Safro's Sydney: 'Cashed-up' Arnie's new signings make sense
The Socceroos are on the cusp of possibly lifting the Asian Cup for the first time and are once again riding the wave of national adulation.
Meanwhile Sydney FC fans enjoyed their own season high-water mark with a 5-1 drubbing of the Central Coast Mariners last weekend.
Sky Blues supporters arrived early last Saturday night and in the spirit of footballing goodwill, decided to have a pint at the Central Coast Leagues Club.
The club was decked out in yellow and those not wearing Mariners colours were dressed in technicolour Hawaiian shirts which covered the odd beer belly and defied good taste.
Resplendent in stylish Sky Blue, Sydney fans stuck out like sore thumbs deep in Mariner country.
We wanted a quiet drink while keeping tabs on the slaughterhouse at Hindmarsh (a 7-0 win to Adelaide over the Newcastle Jets). Fat chance.
In the hour we spent at the club, half a dozen Mariner fans took turns to walk over and shake our hands, extend a welcome to the club and indulge in some football banter.
One older fan became deadly serious for a brief moment as he uttered, “football is very important to us up here”.
Conversations quickly turned to the national team and invariably ended with “good luck today”. I couldn’t help but wonder - have Sydneysiders lost those old-fashioned values somewhere along the way?
The marching band came out. It was all extremely silly but fun in a local RSL club amateur night kind of way.
After a Cossack dancing tune, a German drinking song and a Village People “contest”, the MC looked towards the Sydney fans and informed the crowd that if there is one thing that unites them with the Smurfs (Sydney), it is our mutual loathing of the Wanderers. The band proceeded to strike up a hilarious number that ripped to shreds all things WSW and ended with “they can’t shoot, they can’t score and they dive upon the floor”.
To all Mariners fans, thanks for the hospitality. Whoever had the bright idea of moving the club south is a dill. It’s a community club that needs to stay on the coast.
Feeling entertained, warm and tingly from the local welcome, we crossed the road and took our place among the Sydney faithful in the away section.
It was clear from the opening whistle that the two new boys in Sydney’s line-up have made all the difference.
Mikael Tavares was all class in the middle of the park and combined technical distribution with superb reading of play in front of the back four, snuffing out potential midfield threats with ease.
His presence helped Milos Dimitrijevic focus on the creative side of his game and the Serb responded with a man-of-the-match performance. Tavares demonstrated a fine passing game of his own.
With Mariner attack all but shut down, Jacques Faty, nicknamed Cracker by the Cove, had little opportunity to show his wares. He appears to have strong physical presence about him and his touch and distribution is typical of French defenders. Neither he nor his centre back partner Nikola Petkovic was greatly tested but on early form Faty may be the right replacement for Sash Ognenovski.
Tavares was taken off at the hour mark and his absence was unsurprisingly followed by a number of Mariner attacks in their only dangerous spell of the game.
When they threatened Sydney’s goal, Vedran Janjetovic was magnificent. Surely a national squad call up isn’t far off for the excellent Sydney gloveman.
One glaring miss aside, Marc Janko led the line superbly. His two goals and one assist were a fine reward for the Austrian, who leads the Sydney scoring charts with six goals.
It was also a fine return to goal scoring form for Alex Brosque, the Sydney skipper breaking a three month drought with a finish of considerable class.
Meanwhile, Bernie Ibini continued his pre-break form and was a constant thorn in the side of his former teammates.
But it was young Chris Naumoff who may have finally come of age. Previously he appeared happy to just make up the numbers, looking intimidated, unsure of himself and frightened of making an error.
From the opening whistle he took it to the Mariners, backing himself to glide past defenders with a drop of the shoulder, cross rather than cut back and shoot when the option presented itself.
He took his goal with style and stated his case for more game time in future weeks and months. Much more is to come from the Sutherland junior.
After a difficult December, the Sky Blues finally got their groove on and attacked from the start. Their interplay was excellent and, refreshed from the break, the players seem to have found a new lease on life.
The home side was woeful, and truth be told, all five of our goals were preventable had the Mariners backline not mentally gone fishing.
Meanwhile, the Mariners midfield and attack’s main endeavours centred around kicking lumps out of Dimitrijevic, unchecked by the awful refereeing of Jarred Gillett.
It was fun in the stands once again, cheering five goals as the “Arnie dollars” thing backfired spectacularly.
Sky Blues fans waved fistfuls in the air while singing “Graham Arnold, he wants to get paid” and “We’re so rich it’s unbelievable”.
Given that Arnie had dug into his own pockets time and again to pay the younger Mariners players in his time up in Gosford - not to mention the money he and Robbie Slater lost keeping Northern Spirit afloat - he is beyond reproach as a man of conscience in this country’s football community. Whoever authorised the “Arnie dollars” thing - hang your head in shame.
And Arnie deserves the credit for the Sydney turnaround. His player signings have been excellent and, now emboldened by the win up the coast, the coach can lead Sydney back into the top four in coming weeks.
Another fortnight to bed in the new signings and, with Terry Antonis and Seb Ryall due back, the Sky Blues will fancy their chances in Perth.
Glory may be top of the table but the harbour-siders are finally back to full strength and are more than capable of taking all three points.
In the meantime, go the Green and Gold!