The worst kept secret over the last 18 hours is out - the appointment of Graham Arnold as Socceroos coach following the World Cup has been made and rumours of former Western Sydney Wanderers manager Tony Popovic taking over the Sky Blues next year has ensued.
In a story that Tom Smithies of the Daily Telegraph broke in the early hours of this morning, the FFA have confirmed that Arnold will succeed Bert van Marwijk‘s short term tenure at the FIFA World Cup and take up the head national role officially in August.
The obvious bemusement regarding the timing of the announcement aside, another question on many Sky Blue fans lips was who will be the successor to The Cove dubbed ‘King Arnie’?
This is a unique position for Sydney who in the past have sought the services of a new manager out of necessity to turn the tide in results on the pitch. Such has been the club’s astounding dominance over the past 18 months and a Grand Final appearance previous to this in 2015, they have had no reason to.
Following months of uncertainty late last year as FFA took forever and a day to announce the man to lead us to Russia, Arnold was top of many peoples lists should the federation have gone the domestic route. His then proposed replacement circling the media was almost unthinkable but look who was at Sydney Football Stadium last night...
With his right hand man Zelko Kalac beside him, Popovic looked on as Sydney slumped to back to back defeats for the first time since the end of 2016. Images of this across the big screen saw a smattering of boos ring out across the 6,442 in attendance for the midweek ACL fixture; this before the rumour mill was reignited today.
Across the now six year history of the Sydney Derby, we have seen a lot of just about everything. Dominance, comebacks, derby demolitions, red cards, flares are all semi regular occurrences, crossing the Sydney footballing divide is not.
Ruling out former Sky Blue players previous to establishment of the cross town rivals who have gone on to don the red and black, Antonis and Janjetovic/Redmayne are the only members to have ‘jumped ship’, the latter of which being the most controversial. Once a fan favourite, Janjetovic was famously pelted with plastic snakes on his return to Allianz; what would be the RBB’s reaction to their inaugural manager on the other side of the dugout?
Whilst it may be understandable for Red & Black fans to be unhappy should this occur, Sydney fans have also demonstrated their reluctance for Popovic and co. to succeed Graham Arnold’s sterling legacy at the club.
Comparing the managers side by side, Arnold has a win percentage of 53.63% overall in the A-League, managing to win over half of his games in all but two seasons. In contrast to this, across the five years at the helm of Western Sydney, Popovic managed 40.85%, following sporadic performances year to year. That being said, Arnold will only manage to equal Popovic’s three Grand Final appearances at one club should he guide the Sky Blues to the biggest day in domestic football yet again. The more emotional side of things in perspective, Popovic has never really had a dig at the city-based club on a whole, usually engaging in a pre derby battle of words against Arnold.
For all of Arnold’s immense success, his experimentation with youth over the last two years has left a little to be desired for some. The side that took the park last night against Kashima looked tired more mentally than anything and perhaps giving young guns like Anthony Kalik more than a cameo role last night would have made a difference.
Popovic has been known to throw youth players in for good or starting spells throughout his time out west. With the afore mentioned Kalik plus other promising youngsters such as Zuvela, Lokolingoy and Warland, the next coach regardless of who it may be needs to utilise these up and coming talents more and reinvigorate the ageing Sky Blues. Should former Sky Blues captain Popa get the nod,he won’t be met with open arms and the scrutiny will be immense from the Moore Park faithful. Would he be up for the challenge? Time may tell.
Regardless of who takes the reigns, there will be a period for Sydney were they have no standard home or stadium, no manager and the potential of key players leaving the club. The excellent culture introduced by Arnold and now ingrained throughout will be leant on heavily in this trying times as fans learn to love a completely new club from top to bottom.
Arnie has always suggested there’s no reason Sydney’s dominance couldn’t continue for the years to come. Navigating these challenges will determine whether this will indeed be the case.