Big loss: Sasa Ognenovski.Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold has fired the first shot in the A-League finals series, declaring his side would have pipped Melbourne Victory for the Premier’s Plate had they not suffered four season-ending injuries before January’s Asian Cup break.
In a shocking month for the Sky Blues, veterans Nicky Carle, Sasa Ognenovski and Ali Abbas were struck down along with young striker Corey Gameiro – who began the year in blistering fashion – which led to the team’s worst stretch of the season.
Arnold has proven himself the A-League’s master of mind games this season and with the football community widely tipping Sydney and Victory to do battle in the grand final, Arnold could not resist a veiled swipe at the premiers in front of 600 guests at the Sky Blue Ball on Tuesday night – adding he “would be shocked if we’re not there in two weeks’ time”.
“I won’t give Melbourne Victory one day of credit for winning this competition,” Arnold said – tongue half-in-cheek – to raucous cheers from the club’s supporters. “If we didn’t have four season-ending injuries in the month of November-December, we would have won the league by 10 points.
“When you’re in the dressing room and you see four players go down with season-ending injuries in pain and your teammates have to sit there and look at that, it takes a toll mentally. But what those players did is fight hard, during a difficult month. I was very thankful that we were able to bring in three very good players in Jacques Faty, Mickael Tavares and Robert Stambolziev.”
While Sky Blues fans are confidently predicting they can take down Victory and whoever else stands in their way, Arnold said there would be plenty of twists and turns for his side over the next few weeks
“It’s been a fantastic season to now. Everyone says I’m grumpy – which I am 99.9 per cent of the time – but we haven’t finished yet,” Arnold said. “I’ve had the experience with football over the years to not get too carried away with any type of success. We had a great victory over Wellington on Sunday, which we celebrated for a half-hour and I’m already thinking about the next week and the week after that.”
Despite the great strides made by the club under his tenure, the ex-Mariners’ coach emphasised there was ample work left to do in the coming years.
“When I came to Sydney, I realised how massive this club is. I still sit here today, after being in the job for 10 months, and I think we haven’t even touched the surface yet,” Arnold said. “I think we’re only 30 or 40 per cent of where this club should be and will get to. When I first came to Sydney, I had to learn to love Sydney and the players and now I love them [both].”
“The boys have brought into what we wanted to change at this club. That was to change the culture to create mateship, a family atmosphere and to give this club the opportunity to be the most successful club in the country.”
Meanwhile, the Newcastle Jets have strengthened their playing stocks with the acquisition of Tasmanian striker Andy Brennan on a two-year deal and the re-signing of impressive Serbian winger Enver Alivodic for another season.
“Andy plays in a way that can be compared to Mathew Leckie,” said Jets coach Phil Stubbins. “He is a player that we’ve identified could turn into a very good player in the A-League. He was best on ground when I watched him against Melbourne Knights a few weeks ago, he’s six foot two [1.88m], very quick and has scored a heck of a lot of goals at state level.”