Arguably what differentiates Sunday’s grand finalists from the rest is the quality of their imports. In fact, the decider may be decided by which club’s foreign five perform best.
Second-year coach Kevin Muscat’s recruitment has been his strong point, landing Mathieu Delpierre, Besart Berisha and Fahid Ben Khalfallah in the off-season.
That trio, in addition to Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler make up arguably the league’s best foreign five. Ben Khalfallah and Barbarouses finished third and fourth respectively in the Johnny Warren Medal.
However, Sydney may have something to say about that, with Golden Boot winner Marc Janko alongside the club’s Player of the Year Milos Dimitrijevic, Nikola Petkovic, Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares.
Tavares, who along with his cousin Faty joined Sydney in January, was full of respect for Victory’s imports and said they loomed as the danger men on Sunday at AAMI Park.
“They have some very good experienced players from overseas like Khalfallah and Delpierre,” Tavares told FourFourTwo.
“All these players are a level up.
“Even a few players who I didn’t know (when I arrived), like Finkler. They are a bit more mature.
“Sometimes we play against some great teams who are good on the ball (in the A-League), but they miss something.
“Victory is the one who is most complete.”
Tavares has actually done battle with Delpierre a handful of times previously while the pair were both plying their trade in Germany with Hamburg SV and Stuttgart respectively.
The pair, who don’t know each other personally, also crossed paths when they coincidentally both joined Dutch clubs during the 2013-14 season. In addition, Faty played against Khalfallah numerous times in France’s Ligue 1.
It’s an interesting twist of fate, but also a sign of the growing quality of visa players in the A-League.
But Sydney faces a big battle maintaining their foreign legion, due to salary cap pressure, with all bar Petkovic out of contract at season’s end.
“When you play in a club like Sydney, with the great atmosphere and the year we’ve had, everything is positive, so everyone wants to stay,” Tavares said.
“But we have to agree terms. With the salary cap it isn’t easy to keep every player. We’re waiting to see what happens.”
The French-born cousins have come to Australia without their families. Tavares’ daughter has remained in France, although he said he planned for her to move to Sydney if he stays on.
It’s the sort of sacrifice which was highlighted by Graham Arnold hours after last weekend’s semi-final win when the coach brought players, staff and their families on to the field and formed a circle where he thanked all for their support.
“It was very honourable from him because at the end he said to me and my cousin, ‘we’re very far from our families, we came here without them, but now we find a place in the Sydney family’,” Tavares recalled.
“We were very thankful to him.”
Despite his vast European experience, Tavares has only ever lifted two trophies, both with Slavia Prague in the Czech league in 2008 and 2009, but he said he was desperate to end the wait against a ‘great opponent’.