Sydney FC can win the AFC Champions League

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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89 Have your say

    Sydney FC are good enough to win the AFC Champions League, but to do so they’ll need plenty of things to go their way – including in the A-League.

    The Sky Blues’ 4-0 demolition of Melbourne City on Saturday night was as comprehensive as it gets.

    It’s a good thing the A-League has a finals series, because with Sydney FC now 12 points ahead of second-placed Newcastle Jets with seven games still to play, the competition would look very boring without it.

    In truth, it looks pretty boring right now, although you can hardly fault Graham Arnold’s team for being so much better than their rivals.

    They’re playing like Ange Postecoglou’s all-conquering Brisbane Roar outfit of old, and watching Sydney FC scythe down opponent after opponent, you almost wonder if Postecoglou’s team didn’t quite get the credit they deserved.

    But if Sydney FC aspire to true greatness – and to match their city rivals Western Sydney – they’ll need to win the AFC Champions League.

    What’s that? It’s a preposterous suggestion not even worth discussing? Nonsense.

    If Australians are painfully ignorant of the quality of Asian football – and we most certainly are – then the reverse tends to also be true, with critics on the continent routinely dismissing the quality of the A-League.

    Want to know what the majority of Asian coaches think of the A-League? Take your pick from any of the following clichés: “it’s physical”, “the players are strong,” “Australians are tough,” etcetera.

    Game after game, that’s all you’ll ever hear the majority of coaches in Asia give the A-League credit for, and if Sydney FC are smart enough, they’ll use such a blinkered attitude to their advantage.

    It’s probably why Graham Arnold gambled on picking attacking trio Milos Ninkovic, Bobo and Adrian Mierzejewski for his Champions League squad, leaving cult defender Jordy Buijs to concentrate on A-League duties.

    Milos Ninkovic celebrates for Sydney FC

    But leaving Buijs out is indeed a gamble for a couple of reasons.

    Firstly, if the out-of-contract Buijs wasn’t already mulling over a move away from Sydney before the Champions League squad was announced, he probably is now.

    Meanwhile, breaking up the central defensive partnership between Buijs and Alex Wilkinson means Sydney FC may need to rely on a youngster like Aaron Calver to contain some of Asia’s most formidable strike forces.

    And that could be a problem against international calibre strikers like Dejan Damjanovic, Obafami Martins and Leandro.

    Montenegrin goal machine Damjanovic has joined Suwon from bitter K-League rivals FC Seoul, and combined with the fact the Bluewings boast a couple of former A-League players in ex-Sydney FC stalwart Matt Jurman and one-time Newcastle Jets defender Lee Ki-je, they won’t exactly go into Wednesday night’s clash bereft of ideas.

    The same could be said of a Melbourne Victory side lumped in the same group as Shanghai SIPG for the second time in three years, although Kevin Muscat looks like he’s got bigger problems to deal with following Friday night’s dreadful 2-1 defeat to Brisbane Roar.

    If the Victory defence find Brett Holman and Massimo Maccarone too hot to handle, one wonders how they’ll go containing the likes of Oscar and Hulk.

    And Victory’s demanding fan-base is unlikely to tolerate too many more embarrassing defeats, particularly if Sydney FC start making progress in Asia.

    There are plenty of things that need to change in the Champions League, from prizemoney to refereeing to the composition of the groups – last year’s champions Urawa Reds can’t even defend their title.

    But another thing that needs to change is our approach to the competition.

    Sydney FC might need some luck to win the ACL – just ask the Wanderers – but there’s no reason they should fear any of their group stage opponents, particularly if they can successfully juggle the competition with their A-League commitments.

    They should go into Wednesday night’s clash with Suwon as favourites.

    The Sky Blues are good enough to win the Champions League. Now all they’ve got to do is show it.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist since December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (89)

    • February 12th 2018 @ 7:30am
      Fadida said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      With Matt Simon as the cover for Bobo I can’t see how they can fail

      • February 12th 2018 @ 8:42am
        Fadida said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        The Axe does Asia!

      • February 12th 2018 @ 9:13am
        Midfielder said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report


        You seem to have a thing with Matty S … he has some qualities other than his size and physical presence …

        For a start he is one of the few strikers we have in the league who can play back to goal and hold up play and he puts a lot of pressure on defensive players with the ball…

        Understand your point but maybe a tad over done…

        • February 12th 2018 @ 9:37am
          punter said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

          Well said Mid, I agree he is an extremely limited player but Fad does overdo it a trifle bit.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 9:53am
          Fadida said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

          Is he 40 games now without a goal? Astounding that the best team in the country has him as back up.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 10:12am
            punter said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

            Fad, if Bobo goes down injured, please no, however, Brosque will go to the top of the diamond, No Bobo, but also no Simon, we bring in Kahid or Carney. No Simon.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 10:32am
            Midfielder said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:32am | ! Report


            Gild the Lillie 40 games but some games less than 5 minutes … in those 40 games I doubt he has played time wise 4 games …

    • February 12th 2018 @ 7:33am
      Buddy said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      I take it that Scheduling iof A League games has been altered to provide some assistance/respite? It wasn’t so long go that teams would return from Japan/China/Korea and have to fly back to a neighbouring city and be prepared to play within 24 hours of returning from an away leg. In Europe you hear howls of protests from coaches if their team hs to play an early Sunday fixture, let alone a Saturday one after returning from a champions league fixture and with the exception of Russia and surrounding countries, most trips are 2-3 hour flights or less, completed in business class or a charter plane and definitely not economy for 10-14 hours. I make mention of this as I hear comments about players being professional athletes and should be able to adjust etc but if the top clubs in europe have welfare and health concerns then I am assuming the concerns are researched and genuine?

      I hope SFC do well in the ACL in order to raise the profile of the A League and get it noticed and for the right reasons. The early rounds should advantage Australian sides as the Koreans will be coming into the game straight from a winter break and it will be pretty cold over there right now. The later knockout stage begins duringtheoff season here so I suppose it all evens out but it is a difficult journey and if taken lightly, will go nowhere.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 11:13am
        Mike Tuckerman said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Hi Buddy. Football Federation Australia has indeed made allowances for Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory’s ACL schedules. It’s the reason we’ve got a couple of split rounds over the next few weeks.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 5:27pm
          Buddy said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:27pm | ! Report

          Apologies for my poor grammar Mike. I was making a statement about the scheduling by FFA not asking the question. It is about time and proves that it is possible to work with the broadcaster to get a result that is good for everyone. The travel up and down to China, Japan and Korea is a killer in economy class and the players are expected to perform, sleep, wake up and get on a flight home and then back up for a league game and be in good health and spirits. At least when we have been overseas to support the team we take a long weekend, or even a week in Seoul to refresh and not mind too much getting on another 10 hour flight!

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2018 @ 7:51am
      Griffo said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

      Sydney might be mowing down most A-League opponents but they have yet to kick a ball in the ACL.

      As much as they fly the flag for our league I would hate for similar tales of woe in development and quality as last year should they get spanked.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 7:58am
        Buddy said | February 12th 2018 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        They look to be in a slightly easier group this time around. Suwon finished 3rd in K League and Shanghai Shenua don’t happear to have the spending or drawing piwer of SIPG so it will likely be the Japanese powerhouse of Kashima that provide the sternest test, and the travel of course!

      • February 12th 2018 @ 9:09am
        Fadida said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        I guarantee crisis articles if they lose a game Griffo

        • February 12th 2018 @ 9:12am
          Fadida said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

          Actually, Waz has started, see below “a disaster for the code”. How can it be a disaster when most people aren’t interested in the ACL?

          If I may preempt, can we compare playing budgets? I’m guessing Sydney will look like paupers compared to the rest.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 9:57am
            chris said | February 12th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

            true…but a 10 million dollar player is not 10 times better than a one million dollar player.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 8:00am
      Waz said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      Big, big words Mike. I hope you’re right.

      SFC have the best starting XI in the A League but you need a squad to win in Asia and we haven’t seen the squad yet.

      Then you have to run the gauntlet of Asian referees who seem to have a separate set of rules for Australian teams and it’s doubtful SFC will get away with some of the tactics employed in the HAL without picking up frequent yellow cards.

      So how will they fair with suspension, inevitable injury and necessary squad rotation?

      Undoubtedly the best prepared HAL side to enter the comp, we need them to go far. Winning would be nice but a group stage exit a disaster for the code.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 8:15am
        chris said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        Good points Waz. One injury up front and the goals will dry up.

      • February 12th 2018 @ 10:15am
        spruce moose said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

        I don’t think they are big words, I think they are deliberately paired back.

        SFC are good enough to win it. Being good enough to win it, and actually winning it are entirely different beasts.

        It’s not like he’s gone out and said “SFC will win the champions league”.

        I also happen to think he’s right. I’ll sadly miss Wednesday’s match as I’ll be interstate, but it should be a cracker.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 10:51am
          Waz said | February 12th 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          I stand by my response. I wasn’t critical of Mike in any way but what I’ve eritten makes sense to me.

          • February 12th 2018 @ 11:18am
            spruce moose said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:18am | ! Report

            Not suggesting you need to retract, nor was I suggesting you were critical of him…

          • Columnist

            February 12th 2018 @ 11:18am
            Mike Tuckerman said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:18am | ! Report

            Yeah, I think Waz is as cognisant of the pitfalls in Asia as I am. One decision/injury/suspension doesn’t go their way, and they could be in real strife.

            What I would like to see, though, is Sydney FC prioritise the ACL over the A-League for the next couple of months. Not because the domestic league is not important. But because they’ve got a real chance of making a major statement in the group stage.

            • Roar Pro

              February 12th 2018 @ 11:27am
              David McDaniel said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:27am | ! Report

              They could probably play their youth for the remaining A League games and still finish top.
              They don’t need to play any of their ACL players in any game that comes before or after any away ACL games.

              • February 12th 2018 @ 12:13pm
                Sydneysider said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

                SFC also have Fabio Ferriera who will play in the A-League instead of either Adrian or Ninkovic. He is a more than capable replacement.

                Jordy Buijs is still there in defence for the A-League matches.

                Rhyan Grant has been named in the ACL squad so hopefully he gets on the field, that way Wilkshire can be rested too.

            • February 12th 2018 @ 12:25pm
              Waz said | February 12th 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

              Agree with that Mike. A League records are nice to have but SFC can afford to take the foot off the gas there to prioritise the ACL and still take home the Plate with ease. The games come in 2+2+2 blocks so there’s only a few games affected any way.

              But if a domestically dominant SFC have a disasterous group stage it is going to reflect badly on the comp. but I don’t see that happening unless they get unlucky with injuries.

    • February 12th 2018 @ 8:36am
      AGO74 said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      Sydney should be aiming first and foremost to get out of group. Talking about winning it is preposterous at this stage. That said I am quietly confident we will achieve this first aim.

      A number of our team have played in Asia before. In fact it was in ACL two years ago that Sydney fans got to see first glimpses of real quality from Ninko. Adrian has played in west Asia for a few years so has an understanding of how playing on this continent works Which is helpful. Alex wilkinson has several years experience in Korea. Even matt Simon played in Korea lol!

      The talk of Australian teams being physical is not necessarily untrue but I would also argue that some other Asian countries- particularly Korea – are also very physical in their approach.

      As much as I dislike Melbourne victory I hope they can find some form and put in a good shift as well. Uncompetitive performances by Australian teams is a poor look and one we should avoid.

      Looking forward to it.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 11:19am
        Mike Tuckerman said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        It’s not preposterous though. Urawa Reds used to talk almost every year about winning the ACL (again). Took them ten years to get there, but they did it. And I think A-League clubs would do well to adopt a more positive attitude in Asia.

    • Roar Guru

      February 12th 2018 @ 8:37am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | February 12th 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      The game could use an ACL injection, so it is important for Sydney to strut their stuff and Victory to dig deep.

      One thing does concerns me though, GA’s coaching record loses its lustre once he leaves the comfortable environs of the Australian scene. Showing some tactical nouse in the ACL may help to alleviate some of the concerns many hold regarding GA’s potential handing of the Socceroo’s reins for the next Asian Cup.

      • Columnist

        February 12th 2018 @ 11:20am
        Mike Tuckerman said | February 12th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        Agreed. Let’s see how Arnie holds up against some pretty tactically astute opponents.

        • February 12th 2018 @ 5:35pm
          LuckyEddie said | February 12th 2018 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

          and refs that penalise and card cynical fouls and do not give SFC a penalty every game.

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