Much has been written of the impact Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero will have off the pitch for the A-League, but it is not really clear how he will fit into Sydney FC’s new look team.
The appointment of former youth coach Ian Crook has seemingly signalled the end of the pragmatic era at the capital club, with former coach Vítězslav Lavicka preferring a results based approach. Few would argue he wasn’t successful (a title in his first season is not to be ignored) but there’s no denying that Sydney were more functional than fantasy.
That appears to have changed. There is little to indicate what Crook’s preferred style of play is, but many quotes from Moore Park have suggested a change in ideology. Before his departure to Baniyas in the UAE marquee Nicky Carle was lavish in his praise of the new manager, praising him for identifying a clear style of play centred around quick tempo passing and playing out from the back. Crook himself has branded Sydney’s philosophy this season as “a possession-based game where the ball is precious…possession with control.”
As well as stylistic changes Sydney have undergone evolution in the playing staff, as Shannon Cole, Scott Jamieson, Hirofumi Moriyasu, Bruno Cazarine and Michael Beauchamp were all deemed surplus to replacements at the end of their contracts. Fabio, Adam Griffiths, Ali Abbas, Yairo Yao and Kristian Louvrek are the replacements, but the biggest signing is undoubtedly Del Piero. The former Juventus star was at the peak of his career one of the world’s premier talents, and while his physical ability is certainly on the wane at the age of 37, he is still blessed with fantastic vision and technique which should put him in good stead in the A-League.
While his goal tally might suggest otherwise, Del Piero is actually more of a trequartista than outright striker, operating between the lines of midfield and defence. These kind of creative players have long thrived in the A-League, with the list stretching back to include Fred and Carlos Hernandez all the way to current stars Marcos Flores and Thomas Broich, who this week signed a new four year deal.
Technically gifted players are in demand, as they provide a layer of creative depth to any side, crucial for both breaking down defences and ensuring entertainment. Nicky Carle was Sydney’s answer to the playmaker mandate, but it was always significant that he was more appreciated amongst The Cove for his work rate than his artistry.
For Sydney to get the most out of their big investment, placing him in a central role would be the priority. Early pre-season matches have signified a switch to the contemporary 4-2-3-1, with Nicky Carle being played alongside Terry McFlynn in the double pivot. This is a significant change for Sydney’s structure, having played in the diamond formation for the majority of Lavicka’s tenure.
The apex of the midfield triangle would be an apt position for Del Piero, allowing him close proximity to his target man Louvrek as well as allowing Sydney to strike a defensive balance with two holding midfield players. This would have a twofold effect on another one of Sydney’s technically blessed players, Terry Antonis, who seems more suited to a deeper role than the one offered to him last season at the tip of Lavicka’s diamond formation. If Crook was keen to experiment with a player like Carle in one of the deeper midfield positions, it doesn’t seem a huge stretch to see him do the same with another Australian. Placing Antonis in the double pivot would place great emphasis on his defensive responsibilities, but the youngster has shown little sign of shirking challenge in his fledging career.
With Del Piero positioned in his favoured trequartista position, Sydney would be able to maximise the width and speed they have introduced to the flanks this summer. Ali Abbas and Yairo Yao offer a bold directness on the wing that they have lacked in the past, while Brett Emerton (whose role within the starting XI is currently unclear) provides further options, with his tireless work ethic perhaps an opportunity to provide defensive balance on the right side of the attacking band. One would expect however for Emerton to be deployed at right back, filling the void left by the departure of fullbacks Cole and Jamieson, and signs from pre-season suggest that this will be the case.
It’s very easy to focus on what Del Piero brings to the A-League off the pitch, but it shouldn’t be forgotten of the potential flair and excitement he brings to a new look Sydney.