The main error, made by Sydney FC twelve months ago, was not re-signing Marc Janko or bringing on board another striker who was good for fifteen goals a season.
There were others, however - the squad was short on leaders while retaining both Mikael Tavares and Milos Dimitrijevic meant one visa midfielder too many, restricting Arnie’s options in other areas of the pitch. Meanwhile, allowing Alex Gersbach to leave mid-season left a gaping hole and Jacques Faty proved a disaster at centreback.
The latter two problems appear to have been rectified. The signings of Michael Zullo and Alex Wilkinson should have the roles of leftback and backline-leading central defender taken care of, though question marks remain around Zullo’s fitness. With Seb Ryall and Rhyan Grant fighting it out for the rightback spot and Aaron Calver offering backup, Sydney still need a reserve left-sided and central defender.
With Ryall also able to play centrally, Arnie could promote the club’s talented NPL2 backline leader, young George Timotheou. The youngster could, however, face stiff competition from another talented left-footer, Hakoah’s big 17 year old Ryan Blumberg. The kid has made his senior breakthrough at NPL1 level and is about to follow in the footsteps of Tom Rogic by representing Australia at the Nike Academy in London.
Between the sticks, Arnie has decided that following a mixed twelve months, Vedran Janjetovic requires greater competition. The club has been linked with Danny Vukovic and even the great Mark Schwarzer, who would be a sight to behold even at his 43 years of age.
Following Tavares’ departure to the Mariners, Sydney’s midfield of Brandon O’Neill, Milos Dimitrijevic and Milos Ninkovic remains the envy of most. Nonetheless, the engine room needs replenishing and Sydney FC are believed to be negotiating with Olyroo Josh Brillante. Another who fits the bill is 28 year old Sydney-born Shrewsbury Town midfielder James Wesolowski while NPL hotshot Daniel Araujo deserves a senior contract.
Disappointingly, the club did not do enough to keep 17 year old local starlet and “next Terry Antonis”, Daniel Arzani, from signing for Melbourne City. The writing was on the wall after Arzani’s recent Manchester City sojourn but a club of Sydney’s stature must do more to keep its best talent.
Out wide and a full preseason should see David Carney become an even better contributor, though perhaps no longer a ninety minute one, while on the other flank, much is expected of marquee Filip Holosko. It appears, however, that with Chris Naumoff cut from the squad and Andrew Hoole unsurprisingly jettisoned, the club needs wide attackers.
A word on Naumoff.
The winger has been inconsistent, reminiscent of Alex Brosque in his early Marconi days, who was also quiet, a touch brittle, missed chances and at times took the wrong option. And, like Brosque at the same age, “Kiki” has now made his move abroad, signing for Spanish Division 2’s Numancia. One hopes to see the starlet blossom and fulfil his prodigious talent.
The next twelve months will tell if young striker George Blackwood has what it takes to deliver on his undoubted potential. He is a very good #9 in the making but needs a meaner streak and a touch of aggression. Blackwood must fight for his spot like never before.
Alex Brosque will be fit going into next season but the much-missed skipper has been injury-prone of late. Can Arnie get a full season from the club legend for one last hurrah?
One hopes that media speculation linking the skipper with a crosstown move is just that. Adored by the fans, Brosque is woven into the club’s very fabric and must end his career in a Sky Blue shirt in front of his beloved Cove. Anything else would stain both club and player and if Sydney need to clear salary cap space by ending its association with Matt Simon and Shane Smeltz, so be it.
The signing of a dominant, goal scoring centre forward remains the club’s greatest priority.
With Tim Cahill appearing a good chance of joining Melbourne City, Sydney could still lure last season’s Golden Boot, Bruno Fornaroli. Meanwhile, the club is also rumoured to be scouring the EPL for off-contract strikers and Stephen Fletcher, Marouane Chamakh, Peter Odemwingie and Victor Anichebe would all fit the bill, while off-contract Spain legend Fernando Torres sounds a dream too good to be true.
Torres, Fletcher and Chamakh would have a phenomenal impact. But how much do the owners want to invest? One senses a certain – understandable - fatigue and frustration in the upper echelons and while David Traktovenko will forever have the fans’ gratitude, perhaps a fresh injection of funds and the new broom that comes with it would help the club the take the next step forward.
Much remains to be done and not all of it on the pitch.
The club is at a crossroads. Beyond its committed, fifteen thousand-strong supporter base, football and general sports fans are disconnected from the club and given little reason to get on board. The total absence of Sydney FC signage and information at park and NPL games screams lack of engagement with the grassroots.
At its best, the club can capture Sydney’s imagination, but at worst, risks becoming marginalised in a city with many choices. Sydney FC must do infinitely more to attract the football and sporting communities and employing someone who understands that fan engagement is achieved by getting out among the community would be a good start.
There is also the question of playing style. While Brisbane, Victory and Adelaide United are easily identifiable by the way they play the game, Sydney FC have lurched, chameleon-like, from one style to another with little thought to a long term philosophy. The club must settle on its signature playing style - it is as important for player expectation as for marketing purposes.
There is no doubt that Sydney FC has its work cut out to improve in all departments but ultimately it is on-field performance that fans care about most. Sydney’s loyal fans just want a weekly beer shower and a title win - six barren years is far too long.
Sydney’s goals for the upcoming season must be a top two finish, Big Blue and Sydney Derby wins and to make the Grand Final.
The club has much to do but - lift a trophy, Sydney FC, and we’ll forgive the rest.