Sydney FC woes go deeper than Arnold's tactics

Sydney FC, not for the first time in their 11-year history, are at the crossroads and it is time for management to make a very important decision that will shape the club's long-term future.


Sydney FC's season has gone pear-shaped with Arnold's tactical approach coming into question Source: Getty Images

Recent events would suggest that the two-time champions are in the midst of an identity crisis.

And when chief executive Tony Pignata and coach Graham Arnold meet this week to discuss the team's latest tepid performance that led to a 3-1 home defeat against Brisbane Roar they would do well to look into each other's eyes and ask themselves two simple yet crucial questions.

They are: 'what sort of team do we want to be and what sort of players should we have?'

How the two react to the dark clouds that are hovering above the team this season will go a long way towards determining if the club's bid to become the biggest in Australia succeeds or not.

While Sydney's crosstown rivals Western Sydney Wanderers lead the table with a brand of exciting, attacking football that Sky Blues fans yearn for every week, Arnold's troops continue to provide us with the kind of cautious - and at times ugly - football few people would want to watch.

Some diehard fans would argue this point but the bottom line is that you are far more likely to be entertained if you go to a Wanderers match than if you take a punt on a Sydney game. This is not opinion but fact.
The Wanderers have more gifted players and play better and more eye-catching football and before one makes the point that Sydney have won the two derbies so far this season, it should be emphasised that on both occasions the losers were extremely unlucky not to get a draw.

Sydney will occasionally come up with 30 minutes of decent stuff yet they are essentially a mediocre side and not very good to watch. But this is not entirely Arnold's fault.

It is true that between them Arnold and Pignata have recruited a large portion of the current squad that is not exactly setting any houses on fire but the team is not strong enough to compete openly with and outplay the league's best teams.

Apart from the two lucky derby wins Sydney have yet to beat Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory, Adelaide United and Brisbane this season.

They will snatch a point here or there but they will not win too many plaudits from the fans at large.

They were booed off the park after the loss to Brisbane.

Sydney should not merely be a team hard to break down; they should be much bigger and better than that.

Arnold has every right to play it tight in the matches he believes will provide him and his players with the stiffest challenges.

It's not just his right but also his responsibility in such a results-driven environment. That's what coaches are paid for.

And Victory coach Kevin Muscat was playing the populist card when he claimed that only one team wanted to win the last 'Big Blue' at Etihad Stadium which the home team won 1-0 thanks to a late own goal.

Muscat should know well enough that wanting to win does not entitle you to the points and he would know that Arnold had the measure of him in a tactical sense - same as the Sydney coach had the measure of Tony Popovic the week before.

The confrontation between two of the league's most successful clubs was a classic goalless stalemate which is the way it should have finished.

Sydney did not deploy rough, cynical or dirty tactics. All they did was apply legitimate tactics designed to nullify Victory's dreaded attack. And it worked ... almost.

Whether the club's fans would continue to support a Sydney team that generally will make sure it does not lose before it entertains any idea of winning remains to be seen.
Many believe that Australian football supporters will only back winners but recent history would suggest that Sydney's fans did not exactly flock to the games when the Sky Blues won the premiership and championship double in 2009-2010 with a European-style game based on possession and patient build-up.

A case of winning ugly it certainly was not but Czech coach Vitezslav Lavicka's style was far less appealing than the type of game Brisbane would provide in the following two seasons in winning two championships.

Yet Sydney fans turned out in numbers to watch Italian hero Alessandro del Piero display his world-class skills in a very poor team that was never going to win anything.

The city of Sydney provides multiple challenges for any sporting organisation and keeping the fans happy holds the key to sustained success on and off the field.

Easier said than done but Sydney's top brass should have to have a good look at themselves - again - and make up their mind as to where they want the team to be and how to go about it.

On one side we have an experienced coach who has players of limited technical ability to work with and who has been forced to go against the A-League trend and play defensive football in selected matches just to keep Sydney in touch with the pace-setters.

On the other hand we have a club with a large enough market to draw 20,000 crowds every home game but which risks alienating its frustrated fans with its often toothless football.

All this while Tony Popovic's Wanderers are setting the league alight with their wondrous combination of defensive diligence, midfield mastery and forward fire.

Sydney FC have a problem as a club and it will be only compounded if they do not acknowledge it.

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5 min read
Published 1 February 2016 at 7:26am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS