Safro's Sydney: Who killed Nick Carle?

Coaches can pick whoever they damn well please.

Never was it more apparent than in the run up to the 1998 World Cup. Aime Jacquet was selecting a side to contest France’s first ever World Cup on home soil and one player presented a problem.

Eric Cantona was a great of his generation, an enfant terrible with an arrogance that puts Zlatan Ibrahimovic to shame.

Jacquet had made up his mind that Cantona, despite his mercurial talents, was not the player for him. Perhaps one genius in Zinedine Zidane was enough. Or did he fear a destabilising influence in the dressing room? 

Either way, by 1997 Cantona was no longer part of Jacquet’s plans, much to the consternation of France and Manchester United supporters. The coach copped buckets of vitriol but, backed by the FA, stuck to his guns.

It is now history that in July 1998, France skipper Didier Deschamps, the man Cantona had once contemptuously labelled a “water carrier,” held aloft the World Cup trophy. Jacquet became a national hero, by which stage Cantona had retired from football, sans World Cup winner’s medal. 

These memories came flooding back the other night as it dawned on me that Nicky Carle’s career has been nosediving before our very eyes.

Signed after winning our last title, his 2011/12 campaign was quality, following an injury-interrupted Sydney debut season. No one begrudged him his big petrodollar payday in 2012/13 and we looked forward to the ball wizard dazzling us with his brilliance upon his return and linking with Alessandro Del Piero.

Unfortunately, Frank Farina had other ideas and the newly converted defensive midfielder struggled in his new role, to the frustration of player, coach and fans alike.

As we all know, it all came to a head in February this year and Carle did not kick a ball in anger until the end of the season – frozen out by Farina until the latter was shown the door following our semi-final loss to Melbourne Victory.

A rejuvenated Carle, now 32, would have looked forward to getting things back on track after a solid preseason under Graham Arnold, but it has proved a false dawn.

By the sixth game of the season it has become abundantly clear that Carle does not figure in Arnold’s plans, not even in the absence of Terry Antonis, Corey Gameiro and Marc Janko. I can only assume that the coach sees him as neither mobile nor durable enough, playing in his place the technically inferior Gligor, Naumoff and Ibini. Which is a shame as Carle’s left foot can unlock the tightest of defences.

Perhaps the former Socceroo can take a leaf out of David Beckham’s book – the England superstar forcing his way back into a struggling Real Madrid side in 2007 and driving them on to a La Liga title in his final season with the club.

Seeing Carle’s talent waste away on the pine makes for painful viewing and it is my fervent hope that the he finds his way back in from the cold.

WITH Saturday’s Big Blue derby on a knife edge, the scene was set for Carle to come on in the final 20 minutes and tear apart a depleted Melbourne Victory that was beginning to play for time.

Instead, Seb Ryall gave away yet another needless yellow and Arnie was forced into the kind of change no coach wants to make.

While Ryall’s commitment is beyond reproach, he seems to have lost some of the concentration that epitomised his performances in the early rounds.

A defender who is mentally half a second off the pace is forced into the kind of last ditch challenge that brings cards out of referees’ pockets.

So no Carle, and at the end it looked as if Arnie too, like his roundly booed counterpart Kevin Muscat,  was happy to settle for a share of the points.

How there were no goals at Allianz defies belief.

Both sides opened each other up and had gilt-edged chances to win the match. Alex Brosque skied his finish late in the first half, which left fans as flabbergasted as Fahid Ben Khalfallah’s decision to pass to an offside Besart Berisha rather than roll the ball into the Sydney net.

Up front Brosque was strangely quiet despite his two excellent chances. Meanwhile, Shane Smeltz, in his first start of the season, played well and made a good case for a continued run in the first 11 at AAMI Park on Saturday night.

The banning of Antonis (could the FFA have a “common sense clause”?) highlighted just what a diamond we have wearing the #17 shirt.

Hagi Gligor and Peter Triantis did their best to plug the gap but Antonis simply stood out by his absence. We missed his long and short distribution, we missed the menace he provides at the edge of the box and we certainly missed his ability to drive at the heart of the opposition midfield.

With his partner in crime sitting high in the stands, Milos Dimitrijevic did the creative work of two men, and kudos to Arnie for ringing the changes at halftime.

Triantis came on after the break to mop up deep while Dimitrijevic now played laterally, linking with play wherever that took him. And it worked, allowing the Sky Blues to win the midfield in the second half, something they failed to do in the first.

NOW a word on young Alex Gersbach.

Brought on in a double change with Triantis, he was unflappable in defence, confident on the ball and displayed great attacking intent. I believe the kid has now put down a marker for a starting left back spot next week and beyond.

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough – AND Gersbach is good enough.

The reshuffle pushed Ali Abbas further up the park and worked a treat as the Iraqi went on the attack, linking well with Gersbach out wide and pushing centrally with great effect. I would love to see this continue in weeks to come, adding Abbas to a midfield replete with attacking intent in Antonis and Dimitrijevic, and Brosque in behind the strikers.

Further back, and while Ryall was not his usual self, the central pairing of Sash Ognenovski and Nikola Petkovic was mostly solid while Vedran Janjetovic produced yet another man of the match performance.

The backline was given a hard time by Victory’s Archie Thompson, whose movement across the lines was superb, while Gui Finkler and Ben Khalfallah troubled the home defence on a night when Berisha was kept quiet by Ognenovski. How Berisha received a man of the match award is beyond me.

What to make of the Sky Blue performance?

A touch disjointed through midfield, some decent but ultimately fruitless work up front and once again a better second half than first.  Overall, things are looking positive and after six rounds, the ladder shows that ours is statistically the best defence in the league but the Sky Blues need to score more goals.

Janko and Gameiro will touch down at Kingsford Smith around Thursday after international duty and should hopefully be in the frame for selection against a somewhat rejuvenated Melbourne City on Saturday night.

Sitting comfortably in fourth spot, I do believe Nick Carle has a role to play in our assault on the A-League title, even if only off the bench.

Brought on with 20 minutes to go against tiring legs, his brand of skill and passing range can unsettle the most solid of defences. He isn’t a young man any longer but can still do what most A-League players can only dream of.

Don’t kill Carle, Arnie – give him a run. And let’s go for all three points on Saturday night.