Down for the count at Farina FC
Tough going … Sydney FC players felt the pain during new coach Frank Farina's first training session. Photo: Brendan Esposito
BY 9AM most mornings, the most strenuous task confronting the majority of Sydney FC players would have been deciding between Weet-Bix and toast for breakfast.
Not on Tuesday, however, and perhaps not for the rest of the season. By that time, the Sky Blues' players were limbering up for an intense early morning session that lasted just over an hour.
The level could be most kindly described as brutal - especially for those players who didn't play a full match at the weekend. With the December sun blazing from above, those fringe squad members were herded into a five-a-side game that, at times, resembled an open-air cage fight. By the end of it, the players collapsed to the turf, gasping for air, clutching for water bottles.
World of pain ... Sydney FC players were left exhausted after their first training session with strength and conditioning coach Anthony Crea. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Welcome to life under Frank Farina.
The new Sydney coach has instantly put his stamp on the team and the message is implicit: you haven't been working hard enough.
Farina didn't quite say as much at the end of the first session - he planned to back them up for another session later in the day - but he let on that things would be different under his reign.
''They've got to get used to the way I play. The extra sessions are going to be about structure and what people's roles are and their responsibilities on the park,'' he said. ''It's not punishment at all, it's just normal working practice for me that early on in the week, you'll do double sessions and towards the end of the week, you'll taper off.''
Farina said ''without doubt'' the intensity of his first session was what he wanted to replicate each day training and then on match day.
''When you get to this level of football, you have to play at a high tempo and your levels of fitness have to be high,'' he said. ''These sorts of sessions are where you're going to get the heart rate up and the fitness will follow with that. If you play in the A-League now, with all the teams, the tempo of the games is very high, from the first minute to the last minute. In the past, I think we've maybe let ourselves down in the latter stages of games, in the last 15-20 minutes, we've tended to taper off - and that's when you get punished.''
The new coach said he had to ''hit the ground sprinting'' and he is aware his primary task is to give the club an instant lift after winning two of their first nine games.
''I realise we need to get results and in the past it hasn't worked the way they would have liked. We've got to change something,'' he said.
''Whether we have the time to be successful, we'll have to wait and see, but I'll guarantee you one thing - every game we go out for, we'll be super-competitive. ''
Though Sydney FC have been variously linked with former NSL clubs, most notably Sydney City, it's hard not to notice a very Marconi flavour in the coaching ranks.
Farina, assistant coach Steve Corica, physio Stan Ivanic and new strength and conditioning coach Anthony Crea have been involved with the Fairfield powerhouse; even goalkeeping coach Zeljko Kalac and chief executive Tony Pignata speak Italian, Marconi's lingua franca.
Just as it was Farina's first session in the box seat, it was also Crea's first session overseeing the detail. However, the pair have known each other since their Marconi days, and Crea stayed with Farina during his six-year spell with the Socceroos.
Notorious for pushing players to get to their peak fitness, Farina said Crea would bring a hardened edge to training. ''He's a bit of an angry young man on occasion and we work well together and the players respect him, they don't have any choice,'' he said. ''He's got the same work ethic as me, he likes to work really hard and it's good to have him on board.''
Farina was part-coach, part observer for Sydney's 0-0 draw with Melbourne Heart on Sunday and said he saw something he could work with ahead of Sunday's testing journey to Wellington and beyond. ''I was pleased in some areas with the game but we've still got a bit of work to do,'' he said.
Meanwhile, Alessandro Del Piero had scans on his hamstring on Tuesday afternoon but the results won't be known until Wednesday. However, it appears unlikely he will be risked for the trip to face the Phoenix.
❏ After their unconvincing win over Hong Kong, the Socceroos now face their toughest East Asia Cup qualifying opponents, North Korea, on Wednesday.
A Brett Emerton goal in the 86th minute secured the 1-0 win over 172nd-ranked hosts Hong Kong in their opening match of the qualifying tournament at Mong Kok Stadium on Monday night.
Australia had the lion's share of possession but were never really able to get on top of a determined Hong Kong side despite the huge difference in rankings favouring the world No.33 Socceroos.
Brisbane duo Ivan Franjic and Matt Smith started in their international debuts, and Newcastle's Adam Taggart and Sydney FC teen Terry Antonis also earned their first caps as late substitutes. But it was teenage Central Coast dynamo Tom Rogic who, despite only playing the last 10 minutes, looked most impressive in a shaky team performance.