A-League tipsters were thrown another curve ball over the weekend. This time around it was the 2019-20 elimination finals, where the higher placed teams were humbled in two entertaining and compelling fixtures.
If you happen to live in either of Australia’s two most populated cities and have found the time to attend a football match between their most successful teams, you’ll know where I am going with this.
Sydney FC recently won their fourth A-League championship, drawing historically level with Melbourne Victory.
Eight cumulative triumphs from just 14 A-League seasons says a lot about the sustained success of the two and the disdain felt towards them by other clubs.
Victory and Sydney will always be the bullies; blessed with corporate interest the envy of other clubs and with the ability to both access and lure the best young talent in the country.
When the two clubs face each other on the pitch, something special happens. The ‘Big Blue’ is the most palatable game of domestic football in Australia and despite the quirky approach the FFA has taken with its competition calendar, there will once again be three such clashes in 2019-20.
The Sydney derby could reclaim that billing should the Western Sydney Wanderers return to their former glory over the next few seasons, however for now, the Blue remains the showpiece.
There is a tangible dislike between the players on the pitch, the suits on the sideline and the fans in both cities.
Some of the nicknames and insults launched from the Harbour City are not fit for a column on such a reputable website such as The Roar. Yet Melburnians give their fair share as well, often making life uncomfortable for visitors to the Victorian capital.
Some matches have been spiteful, most are controversial and all afford temporary bragging rights to the winner.
A foot in each camp is not permitted. A choice is required.
Now, after 124 games and 40 goals with the Victory – interrupted only by a stint with Wellington Phoenix in 2016-17 – Kosta Barbarouses has done the unthinkable and switched allegiances to join the Sky Blues.
The reason? Pretty simple really: a lucrative three-year deal that provides continuity and security for the 29-year-old, as well as what will no doubt be a weighty bag of money delivered to his door each month.
Despite their championship-winning season, Sydney appears to have strengthened its domestic squad of players and managed to do so without signing Barbarouses as a marquee.
Squeezing the New Zealand international into their squad as a salary-capped player reserves the money required to look further abroad for the top-class international talent needed to replace Siem de Jong, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Jop van der Linden.
Barbarouses will be well aware of the reception he is sure to receive on his return to AAMI Park. No doubt the confident Kiwi will strut onto the pitch like a precocious and arrogant little smurf brat (or so Victory fans will tell you).
It will make the locals seethe. I have already seen it suggested on social media that Victory fans use their empty plastic cups to create a lengthy beer-snake named Kosta to celebrate the first home Blue of the season.
That would be a lovely touch.
Some Sydney fans are also a little uncomfortable with the move, with one suggesting Barbarouses undertake a symbolic burning of a Victory shirt in order to prove his allegiance to the club and remove any doubt around his loyalties.
You have to love football fans and their lateral thinking.
The sight of Barbarouses knocking one into the back of the net and gesturing to his former supporters, who will have been relentless in their verbal assault on him, might just send them ballistic. It will be interesting to see how the New Zealander handles that situation, if and when it does arise.
Despite playing diplomat well, Barbarouses’ comments when the announcement was made in Sydney will have done little to appease furious Victory fans. Apparently, he was easy to persuade.
“As soon as I found out that a great club like Sydney wanted me to play for the club it was a really easy decision and I was really eager to get here,” he said.
Then he doubled down.
“I want to win trophies and I want to be a big part of a big team.”
Sydney fans will now cheer on the man they have mocked and ridiculed from the stands since 2013. In typical turncoat style, it won’t worry them one bit, with footballing loyalties becoming less and less permanent.
It is likely that Kosta Barbarouses will never forget his first trip to AAMI Park to face his old team. He is sleeping with the enemy now and will receive the frostiest of welcomes.
Let’s hope the fans take it easy on him.