Arnold: A-League is a young man's game

The style and conditions of the A-League make it a young man's game, says Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold, who has backed his starlets to deliver in 2015/16.

In a wide-ranging interview the Sky Blues tactician says Sydney helped put ex-marquee, Marc Janko's career back on track, and says cross-town rivals Western Sydney Wanderers were thwarted by FFA scheduling during their AFC Champions League campaign.

Arnold is credited with eradicating the 'toxic' culture in Sydney.

After the $4 million outlay on Alessandro Del Piero, the Sky Blues ushered in a new era with the former Socceroos boss and A-League championship-winning coach. There was less bling and more win and, by the end of the 2014/15 season, the harboursiders were back challenging for honours.

But the Sky Blues have lost a number of players who were instrumental in the club’s renaissance, and arguably the biggest loss is last season’s record breaking goal scorer Marc Janko.

We helped Janko get his career back on track

“I didn’t look at trying to replace Marc Janko,” Arnold said of last season’s A-League golden boot.

“We had to build our style around Marc to try and get the best out of the kind of attributes that Mark brought us.

“Marc Janko came off a very tough time in Turkey. He had injuries. We got him fit and now he’s at FC Basel and he’s very happy to be there. We helped him get his career back on track.”

Arnold’s ability to develop and nurture young players coupled with shrewd overseas recruitment has been the pillars of his success.

“I believe in Australian youth and of youth in this team enormously,” he said.

“Like at the moment we are training with 18 players and only two players are over the age of 30 – (Shane) Smeltz and (Alex) Brosque. Everyone else is young.

“That’s the A League though. The A-League is end to end, it’s played in the summer - it’s a game for young players.

“I think with the four foreigners we’ve signed there’s four players that will bring international experience to help the younger boys.”

Speaking about the 10-player exit in the off-season – including Socceroo young gun Terry Antonis, Belgium-based Bernie Ibini and defensive mainstay Nikola Petkovic – Arnold added: “Everyone loses players.

“Melbourne Victory are the same with Mark Milligan. It’s about trying to replace them with players that have got the whereabouts and the quality.”

This season Arnold has again gone with European experience over a big name marquee, bringing in  Slovakian national team striker Filip Holosko and Serbian national team midfielder Milos Ninkovic. 

“I take my time to recruit and I make a lot of phone calls and do a lot of due diligence on the foreign players,” the 52-year-old said.

“Holosko adds something totally different – our style will be different this year. We’ve got a lot of options across the front line now. We hope to be mobile and be quick and hopefully take our game to another level.

“Holosko is 30-31 and he’s at a great age and extremely fit. He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s very good one v one. He can play with his back at goal, he’s good in the air, he can score goals. Look at the amount of international games he’s played and he’s been to a World Cup as well.

“You don’t spend seven years at Besiktas if you’re not a good player. Everyone that I spoke to, and I spoke to a lot of people about him, everyone’s recommendation was extremely high.

“Milos Ninkovic is an out and out number 10, like a Del Piero. And when you see Ninkovic, he played in the top league in France last year and he played against us in the 2010 World Cup, and 30 odd games for Serbia, it shows you that he’s top quality.”

Wanderers weren’t given a chance

Last season the Western Sydney Wanderers suffered an Asian Champions League hangover, resulting in a poor performance in the A-League. Arnold hopes his team can manage the schedule better than their cross town rivals.

“I’ve had the experience of playing in the Asian Champions League when I was at the Mariners, so we know what it’s about,’ said the former Central Coast boss.

“Maybe FFA have learnt a lesson with what they did to the Wanderers last year with the scheduling, that we won’t have to go through what the Wanderers went through.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to compete fairly in both competitions because, even though they are our rivals, the Wanderers weren’t given a chance to compete properly in both competitions last year and that was just down to FFA scheduling.”

Sydney FC CEO Tony Pignata is also hoping that Arnold will be able to manage the tough playing timetable.

“It’s going to come down to the squad, and how we manage that,” Pignata said.

“The great thing about Graham Arnold is that he’s been involved in Asian Champions League before, so he knows what’s involved and what’s requited.

“We want to do well in the Asian Champions League but what we don’t want to do is impact the A-league. We are going to make sure that we run it concurrently and do well in both.”

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.