The mediocre performance dished up by the once great Sydney FC in the opening round of the A-League Men’s competition last Saturday night has Sky Blue fans frustrated and concerned recent past is set to be replicated in 2023/24.
There does appear to be something fundamentally wrong in the harbour city, with years of dominance and success followed by two disappointing recent campaigns.
The obvious frailties in the squad were once again exposed on Saturday night, this time by a professional Victory outfit that frankly, could have added a few more goals to its haul with a little luck.
But for Englishman Joe Lolley, Sydney looked completely outplayed and the cheers of the Victory fans chorused with many other throngs around the nation, as the team in the lighter blue continued its struggles.
Some would argue that the competition looks far better for it.
After looking unlikely to even qualify for the finals at the midway point of the 2022/23 season, opposition fans were salivating at the thought of a second consecutive top six knock out campaign without the perennial contenders’ presence.
Steve Corica’s men did manage a rally late in the season and even snuck past the Wanderers to start the finals, before being reminded just how average they were by Melbourne City, who spanked them 5-1 on aggregate across the two-legged semi-final.
That fade-out came off the back of another weak campaign the season earlier, where just eight wins saw the Sky Blues finish in eighth place and miss the finals by a whopping eight points.
A year earlier, Sydney were beaten well in the Grand Final by Melbourne City, yet the final 3-1 margin did not appear to foretell a long term demise.
Who would have thought that following two championship years immediately after taking the reins at Australia’s winningest club in 2018, Corica would enter 2023/24 with a weight of pressure on his back and a need to turn things around quickly.
In a nutshell, Sydney look a little terrible and have done so for some time.
The goal-scoring presences of Adam Le Fondre and Brazilian Bobo seemed to keep the Sky Blues heads above water, as many questioned the club’s lack of emphasis on the replenishment of talent via the enormous pool of players at its disposal.
Watching Luke Ivanovic and Tom Heward-Belle across the weekend during the opening round was a distinct reminder that Sydney does indeed have access to quality youth.
However, as a traditionally older and experienced team; one sent into battle to win titles and little else, was also the reminder that blending youth and experience is essential to crafting long term success.
The presence of Rhyan Grant, Anthony Caceres, Andrew Redmayne and Luke Brattan enunciates the point clearly, as does the presence of Lolley and Robert Mak, both very good players well past the age 30 mark.
Many a promising junior has been let go, and as the local products such as Patrick Wood, Jaiden Kucharski and Jake Girwood-Reich continue to struggle to demand regular first team selection, the need to look elsewhere for players such as Jordan Courtney-Perkins has the Sydney fans as little miffed.
As does the recruitment policy that brought Brazilians Fabio Gomes and Gabriel Lacerda to the club; two signings that look somewhat questionable after a month or two in Sky Blue.
Right across the league, young talent from the nation’s most populated city are enjoying the benefits of heading to greener pastures, where the limits on match minutes experienced in Sydney simply do not exist.
Sydney FC appear to have gotten that crucial balance wrong over the last few seasons under Corica and if the start of the 2023/24 league campaign was anything to go by, they may well be facing another difficult task in terms of qualifying for the finals.
If that is the case, Corica must be held accountable and that reality was etched on his face as the final minutes ticked down on Saturday night during the Big Blue.
I think he knows his squad is simply not at the standard of a few others and that he is in trouble come midseason.
If Sydney FC turn the last two seasons around and make the top four, all credit to them. If they don’t, the recruitment and retention decisions made, with Corica instrumental in them, should see someone held accountable.
After a wonderful honeymoon period, Steve Corica has his greatest challenge ahead of him this season.