Sydney’s significant population and associated financial clout makes it a key market for all Australian sporting competitions.
In A-League Men terms, 2021-22 was a major disappointment for the city, with all three clubs hailing from the New South Wales capital failing to qualify for the finals.
They won just 23 of 78 home-and-away matches between them and played generally poor and uninspired football during the latter stages of the season.
For Sydney FC fans, it was confronting and alarming after consistent success across an extended period. Those fans’ faces expressed disgust and disbelief as the reality of mediocrity sank in. For supporters of other clubs it was a satisfying sight, with the feelings of entitlement rightfully earned by the A-League’s most successful club rocked at their very foundations.
It is hard to imagine the Sky Blues being down for too long and emotionally, things have already rebounded positively, with a shiny new stadium set to host its first Big Blue on October 8.
Fans are frothing at the arrivals of 28-year-old Spaniard Diego Caballo, Slovakian international Robert Mak and Englishman Joe Lolley, who leaves Nottingham Forest and looms as one of the most significant signings of the upcoming season.
Former Brisbane Roar attacker Alex Parsons is another addition, yet even more significant in the battle for Harbour City bragging rights is the acquisition of former Western Sydney Wanderers import Jack Rodwell, who showed glimpses of real class in his 14 league appearances for the red and black in 2021-22.
With Sydney FC’s arguably greatest and most popular player, Milos Ninkovic, having ventured to Wanderland, the battleground established for the derby to be played on November 12 is explosive – something the city and league needs.
With Western Sydney and Sydney FC having suffering extended periods of nomadic existence that tested fans’ patience and commitment, both now enjoy digs that, once the number of wins increase, will see much-improved attendances and re-fire a rivalry that has fallen flat in recent times.
The Wanderers will be looking to veteran Brazilian Marcelo, Bosnian striker Sulejman Krpic, Democratic Republic of Congo winger Yeni Ngbakoto and Frenchman Romain Amalfitano to provide the improvement that leads to wins.
A squad of immense depth also features a host of newly signed Australians including Lawrence Thomas, Kusini Yengi, Calem Nieuwenhof and Oliver Bozanic, who along with Ninkovic make Western Sydney, on paper, as talented as any team in the league.
Whilst Sydney’s ‘old’ rivals will already have each other in the crosshairs, Macarthur FC fans would be keen to remind everyone that it was they who were the pick of the big city crop last season.
Just three wins from the Bulls’ final 14 matches saw what had begun as a promising campaign turn to disaster late and a seventh-place finish was little consolation for a team that had looked a serious threat after a promising start to the season.
Unlike their Sydney rivals, Macarthur’s recruitment has been, to this point, domestically focussed.
Daniel Arzani arrives with everything on the line and a potential last chance before those left believing in him are forced to give up the ghost like so many already have.
Former Mariner and Jet Matthew Millar will provide run and energy from the back half, Anthony Carter will undertake his first stint in the A-League after spending time abroad in numerous countries, and Kearyn Baccus could be a handy acquisition.
Championship winner with Western United, Jerry Skodatis adds some real poise to the midfield and Jonathan Aspropotamitis will anchor the back four. Both young signings will go some way towards making up for the loss of the promising Lewis Miller.
While there is some real promise joining the club, it is the members of the squad that remain who potentially make Macarthur the most settled of these teams.
Filip Kurto is clearly one of the best gloveman in the A-League, Aleksandar Susnjar and Tomislav Uskok will enjoy the extra support down back, and Craig Noone, Ulises Davila and Daniel De Silva will now have Skodatis and Baccus to help share the load.
The Bulls may still be a man short up-front, with Lachlan Rose and Al Hassan Toure now joined by Arzani, yet should coach Dwight Yorke have one more signing ace up his sleeve, the balance in the squad could well look the equal of their cross-town rivals.
After what ended up being miserable campaigns in 2021-22, football’s biggest market is set to – and must – bounce back this season.
Frankly, there will be no excuse for all three.
Macarthur will once again enjoy the splendidly presented surface at Campbelltown Stadium for home matches, Sydney FC will use an emotional return to Allianz Stadium as a potential kick-start to their season, and Western Sydney will hope early-season results match the quality of CommBank Stadium, which would see the fans flooding back to Parramatta.
The recruitment has been extensive, fan expectation is high and the opportunity now exists for a Sydney team to grasp superiority and make ground on the Melbourne clubs that so dominated last season.
While tough to read which club that will be at this stage, the A-League owners will all be secretly hoping that Sydney’s teams do put up a better showing this time around.
As irritating as the place can be, the A-League needs at least one Sydney team in and around contention.