Sorry, Sebastian, Sydney FC is not the A-League
Two trophies are on offer in the A-League, something that has been lost in the wake of Sydney FC's Grand
Final victory, as Phill Chadwick reports.
There is a risk of this Section of SportsAustralia.com becoming a bit recursive. And, much as I am
uncomfortable writing my opinion of someone's opinion of my opinion, I can't let Sebastian Hassett's article
'Ready for Some Fish and
Bling' (01/03), pass without comment.
While Sebastian, and the Sydney FC fanatics may think so, Sydney FC is not the A-League. What is more to
the point is the danger inherent in that attitude. Sydney's Grand Final win on the weekend illustrates the
fine line between success and failure in a knock-out competition.
To anoint them as the "best" team in the competition on the basis of a finals series consisting of one
draw and two wins, neither of which were convincing, is in my view, nonsensical. If one of Central Coast's
open-goal chances had gone in and they had won the Championship, would we all be congratulating them as the
No, they would be the plucky underdogs that made good in a fairy tale. If we take Sydney's self-promotion
too seriously, we risk devaluing the rest of the League.
No-one can underestimate the importance of the Sydney market to the long term success of this competition,
but that does not reduce the importance of the other seven clubs and their local markets. And the temptation
to be dazzled by the Hollywood-style of the "Bling" must be resisted.
On the other hand, nearly 42,000 passionate fans turning out to the game is a
marvellous testament to the
potential that this competition holds. The "Cove" supporters group is largely responsible for generating that
sort of interest.
This is a lead that A-League fans all around the country should strive to follow.
Grand Final euphoria aside, the temptation to discount the significance of the Premiership, with its
attached entry to the 2007 Asian Champions League must aslo be resisted.
Sebastian's horse racing analogy may be amusing, but misses the point entirely. He likens the A-League
season to one long endurance race. Wrong! It is much more like two races, one after the other.
First there is an endurance race, followed by half of those horses racing in a separate sprint race. They
don't stop the Cox Plate at 2,000m, award a trophy to the leader, then tell them to start running again.
In other words, the A-League Premiership season may be like the Cox Plate, a 2,040 metre marathon, but the
first four runners then qualify for the Oakleigh Plate (a sprint held over 1,100 metres). Is it any surprise
that the same horse is not likely to win both?
There is a fallacy, that Sebastian seeks to perpetuate, that the Championship Grand Final is the be-all
and end-all of the A-League. It is not. There are two trophies on offer.
Their relative status will evolve naturally in the next few years.
My own opinion, one that I held even before Adelaide won it, is that the rankings at the end of the
Premiership season is a much more reliable gauge of the relative strengths of the clubs than is a quick,
cut-throat playoff tournament.
However appealing to Australian audiences, this obsession with winning the Grand Final as the definition
of a season is dangerous. In a low-scoring sport like football, a single mistake, or a single bit of
brilliance can turn the outcome of a game, and hence a Championship.
The higher scoring in sports like AFL, Basketball and NRL can allow teams to overcome such incidents.
Sebastian also lets rip on Kosmina's Adelaide squad that he perceives as full of tired, battle-weary ex-NSL
hacks. These are the players that just somehow managed to win the Premiership by a clear seven points.
"Form is temporary, but class is permanent." Oh come off it! For a start, Sebastian obviously subscribes
to the "never let the facts get in the way of a good story" theory.
According to their own web sites, old, tired and battle weary Adelaide's 20-man squad has an average age of
27.3years. Sydney 27.6 years.
Adelaide's over-reliance on former NSL players. That same squad has 13 of the 20 with NSL experience.
Sydney has 16.
Perhaps, in Sebastian's lexicon, "class" is synonymous with "overseas experience"? Adelaide has eight
players that have played professionally overseas, Sydney has 14, so that must be his criterion. Pretty flimsy
in my view.
In any case, the salary cap severely limits any "glamorous" clubs' ability to attract stars. One marquee
player outside this limit does not allow a Chelsea-like spending spree.
Merely asserting, as so many have done, that Sydney has the "best" squad in the A-League has not been borne
out by results over the Premiership season. The salary cap will prevent huge differences in class between
squads, unless Sydney have discovered a supply of that rarest commodity, footballers willing to play for less
than they are worth on the open market.
Sebastian's other contention, that gifted young players will be retained in the A-League, is just not
going to happen. Even glamorous Melbourne could not stop their star Archie Thompson from shooting through to
Europe at the earliest opportunity.
Carney, Fyfe and Petrovski are reported to be going on three-month loan deals to Bucharest. If they
impress, and are offered lucrative deals in Europe, does anyone really believe they will resist?
The reality is that the A-League, at least for the next few seasons, will be a breeding ground for young
talent, a place for mid-range players to ply their trade, and a welcoming refuge for veterans. That may
change, but with a salary cap of $1.5 million between 19 non-marquee players, don't expect outstanding
youngsters to resist the European Clubs' money for long.
The key to the A-League's growth is not in slowly developing local youngsters, but in attracting more
Dwight Yorke's to bring in the punters and catch the interest of the media.
Sebastian also lambasts Adelaide's successful attempt to build a squad capable of immediate success. What
other sort is there? Does he think that Melbourne planned to finish seventh?
Melbourne's fans have won admiration by turning out in huge numbers despite their team's poor performance.
How much more support would there be for a winning team. I am sure the name "Victory" was not chosen to be
Maybe in AFL, with a captive stock of players, no transfer market and a draft system to dole out young
talent, a club can seriously talk of a three-year rebuilding phase. But in elite football competitions, squads
are built by transfers far more than by development of teenagers. That development function is for the lower
Any coach stupid enough to attempt a deliberate strategy of a few years of failure in the hope of success
down the track does not deserve to last long in any elite competition.
It is true that Adelaide seem to have "choked" in this Championship series. Two dreadful mistakes, one by
Valkanis and one by van Dommelle put paid to their chances. Similarly, the woodwork at the other end was the
difference between winning and losing in two of the matches. The margin between success and failure in knock
out games is that slim.
To imply that, somehow, Central Coast are inherently more worthy Grand Finalists than Adelaide is, frankly,
to misunderstand the vagaries of knock-out fixtures in this sport. Of the four finals participants, none has
progressed to the next stage by more than the odd goal. And the Grand Final was won by one piece of Yorke
skill. That is what makes this sport so infuriating, so exciting and its fans so passionate.
And that is what makes gloating and back slapping and claims that finals success is a real measure of
quality a very dangerous pass-time.
For, make no mistake, in future seasons other teams will falter at this ultimate stage and claims of
superior "class" will then sound very hollow.
But, for now, congratulations to Sydney. They have shown us the possibilities. Star players. Full stadiums.
Intense media interest. Fans that are loud and passionate. Good football.
Now for the long, long break until we start again. I can't wait.
• Who is right on this issue? Has Phill found
the answer or is Sebastian on the money?
Send us your feedback now!