Sport

Click here to submit your sports results for The Canberra Times
Save
Print
License article

Farina could learn from nearby foes

When you look at the respective playing rosters of Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers, it's hard to fathom - nigh impossible - how this situation came to pass.

Why are the Wanderers so good and the Sky Blues - let's be honest - so poor? A staggering 20 points separate the crosstown rivals going into the final few games of the season.

This is the Sydney FC that boasts international players by the bucketload - Alessandro Del Piero, Brett Emerton, Joel Griffiths, Adam Griffiths and Ali Abbas, previously Jason Culina and now Lucas Neill. Their wage bill - between $6.5 million and $7 million - is the highest ever in football in Australia.

It will probably take several years before another team matches it again. The Wanderers? They're worth about $3 million, give or take.

No Sydney fan will want to hear that his or her side can take lessons from the Wanderers' example. It is the most indigestible proposition: little brother is showing the elder how to do it with a fraction of the money but twice the class and guile.

However, the sooner the Sky Blues reconcile the situation, the sooner they can get on the path to being a truly great club. That might mean holding some very honest discussions.

Advertisement

Central to this is how they play their football and indoctrinate their players. What is the Sydney way? We, the public, don't know. Truth is, neither do they.

It's the challenge Frank Farina has decided not to confront, at least for now. He's committed, until the season is out, to play purely and simply for results. Style, development and grander visions can all wait. It's all about elbow grease and putting in big shifts.

But pertinent questions must be raised. What good is hard work when everyone else is already doing that? The team has noticeably lifted its fitness base, but that alone is not enough in this competition any more.

Look at the Wanderers. Their contact hours are roughly the same as Sydney's. It's what they do in those hours that makes them a better team.

Tony Popovic doesn't make his team run laps or play endless variations of small-sided games. He has his players doing ball work - where the fitness comes from - and intense tactical work, on the field and in review sessions.

What good is fitness if you don't know where to run? Or when to run? Privately, it's the main gripe Del Piero has with his teammates. They can't pick the space. Why? Because they don't know how.

Popovic has, on occasion, had to break things down to a simple level for his team. Young Australian players are seldom taught passing and positioning. Only recently at a training session did I see his assistant Ante Milicic lay out a passing drill that, at best, could be described as entry-level. The message was inherent: if you can't pass, you can't play in this system.

Notice how every time the Wanderers play, Popovic later mentions ball retention is the area they could improve.

It's not about humiliating his players. It's about improving them. He wants his players to rote learn the solutions to every scenario a match can produce.

Trying to describe Sydney from a tactical standpoint is difficult. They're frustratingly unstructured, and most points seem clinched by the genius of Del Piero. There has to be a plan beyond the Italian.

The Wanderers' tactics are clear and concise. They press with four up front (one striker and three attacking midfielders). Their defence isn't just a flat back four; it's the addition of two holding midfielders to link with the centre-halves to create a ''block''. That's why no team beats the Wanderers through the middle.

Ironically, the Mariners play similarly in that regard, but have better width. They should have beaten the Wanderers on Saturday but couldn't find the knockout punch. It's a good lesson for the finals. As it happens, Sydney host the Mariners on Saturday at Allianz Stadium. It's a great opportunity for Farina to learn more about creating a structure, discipline and advanced tactical play. After all, when you're savvy about these things, results are much easier to come by.

4 comments