The Roar
The Roar


Giancarlo Italiano's rise is the best story in the A-League

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17th March, 2024
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There can’t be too many sports around the world where a former match-going fan can one day rise to the rank of professional coach and defeat the club he once supported.

Giancarlo Italiano is one of the best stories the A-League has ever produced.

A long-time Sydney FC fan who never played the game professionally, the man known universally as ‘Chiefy’ has just engineered a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over the Sky Blues in front of more than 18,000 fans at Eden Park in Auckland.

And he did it against the man – and mentor – who helped Italiano land the top job in Wellington.

Ufuk Talay is regarded by many as the most tactically astute coach in the A-League, but he won’t love the fact his former protégé just got one over him.

Nor will Sky Blues fans appreciate the fact it was their former player, Kosta Barbarouses, who skipped clear to steer home the winner in a game Sydney FC took an early lead in.

Call it karma for the Sky Blues nicking Talay from the Phoenix.

But the truth is Italiano’s men were decent value for their victory, even if they rode their luck in what was a cracking contest across the ditch.

Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano gives instructions

Giancarlo Italiano has led Phoenix to a genuine premiership tilt (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

How Sydney FC centre-back Gabriel Lacerda didn’t score when he almost snapped the crossbar with a venomous half-volley midway through the first half is anyone’s guess.

And the Sky Blues thought they had doubled Robbie Mak’s early opener when Jordan Courtney-Perkins volleyed home a pinballing free-kick soon after – only for VAR to rule the ball had bounced off the defender’s hand in the build-up.

If Talay thought that was to be the end of his bad luck for the day, he was mistaken.

Lacerda’s defensive partner Hayden Matthews turned into his own net shortly after half-time to register an own goal that required yet more VAR confirmation, before Barbarouses popped up to haunt his former club with that well-taken winner.

It’s not like those were the only chances Wellington created in what was an entertaining encounter in Auckland.

And the Phoenix’s trip to New Zealand’s largest city will invariably be their last as a ‘home’ team, now that Auckland FC are entering the competition next season.


They’ll have their own Sydney FC connection in the form of coach Steve Corica, while the newcomers just unveiled a sharp-looking black-and-blue playing strip.

It didn’t look so sharp when a pitch invader galloped onto the pitch wearing the brand-new jersey on Saturday, only to be dutifully pole-axed by a security guard with a tackle that would have made former All Blacks lock Ali Williams proud.

Williams and his billionaire fiancée Anna Mowbray have been named as co-owners of Auckland FC alongside American businessman Bill Foley, and the A-League’s newest franchise clearly won’t be short of a quid.

Questions should nevertheless be asked of how a pitch invader took to the field wearing one of their jerseys at Eden Park – and if the Australian Professional Leagues are ringing around, they should put a call in to Lou Sticca while they’re at it.

The man responsible for bringing the likes of Dwight Yorke, Shinji Ono, and Alessandro Del Piero to Australia has had little to do with the A-League since his short-lived involvement with Western United, but evidently has no trouble bringing some of the game’s biggest clubs to our shores.

His latest venture sees Italian giants Milan take on Roma at Optus Stadium in Perth on May 31, yet Sticca’s deep contacts within the European game continue to go to waste among A-League circles.


A proper New Zealand derby that attracts big crowds to both the Cake Tin and Eden Park next season is a welcome new storyline, at least, in a competition crying out for them.

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So too is Giancarlo Italiano.

The trained lawyer says he’s still waiting for the day he has to get a proper job.

On the basis of the one he’s currently doing in Wellington, he’ll be waiting a lot longer yet.