The sun is yet to set on this season but the comparisons are already coming thick and fast. Which is the best team ever?
Many are saying that this year’s Sydney FC are the best team ever to grace the A-League. Their numerous records – most points; least goals conceded etc – make a compelling case but there are other teams that could reasonably claim the best ever team title.
Not least as the “best team” surely has to be gauged in the context not just of records but also the quality of the teams they were up against.
In my (not very) humble opinion, the other candidates for best team ever are:
· Ange’s Brisbane team of 2011 and 2012
· The Melbourne Victory team that won the double in 2015
· The Adelaide team that won the double last year
· Arnie’s Mariners team that won the GF in 2013 after several near misses
The Wanderers team that won the ACL performed unbelievably but technically miss out on the group above, as we’re talking about the A-League and they are yet to win a Championship. (Yes, the purists will tell you that first past the post is what really counts but try telling that to Plate winners who don’t get the chocolates on Grand Final day.)
So, the Sydney team of this year? They are straight out of the Arnie mould, playing pretty much the same system as the Mariners did when he had them – very compact in defence but exploding in attack with fast wingbacks and faster ball movement.
Defence is the key though. If you can draw your eye away from the ball and focus on the team you will see an exceptionally tight unit that moves perfectly about the park, ever keeping bodies between the ball and the goal.
He always has exceptional centre backs with speedsters outside them, and great ball players in the middle. He also has plenty of pace up front and (being an ex-striker himself) knows how to pick (and get the best out of) his number 9.
The stand out individuals are almost too many to name in this team which is way better than the sum of its parts, but you’d have to single out Ninkovic, Wilkinson and Vukovic as having had truly superb seasons.
Brillante, O’Neill and Brosque have also been very important. Bobo has looked better and better and Rhyan Grant has had a break out year. This team is very hard to beat but they haven’t won the big one yet.
Probably the team with the most obvious credentials to claim the best ever title over Sydney is Ange’s Roar team of 2011/12.
Thirty-six games without defeat is a record likely to stand for a long time. That team also had some of the best foreigners to grace the league (Berisha, Broich, Henrique, Adnan and the naturalised Matt Smith) playing at their very best, and some emerging young Australians.
Erik Paartalu probably had his best season ever in 2012, with the likes of Luke Brattan, Ivan Franjic and Mass Murdocca also contributing heavily to the cause. They also showed character of the highest quality to come back from two goals down against the Mariners in the dying minutes to win the greatest A-League Grand Final of all time.
Kevin Muscat’s Victory team that won the double in 2015 was an awesome machine by the end of that season. Berisha had moved from Brisbane to join the likes of Ben Khalfallah, Finkler, Barbarouses and Delpierre.
The Australian contingent included Carl Valeri, Archie Thompson, the under-rated (but always effective) Leigh Broxham and Mark Milligan in the form of his career.
That team also benefited from a season long dog fight in goal between Nathan Coe and Lawrence Thomas from which Thomas emerged the victor – making some match-winning saves towards the end.
Sydney (in Arnie’s first season there) seemed to have the form going into the GF but Victory swept them away on the day with a supremely powerful performance. Milligan in particular was unbelievable that day – such a shame he didn’t go to Europe after that.
The Mariners under Arnie from 2011–13 were the blueprint for Arnie’s current Sydney team, and what a team they were.
In three years they won a Premier’s Plate and made two Grand Finals. They played, mostly, the same style as Arnie’s Sydney team now, except for one major change.
Prior to 2013, the Mariners used the standard Arnie template, but when Mustafa Amini left they had to change to suit the players they had.
Barely used in the previous season, John Hutchinson suddenly became a key player in 2013 after Arnie rearranged his team to get the most out of Tom Rogic, Michael McGlinchey and Ollie Bozanic who were not noted defenders. Add to that Mat Ryan in goals, Patrick Zwaanswijk and Trent Sainsbury at the back.
Josh Rose in career best form with Pedj Bojic on the right and the likes of Mile Sterjovski, Bernie Ibini and the evergreen Danny McBreen up front (who won the Golden Boot at 35). That was a brilliant team which won the 2013 GF against the Wanderers but should also have won the 2012 edition after being two up in added time.
I would also suggest that the Zwaanswijk / Sainsbury combination is a strong contender for the best ever A-League central pairing. I’d further suggest that Patrick Zwaanswijk (with Berisha and Broich) is a strong candidate for the best ever foreigner in the A-League.
The last of my Best Team Ever contestants is the Adelaide United double winning team of 2016.
Coached by the currently hapless Gui Amor, the side of last year was absolutely outstanding and the best advertisement there is for the scrapping of the salary cap – tragic they couldn’t afford to keep that side together, but that’s the A-League. (My own view is that we are probably half a generation away from being able to do away with the salary cap – we definitely still need it despite the views of certain elitist commentators who don’t seem to get that the level-ish playing field is the number one thing keeping the fans interested.)
But back to the football. I was overjoyed to see Eugene Galekovic finally win the league – he really deserved it after so many brilliant performances in a side not quite good enough.
The 2016 version however had a real Spanish flavour with Isaias, Sanchez and Cirio, supplemented by Argentine Carrusca. They also had some outstanding Australians with Djite, Mauk, Goodwin, Elsey and Tarek Elrich, and by the end of the season Bruce Kamau was looking like the next Harry Kewell.
They were great to watch and deserved double winners.
So who is the Best Team Ever? How do you judge?
Brisbane had to play the brilliant Mariners during their time at the top.
Melbourne had to play a strong Sydney team but completely outplayed them in the GF.
The Mariners had the most current and future internationals and had to play the excellent Roar and the strong-ish Wanderers to prevail.
The current Sydney are yet to win the GF but have the best ever stats.
Every fan will have his/her own opinion but I think most truly objective fans would agree that the Mariners are the greatest team ever.
Seriously, if Sydney FC can win the GF this year it will be hard to argue against them as the Best Team Ever. Thing is, if they lose they'll be quickly forgotten.
Harsh, but that's how it works in this country.
Adrian’s latest book Political Football: Lawrie McKinna’s Dangerous Truth is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.