It was no great surprise that Ian Crook stepped aside at the weekend as coach of Sydney FC, as there is nothing worse than ultimately being judged over performances you no longer have total control over.
The Hyundai A league has become all about numbers; the number of memberships, the number of fans through the gate and the number of television viewers. Yet everyone is forgetting that football is the most important component, without it none of the others happen. No other league in the world is so obsessed about such figures and it shows football’s standing in Australia, that it has to keep puffing out its chest and publicising these figures. However as we will show these statistics are not all that they would appear.
Sydney FC’s administration took a massive gamble this season signing Alessandro del Piero from Juventus, undoubtedly the biggest name in the A League’s history. The question was at what cost?
We are not talking financial costs, but the impact on the squad, the club, and the results. Ian Crook had assembled a reasonable squad to play in the style that he wanted the club to play, and then the owners signed del Piero; who obviously had to play when he was fit, as the club wanted to see a return on their investment. His impact on the park has been impressive without being outstanding, touches of brilliance hiding more than a few weaknesses. However one bonus is the referees’ unwillingness to book him for blatant professional fouls, as was evident at the weekend against Melbourne Victory!
The signing of del Piero saw Crook suddenly found having to restructure his team to accommodate del Piero. He was not helped with injuries to other key players and as mentioned previously his defensive line up was always going to struggle.(Del Piero Magic cannot Hide Sydney’s Flaws) Having had to re-adjust his team to accommodate del Piero, he had to play Krunoslav Lovrek as an out and out striker as he usually played the del Piero role. Del Piero is a ‘second striker,’ sitting deep feeding the forwards but has played a role that sees him more as a midfielder than this role. Is this the players doing or the coach’s?
Whatever the reasons, Crook has no doubt been forced to play his superstar, and with his star player being fawned over by the media, Crook undoubtedly found himself in an untenable position. If he criticised his star or dropped him he was on a hiding to nothing. Other coaches in the A League have found themselves in a similar position. Mehmet Durakovic last season with Harry Kewell at Melbourne Victory and Dave Mitchell at Perth Glory with Robbie Fowler.
The owners understandably want these players playing, even if the coach may feel otherwise. The player in all three cases has played a higher level than the coach, and that too can have an effect. Ultimately the Marquee won out at all three clubs, although it must be stated that Not The Footy Show is unaware of there ever being any hint of ill feeling between the aforementioned coaches and their Marquee players; it is just that their signing has had an impact on the club’s they signed for and in all three cases the coach’s have paid the ultimate price.
This raises the question, is it a coincidence that the A League’s most successful Marquee player to date is Dwight Yorke, who as it happens played for a coach who as a player had been more successful than him, Pierre Littbarski? Littbarski having won the World Cup with Germany in 1990.
In truth it may not have come down to the playing side at all, despite all of the hype around Sydney FC each game at home has seen a drop in crowd numbers. Their round 2 clash with Newcastle Jets saw an amazing 35,419 go through the turnstiles. Yet in round 4 against the Glory a large number did not return, and only 22,128 took their seats and this weekend that figure went down again to 21,531 against arch rivals Melbourne Victory. Interestingly the drop in crowd numbers and a massive one of 13,291 after their first home game has been given next to no coverage, but having outlaid around $2million a season for del Piero, you can bet these figures were being shown to Ian Crook and he was being told that the team must improve in order for the crowds to increase.
Sydney FC are not alone in these crowd drop-offs, the Marquee effect on crowds definitely shows a trend. Perth Glory went from 16,019 to 12, 031 in their first two games with Robbie Fowler their highest two crowds that season. Melbourne Victory had 40,351 to Harry Kewell’s first game in their colours. There was only a small drop in the next game, most likely because they played cross town rivals Melbourne Heart (39,309), but more telling was their next home game when only 24,820 turned up!
With the playing side to worry about as it is who needs that added pressure. It should be just about the football but sadly in the A league it isn’t.