unless Popa botches his recruitment again!) so things will definitely be tougher in 2017-18.

      The good omens are that Arnold managed to keep CCM a Championship/Premiership contender each season through the club culture and recruitment he presided over and it looks like SFC is on the same path.

      Interesting to see who takes over from Pignata as he has done a good job and has left some big shoes to fill…

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