Sydney FC Head Coach Steve Corica: “Double or Nothing”

In his first year at the helm of Sydney FC during the 2018/19 A-League season, Steve Corica’s squad finished second behind Perth Glory for the Premier’s Plate but was successful in winning the Grand Final to claim the championship.After winning the Premier’s Plate six weeks ago, the Sky Blues’ head coach knows a repeat victory in the Grand Final on August 30th will confirm Sydney FC are the best club team in Australia.

The man whose boyhood idol was former Socceroo player and manager, Frank Farina, has achieved the ultimate success in coaching and playing, rising through the ranks of international youth football to full Socceroo, culminating in an eleven year overseas career.

Five years with Sydney FC as a player before following a coaching career in youth and assistant coaching under Graham Arnold, ultimately led Corica to the appointment as first team coach when Arnold accepted the national team role in 2018.

It is little surprise that Corica has achieved so much success because he was a key player in what was arguably one of the greatest national teams we have ever seen, the 1991 u/20’s led by Paul Okon who were eliminated by Portugal at the semi final stage in front of 110,000 in Lisbon via a Rui Costa thunderbolt.

With players of the quality of Paul Okon, Tony Popovic, Brad Maloney, David Seal, Mark Schwarzer, Mark Bosnich,  Robbie Stanton, Kevin Muscat, Matthew Bingley, George Sorras, Mark Silic and Kris Trajanovski in that squad, it is hardly surprising success has followed Corica.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Steve Corica discusses his secrets to survival, visions for Sydney FC and overwhelming desire to complete the double.

After your initial entry into youth football at Innisfail, followed by your successful playing and current blossoming coaching career, is this all a dream come true?

When I look back at the good and the bad times, especially when I was out with injury for fifteen months while at Wolves in the English First Division, the game has been very kind to me.

I have been at Sydney FC for fifteen years now and it’s a real privilege to be the senior coach and working with the players in this great club.

However, one can’t dwell in the past because we still have a bit of work to do to reach top form again and win back to back grand finals and the double.

How do you compare the standard of the NSL in your playing days with the current A-League?

It’s difficult to compare because styles are different and when I played at Marconi in the NSL, there were great players like Ian Gray, Gary Van Egmond, Peter Katholos, Zlatko Nastevski and Jean-Paul de Marigny and in the national team Frank Farina, Graham Arnold and Robbie Slater who also learned their football in the NSL.

Times have changed since my early NSL days when a number of players ventured overseas and played at a high level in big clubs but we’re not producing these types of players at the moment.

We have to change this, but on a positive note I have observed since the A-League has returned, the clubs have been providing game time for some really promising young players.

Notwithstanding, the A-League has paraded quality players like Del Piero, Broich, Berisha and Ninkovic who I rate the best individual performer since the league started. 

What are your thoughts on changing the A-League from summer to winter next season?

We’ve had fifteen years of summer football and the general observation is the crowds aren’t coming.

From a player’s perspective, it’s difficult in the heat to make those back to back runs.

In winter, there will be a higher pressing and tempo game and better quality football produced.

Hopefully, the better standard of football emanating will also influence grass roots supporters to support the A-League while they are thinking football during their own seasons.

Are you happy with the squad’s current performance, in view of the COVID-19 layoff and the results of late?

Although we’ve had three losses, two draws and only one win since the A-League recommenced, we still won the Premier’s Plate five weeks ago.

At the start of the season, I asked the players to win the double and we’re half way there so far.

We only have to win our semifinal and we’re in the grand final to achieve the stated objective.

In the last six weeks, you’ve given your younger squad players a chance to impress which may partly explain the turnaround in results as they attempt to fit into the team’s structure.

Are you happy with their progress, and is their inclusion also part of next season’s plans?

It was timely to provide opportunity to Harry Van der Saag, Chris Zuvela and Patrick Flotmann because we’ve had so many games over this period and they’re definitely in our plans for next season.

Van der Saag is a great backup for Rhyan Grant and the penetrating run he made through the middle, and the subsequent ball he laid off to Trent Buhagiar which led to Adam Le Fondre’s goal against Adelaide, was brilliant.

Flottmann played a full match in the centre of defence against Brisbane and more than held his own in his maiden first team start and in the same match, Luke Ivanovic who has been plagued by injuries scored that great goal from distance with limited backlift.

Joel King has stepped up to the plate in place of Michael Zullo and Buhagiar has returned from injury with great determination.

How good can Buhagiar be?

Obviously, he has pace to burn and can finish well as he illustrated in the two well taken goals scored against Wellington.

If he can learn to hold the ball up longer and become stronger in riding tackles, he will improve his repertoire markedly.

It depends how much he wants to put into his game but I believe in time, if he plays consistently in the A- League, the overseas clubs will definitely come looking to sign him.

When you played Melbourne City, the pace of McClaren and Noone exposed your defence and it was a similar story in your last game against Western United.

Do you think the central pairing of Ryan McGowan and Alex Wilkinson still have the necessary pace to marshall your defence?

I think they do and a few of the goals conceded lately were more due to not bringing the ball under control and winning and maintaining possession in vital areas.  McGowan is still very quick as confirmed by that mazy run he made into the penalty area against Western United.

Which players would you sign if you could and did you consider approaching Mitch Duke?

Most teams have at least one player but I like Riley McGree and Jamie McClaren who has scored a lot of great goals this season.

However, I believe we have the best squad, and in Ninkovic and Le Fondre, the best foreign players.

As for Mitch Duke, he would be a great acquisition but we understand he always wanted to go overseas again to realise larger financial rewards from the game.

Can Sydney FC keep Adam Le Fondre?

It’s difficult to retain players like him in the A-League and there were similar problems with Bobo who knocked in all those goals when he was at the club.

Obviously, Adam is at the age where he wants to maximise his earnings from the game so a possible pay cut next season could affect his decision, despite the fact he has one more year on his contract.

Nevertheless, he has been our top goal scorer in the last two seasons and has fitted so well into our playing structure and club culture, we hope it will influence his decision to see out his contract.

Sydney FC women’s team breaking notable records

Sydney FC Women membership

Sydney FC Women’s team have broken the record for Liberty A-League Pass and regular memberships in a single season following the Matildas’ success at the home World Cup.

The Sky Blues surpassed 10,000 Liberty A-League Pass memberships for under 16 year-olds and more than 2,200 people have also signed up for the regular Liberty A-League Membership which is a Sydney FC Women’s record as well.

The crowd numbers also don’t lie about the league and club’s growth with an almost 300% growth from last season alone and nearly 12,000 fans flocking to watch the Sydney derby on opening weekend.

Sydney FC Chief Executive Officer Mark Aubrey explained how this exciting milestone is just the first step in seeing the women’s game skyrocket in Australia.

“Our Memberships are continuing to grow at an incredible pace, we are very pleased to see that we are breaking records and that our Members are increasing as our 2023/2024 campaign progresses.” Aubrey said in a club press release.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our fantastic squad and our coaching staff who give it their all to put on a show for our Members and fans each week.

“However our work is nowhere near finished and we want women’s football to grow even larger, so we encourage anyone who enjoyed the latest FIFA Women’s World Cup to continue supporting football and sign up for a Membership,” he continued.

“We’d love to see even more people heading to enjoy our games at Leichhardt Oval in the coming months.”

Sydney FC have six remaining matches at Leichhardt Oval and two at Allianz Arena, setting up a blockbuster schedule that should prove to see many members and fans flock to watch the Liberty A-League reigning premiers.

Sydney FC have taken full advantage of the massive success that the FIFA Women’s World Cup was and have set up an incredible foundation that includes the next generation of fans growing up supporting the Sky Blues.

Crowd and viewership numbers of the league prove it is only going in one direction and that’s straight up, a great example of the league using the leveraging power of a World Cup to boost participation and memberships.

Lawrie McKinna: A true survivor

Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.

After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.

When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.

In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.

It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.

Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL  match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.

It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.

Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.

In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.


Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?


When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.

The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.

If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.

However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.


Do you think the right people are running the game?


I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.

I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.

There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.

James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.


Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.

Is this a satisfactory situation?


This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.

However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.


What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?


The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.

We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.

At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.


Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?


There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.

Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.


Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?


Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.

There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.

At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.

Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.

There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.


What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?


Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.

At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.

The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.

We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.

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