The great man has finally called it a day. What lessons do we learn?
After 26 years it’s finally exit, stage left, for the greatest football manager of the modern era.
Nineteen league titles, two Champions’ League trophies, five FA Cups and a cupboard-load of other silverware reflect unequivocally that his record is without peer and we will not see the likes of him again. Sir Alex Ferguson, the football and non-football world salutes you.
The Scot’s success comes down to a well-documented ability to rebuild time and again. The great man rebuilt the Manchester United squad an unprecedented four times and many of today’s greying football managers played under a much younger Ferguson back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Of what relevance is this to Australia? To Sydney?
Let’s start with longevity. The European game, steeped in more than 100 years of tradition, is an unfair comparison with our own A-League, a competition that is just eight years old.
The salary cap is one of the barriers to coaching longevity. Develop a good side and watch your players leave as they chase the cash and new challenges elsewhere. Should Graham Arnold stay in Gosford and successfully rebuild the Mariners we can begin attributing a few of Fergie’s qualities to the former Socceroo.
Ange Postecoglou chose to cut and run. Will Arnie?
Perhaps our Ferguson has already been and gone. In the pre-salary cap NSL days, one coach stood head and shoulders above the rest and he, unlike so many others, stayed on and rebuilt. Zoran Matic remains an Adelaide City and Australian football legend, and we need to be mindful of history and give him the credit his legacy deserves.
If Adelaide City were the Manchester United of the NSL, what does that make my Sky Blues?
With an unenviable record of seven coaches in eight seasons, Sydney FC must surely be the Real Madrid of the competition. Which, in this context, is no compliment. Pierre Littbarski won the title but was not retained, replaced by Terry Butcher. Enough said.
Viteslav Lavicka swept all before him in his first season in the Harbour City. His subsequent two seasons, however, proved a failure as the success he enjoyed with the 2009/10 squad did not match his ability to rebuild it.
We have attempted to rebuild three seasons in a row and all without success. Perhaps our anthem should be John Lennon’s “Starting Over”.
Pointers must be sought from the Central Coast Mariners. Just two managers in eight largely successful seasons prove that continuity is the way to long-term success. The coach must be given an opportunity to rebuild his squad. McKinna did it with great success and Arnold’s work has been sterling. An indicator that less is more is Manchester United’s decision to plump for the dour but stable David Moyes over the boom-and-bust world of Jose Mourinho.
Our competition presents unique challenges. The salary cap means that we are a selling league and the best we can do is develop the likes of Rogic, Antonis, Oar and Leckie before they outgrow the A-League and test themselves abroad. It is difficult to build a long term dynasty around a star player knowing that he will be abroad in a year or two.
The season is short. A bad start, such as Sydney FC’s recent bad starts, affects the club so much more than in a longer competition. The A-League coach has less time to adjust his tactics and turn the ship around than his counterparts do elsewhere in the world.
Distance is also an ever-present factor and far-off clubs like Perth and Wellington suffer more than most. To their benefit, no one looks forward to five hour flights across the Nullarbor or the Tasman.
All these make the challenges of coaching in our competition quite unique. And yet they come, wanting more. Coaching is in the blood and the desire to prove oneself, to be the next Alex Ferguson or the next Zoran Matic, is a challenge that so many have found irresistible. Most don’t last more than a year or two before moving on to less stressful pursuits. Still, others remain undeterred.
Will Frank Farina have achieved coaching greatness by 2023? Is Ange Postecoglou, with his titles at South Melbourne and Brisbane Roar, our latter-day Sir Alex? Or is he cut from the Mourninho school of short-term success?
Will Arnie stay around and show he has what it takes to not only win the league, but rebuild his squad and take it to new heights?
Of course, our next Ferguson could come from the younger brigade of Mulvey, Aloisi, Milicic, Mori, Okon, Popovic and Edwards.
And what of the Socceroos? Was it in Holger Osieck’s job description to rebuild his squad, to give youth a chance or to get us to the World Cup? The generational change of our National Team is a topic for another day, but here the lessons of Sir Alex are of equal if not greater relevance.
Back home and Frank Farina has two seasons to deliver a title. The Sydney coach has been given a two-year contract and carte blanche to make changes. Gone are Lovrek, McLenahan, Reid, Sherlock and Fabio as Farina seeks to put his own stamp on the squad.
The revolving door sees Nicky Carle return as Terry Antonis departs for Italy.
Rado Vidosic, an assistant coach of great pedigree, has been brought in to take care of the tactical side of things. Did somebody mention brains?
Farina and staff are scouring the world for players who will take us back to the top.
The rebuilding continues.