Friday, November 17, 2006


Donkey No Longer

Mike Cockerill's piece in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, dealing with the return to form of David Zdrilic, was timely.

The overwhelming majority of Sydney FC fans wrote him off following his indifferent 2005/06 season, while complaining (not without some justice) that we should have expected more from a player on a generous six-figure salary.

I always felt that Zdrilic had been rushed back into action too soon after his pre-season injury (just in case anyone sees that as a case of wisdom in hindsight, I stated as much here). Pierre Littbarski, in a rare moment of candour, admitted to a few prototype Covers after the opening game against Melbourne that Zdrilic had been a long way from match-fit. And yet he played ninety minutes in the following match!

In the 2005/06 pre-season, he formed an excellent partnership with Saso Petrovski. For much of the 2005/06 season proper, Petrovski would play the target-man role; in the lead-up games, Zdrilic had been the frontman, with Petrovski working just behind him. Such a setup was partially reprised against the New Zealand Knights last Friday, and although the opposition was barely testing, some of the old understanding was perceptible.

To be sure, there are some aspects of Zdrilic's play which still frustrate. The "five yard first touches", as one Sydney FC aficionado recently described them, do occasionally grate. Occasionally he doesn't hold the ball up as effectively as he might.

Yet he is one of the few Sydney players who is currently prepared to "pull the trigger", so to speak, and it's hardly a coincidence that he has gotten back amongst the goals as a result.

Cockerill makes reference to the number of goals Zdrilic has scored for Australia, and indeed he has shown a happy knack of scoring in the green and gold. They haven't always been against Oceania minnows, either; I remember him ghosting cleverly into the box to score against Scotland in 2000, and controlling the ball sharply before powering home in a cameo appearance against Indonesia.

At the very least, his recent performances in light blue should have gone a long way towards banishing the "donkey" nickname - with which he has been burdened by a surprising number of Sydney FC fans over the last couple of years.

He plays like a target man but is about 10cm too short.

Maybe some people are a little intolerant of Zdrilic because we have gone through all of this before with Clayton Zane at Northern Spirit. However Clayton was a much better target man and was excellent at holding up play.

In saying that, I think Zdrilic is the kind of player that really needs good service. Does Sydney have anyone who can pass a ball accurately? - Yes, one, Talay. It is probably no coincidence that Zdrilic's form has gone up with Talay's.
IMO it's not what he does on the ball but what he does off the ball that makes him such a poor player. In a squad which has (in the absence of Carney) struggled with movement off the ball Zdrillic seems to be moving away from scoring positions. When the ball is out wide he continually makes runs away from goal looking or a one-two which was never a possibility. He’s never in the centre to meet crosses and rarely makes attacking runs. He does have occasional moments of brilliance but more often then not needs help from poor defending.
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