Monday, March 10, 2008


What Sydney Wants

Interesting that Les Murray's latest despairing piece about the culture at Sydney FC has been presented to the world on the same day that the club's mild-mannered CEO, George Perry, has departed.

In Les's rant from 50,000 feet, there are plenty of opportunities for some of his typically nauseating Real Madrid references. Never mind the fact that the galacticos policy he refers to was only made possible by the extortionate sale of Real's former training complex to the city council, or that the whole "Zidanes y Pavones" policy of Florentino Pérez ended in both financial and footballing disaster. Señor Murray's Real Madrid worship has never been constrained by such trifling things as facts.

And the simple, plain fact that the salary cap constitutes a considerable constraint on the quality of the football in the A-League is one that the SBS brains trust has stubbornly refused to acknowledge.

But I digress. Is the thrust of Les's argument, that Sydney punters are being turned off by the style of football on show, valid?

In part, it probably is. There has been little to enthuse the fans in the football produced by the club in any of the three A-League seasons so far; significantly, the team has produced its best performances against non-A-League opposition - that is, against sides that have been prepared to let them play a bit, as it were.

On the matter of Juninho v. Aloisi...well, it's a tough one. I yield to no-one in my admiration for Juninho, both as a footballer and as a person, but his injury problems are clearly not of the short-term variety. Any Australian club who signed him now, especially given the sort of unpunished fouling that has been a feature of the appallingly-refereed third season of the A-League, would be taking a considerable risk, in my view.

Yes, it's hard to see who will be providing the creativity (not to mention the width) for Sydney FC next season. Yes, John Kosmina's tactics during his time at the helm haven't been all that adventurous. But the reasons for the general Sydney FC turn-off go deeper than that...and this brings us to the departure of Perry.

Ever since the end of the first season, and the Lowy takeover, it has been clear that Sydney City was in the process of exhumation. With the appointment of Andrew Kemeny to the chairmanship, that process neared completion, and it will be interesting to see if Perry's replacement has any links with the old Hakoah club as well. The odds on it must be fairly short.

But the majority of the fans, one would imagine, don't mind about the Hakoah echoes if the club is being run well (which it isn't), and the team is successful. So where's the problem?

Firstly, the relationship with the fans. The Walter Bugno era may have been marked by certain excesses, but the close relationship that developed between the Cove and the management of the club (the former CEO, Tim Parker, was instrumental here as well) was central to the enviable atmosphere generated at the SFS in the A-League's first season.

Since then, there has been a far greater distance between the two, and this has had its inevitable effect in the crowd participation and the resultant atmosphere.

Secondly, there's the matter of geography. Sydney is vast, and yet the club that supposedly represents the whole metropolis caters unmistakably to the eastern suburbs and the inner north and west. There have been few genuine attempts to market the club further afield, especially in the Lowy era.

Back to Les. He states (or rather assumes):

What Sydney FC's numerous, but tyrannically fickle and demanding fans want is not just big names, or even results. They are too proud for that. They want to roll up to the SFS knowing their team is the elite of the elite, and that it doesn't just chase results but plays with the kind of poise and swagger that is the model for the rest.

"Too proud"? "The elite of the elite"? Oh dear.

Of course Sydney fans would like a team that is both successful and attractive (although I have a strong suspicion that the former, for all the posturing, is ultimately more important than the latter from a pure bums-on-seats point of view).

But they would also like to feel that the club genuinely caters to them, and is prepared to listen to fans' concerns (as the Melbourne Victory management have been, for instance, over the past couple of years). And that it does not merely exist to feed the nostalgia of a man who should not be involved with the running of the club in the first place, given his position as FFA chairman.

And the simple, plain fact that the salary cap constitutes a considerable constraint on the quality of the football in the A-League is one that the SBS brains trust has stubbornly refused to acknowledge.

This is a bit of a nitpick but
Les has previously commented on the cap in the past.
That's true Erniet, but SBS (including Les) apply quite a few double standards in their critiques of A-League playing standards.

On one hand, Les and Fozzie have criticised the salary cap for constraining the clubs in their ability to sign players that can provide an entertaining 'product'. Fair enough.

Then they also argue simultaneously that the coach plays the biggest role in providing entertaining football, regardless of the general quality of players. Mind you, I could be thinking of Fozzie on that point, but SBS do tend to have some homogenisation of editorial views.

Les's Real Madrid comparison is absolutely ludicrous and most certainly not comparing apples with apples. Yes, Sydney's recruitment has been abysmal since their inception, with the squad consistently lacking balance, but Les seems to conveniently forget Real's limitless budget, where even the proverbial drover's dog could have signed the likes of Figo and Zidane.

It would have been smarter to compare Sydney FC with Newcastle and Queensland, or the likes of Sydney United and Olympic from the NSL days, who consistently provided entertaining styles of play under the constraints of either a salary cap or limited budgets compared with other clubs.

FWIW, I think coaches play the most important role in providing entertainment, but comparisons between clubs need to be realistic.
"I don't know what good art is but I Know what I like", best sums up my view on this matter.
My football knowledge isn't of significant depth or breadth to comment on the nuances of various "styles" of football.
I can say that for most of last season I've left the SFS appalled by the show Kosmina has put on.
Judging by the "exit polls" of those leaving the ground, this view is not uncommon.
I like running rugby, I like flowing back line movement in league. I don't like the lack of midfield creativity of SFC.
Can't help thinking the board has slipped up by offering Kosmina a two year contract in the interests of stability.
Seriously thinking of not renewing my membership next season.
Der ball ist rund!
SFC's home record has been shocking under Branko as well as Kosmina. Under Kossie though we had the 3-2 vs the Mariners and the last-second 1-0 vs the Jets. It was a mixed bag to be sure but there were some great moments and they were wrung out of a weak, unbalanced squad - there wasn't much Kosmina could do without a natural defensive mid, a shit striking force, no fullbacks and several key players perma-injured.

I'm taking out membership after three years of on and off support.
Just came across your blog Mikey.
Its a cracker. Well done !

Dean (PompeyFC)from Campsie
Hi Dean,

Thanks for the interest! Hope you noticed this and this. ;-)
...This is a bit of a nitpick but
Les has previously commented on the cap in the past....

Fair enough. I should have remembered that piece.

Lately, though, the party line seems to be that as long as you're a "technical/progressive" coach, you can create quality on-field product as if by magic (Fozzie's interview with Eamonn of Football in the Capital is particularly revealing and relevant here).
I fail to see how winning the European Cup qualifies as a disaster.
...I fail to see how winning the European Cup qualifies as a disaster....

Real Madrid's history did not come to a standstill in 2002.

I'm sure the fans of Leeds United (who?) didn't consider reaching a European Cup semi-final in 2001 via a small-scale galacticos policy a disaster at the time.

Mike. Fantastic !

I didn't see it actually. Happy b'day for last week as well mate.

Did Big Red join in the celebrations ?
Hi Dean,

My real b'day is actually in January...that was just the blog's birthday, so to speak. ;-)

I should probably know, but who's Big Red?
Big Red = That big lady with red-hair who says Soccer is Shit to the cove supporters while watching at Campsie.
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