Arnold’s turnaround a triumph of wisdom

In late July, Graham Arnold invited me to sit on the bench for Sydney FC’s pre-season friendly against Macarthur Rams, and to write about it for The World Game. It’s long-forgotten now, but they lost 1-0.

Graham Arnold

Graham Arnold has bounced back from the disappointment of last season to have his Sydney side flying high at the top of the A-League Source: Getty Images

We covered it warts and all; the club didn’t censor any of it. That was good, because what was happening behind closed doors was very impressive. I knew immediately Sydney FC would have a good season, even if the result of the evening suggested anything but.

There’s an old saying from Benjamin Franklin that is well-worn but entirely true: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Sydney FC’s plan was clear as day, but they didn’t execute very well that night. Fair enough, too – the season was still several months away.


Over those months, Arnold did what he does best: develop young men into winners.

The great thing about "Arnie" is that he’s a learner, especially from his mistakes. It’s a quality shared by our two other top coaches of recent times, Tony Popovic and Ange Postecoglou. Kevin Muscat, another avid learner, might be edging his way into that discussion before long.

Every time they’ve been knocked down, they furiously scour the evidence to see where the fault was. They’ve each been honest enough to find out what it was, whether it was something they could control, and adapt accordingly.

Each has gone through the darkest depths: Postecoglou getting sacked from national setup, Popovic going winless for most of 2014-15, Sydney’s shocking collapse before Arnold’s eyes last season.

But guess what? Now the Sky Blues are on track to claim their third championship in 2017. They’ve basically sealed the Premier’s Plate and will be tough to stop in the finals if they get home ground advantage all the way through.

It is a credit to owner Scott Barlow that he has allowed Arnold full control over all football matters. That decision has enabled Arnold the clarity required to go full steam at success, rather than worrying about too many hands on the wheel.

Going back to basics, Arnold has re-discovered the formula that made the Sky Blues such a force in the 2014-15 season, when the goals were coming in from all angles.

Perhaps only the Melbourne Victory side of that season (Berisha, Barbarouses, Finkler, Ben Khalfallah and Archie Thompson off the bench) could compete in terms of firepower. In the end, their big guns smashed Sydney’s attack on the final day of the season.

Would they do the same to this Sydney side? I’m not so sure.

Alex Brosque, with seven goals in 12 games, is back to career best form. To think he was contemplating retirement after all his hamstring woes last season. But who would dare write off Brosquey? He’s a marvel. One of my favourite players in A-League history, and probably the nicest (as anyone who meets him will attest). A gentlemen and one hell of a footballer with a domestic career that has few peers.

But what a support cast: five goals each to Bobo, Filip Holosko and Milos Ninkovic is a sensational return. Add two more from David Carney and the fit-again Bernie Ibini and it’s one of the most even set of contributions we’ve seen. Serial bench-warmer Matt Simon hasn't scored but still creates opportunities for others with his crash-and-bash approach.

The data of Sydney’s squad also reveals just how little they’ve had to change things about. Some 12 players have played at least 10 games, which shows remarkable durability. Credit must go to the best in the business, Andrew Clark, who will soon be attracting international attention for his work.

Unfortunately, Milos Dimitrijevic can’t find the form that made him such a fine player in his first full season, and he’d be at long odds to get a contract extension for next year. It’s callous to say, but Brandon O’Neill and Josh Brillante are now better players.

George Blackwood might be looking for a fresh start next year, likewise Aaron Calver, but the rest seem to be playing some of the best football of their lives.

For that, they ought to thank Arnie. He was questioned last year by many, but the answer has been resounding.

Now the poser for Sydney is just how long he’ll stick around for. Word is that NAC Breda have offered him their vacant post, which would fulfil his dream of coaching in Europe.

Let’s hope Sydney can keep him until May (though he recently signed a new contract), allowing him to finish what he’s started. Pleasingly, his best days in the dugout might still be ahead of him.

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5 min read
Published 28 December 2016 at 9:20am
By Sebastian Hassett