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.

AIA Australia CEO Damien Mu on Tottenham’s visit to Melbourne and Ange Postecoglou impact

Before Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United’s pre-season friendly match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, football codes came together on the day to test their skills in a first-ever junior clinic.

Hosted at Collingwood Football Club’s training facility of AIA Vitality Centre, the Aussie Rules AFL team was joined by the visiting Spurs.

Across two sporting codes, a common denominator is that AIA proudly supports both and through the affiliation, combined for a once in a lifetime coaching clinic.

Tottenham and Collingwood players were in attendance, along with AIA Ambassador and former Hawthorn premiership player Shane Crawford.

Junior soccer and AFL club players were treated to a memorable day of fun and skills training, aimed at promoting AIA’s vision of communities living happier and healthier lives. This included specialised drills, authentic coaching and a Q&A session for all kids to learn and benefit from.

AIA is a long-time partner of Tottenham, while their recent front-of-shirt deal with Melbourne Victory further emphasised their support for Australian football.

A day of fun at Collingwood FC’s AIA Centre.

Speaking to Soccerscene, AIA Australia CEO Damien Mu reflected on a hugely successful day for participants.

“The AIA junior clinic was fantastic, it was all about giving an opportunity for kids to get active and participate in training with Tottenham and Collingwood coaches,” he said.

“We thought it was a rare opportunity and fantastic way to really promote active participation in sport.

“At AIA, we encourage people to live happier, longer, and better lives and being active is one of those – with other important choices such as what you eat and looking after your mental wellbeing.

“We’ve sponsored Tottenham since 2013 and the fact they’re out here with Ange taking over was an opportunity we couldn’t miss.”

“We also sponsor Collingwood and most recently Melbourne Victory, so we thought what a great way to get the three clubs together and Collingwood were fantastic in hosting at the AIA Vitality Centre and getting behind it, with all three teams giving back to the community.”

It was a momentous occasion for Victorian fans, as Ange Postecoglou has completed his first full season at the Spurs.

Mu shared what the excitement was like on the day.

“Undoubtably, having Ange had a huge impact,” he said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have Tottenham come out a few times – in Sydney and then Perth last year – it’s always a massive buzz and gives such a good lift to football.

“With Ange now there, it’s given that a super boost and the energy that’s around him, along with having two EPL teams in town, which is why just over 78,000 people went to the MCG on a weeknight.

“All of this is a great way to get kids attached to the game and have active participation post-World Cup, rather than being stuck on smart devices.”

Crawford (far right) chatting with Tottenham representatives.

Melbourne Victory, who were preparing for the A-League Men’s Grand Final against Central Coast Mariners, were backed by AIA as a Finals Series sponsor.

Mu described what he and AIA saw in Victory leading up to the deal being struck.

“Melbourne Victory have had a great season, been long-standing as one of the original clubs in the A-League and a cornerstone of the league from the start,” he said.

“It was a great opportunity that arose given our affiliation with football globally through Tottenham.

“We had ongoing conversations with Victory about how we can partner up, and it seemed like a great way to support them at a time when they were seeking that support going into the finals.

“They’re a great club – it really is about family, community and business coming together. Even Ange touched on the community feel, all the way back in his South Melbourne days.

“We definitely love the community aspect of what Victory are trying to do and how they like to get out there and promote the game as well.”

Reflecting on the community theme, Mu added what he sees in collaborating with sporting organisations.

“When we think partnerships, we want them to be purposeful,” he said.

“It’s great to be on the shirt, but it’s more about what we do with clubs in relation to health and wellbeing.

“Our sporting clubs are great because it provides genuine role models to cheer on within family and friends.

“It allows us to get really meaningful health and wellbeing content from the players and coaches that we know fans and members absolutely love, rather than a company with three letters on it telling you what we do.”

Collingwood FC’s Will Hoskin-Elliott (left) with Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

From a long-term perspective, AIA are hoping to maintain their presence in Asia and Oceania.

Mu shared the overall success of the junior clinic where we can expect more to come.

“We’re really lucky with the partnership through Tottenham where there’s coaching clinics right across the markets we operate in Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“The clinics are really important as they get out to schools and the clubs, especially at grassroots level.

“When the whole team comes into town, you get a boost, but this is something we’ve been doing for a while and part of the collaboration with Tottenham where we are proud to do these clinics in Australia and New Zealand.”

Coogee United: A club set to catapult through local grant

The Local NSW Grant has provided an important influx of funds for the success grant recipients enlisted, it will provide finances into specific areas of their respective clubs.

Upon the major list featured on the NSW Local Grant website, features a vast variety of football clubs across the state.

Coogee United is volunteer run community football club within the eastern region of NSW. Currently competing within the Eastern Suburbs Football Association, the club have entered their 21st season of operations having established foundations in 2003. As a staple amongst eastern suburb football within NSW, the club boast 25 teams, which 17 of those are male, and eight of those female.

The east side club where successful within the clubs application, Amy Singh lives and breathes football. Her involvement within Coogee United, echoes the all-important effect undertaken by those within her position across the nation.

As esteemed vice-president and representative of the Coogee United Board. She discussed the clubs ambitions in the wake of becoming recipients, of a much needed cash boost.

Singh talked about the impact the grant can have upon the club.

This grant will be game changing for our women’s program within Coogee United,” she said.

The newly encountered funds are all to be dedicated towards the women’s program at Coogee United. Primarily targeted towards high quality training grounds and adequate training equipment.

Additionally, funding will be provided towards women’s teams for new club apparel.

Amy Singh touched upon how the specific areas the grant finances are allocated towards, can attract new participants.

“When attracting women to a new sport it is key we break down barriers to participation. Safe, welcoming facilities, along with female specific, well fitting kit is key to ensuring participants are comfortable within the sporting environment. It takes courage to take up a new sport, so we want to make it as accessible as possible.”

The interest in which women’s football has experienced in over the last 5 to 6 years is described by Singh as “burgeoning.”

In the wake of the 2023 women’s world cup, there has been a spike of female participants over the age of 18 who are determined to become involved in football at an entry level.

Singh elaborated upon the importance of the two way relationship between female club participants and football.

“Being able to introduce women to football at any age is so important not only for the obvious health and wellbeing physical fitness aspects, but also as football (and many team sports) provides enormous mental health benefits, and a sense of belonging within our footballing club community,” she said.

We are committed to providing a high quality, but affordable football club experience to our members. We see football as a community first, and rely heavily on an army of volunteers to deliver our aims.”

Singh discussed the long-term aspirations for the club.

“Coogee United currently do not operate a youth system. Something in which club representatives are opting to change over the course of the upcoming seasons ahead,” she said.

“Long term, we would love to be able to re-start the junior arm to our club. We know football is growing in popularity amongst junior participants too.

“However to be able to do this we need to ensure we have the required funding, volunteers and available facilities to be able to deliver a well structured and managed junior football program.”

The NSW Community Grant funds regardless of the amount provided on behalf of the NSW Government, has the capacity to transcend football clubs in whom are success applicants.

Coogee United have made their aspirations concise. It is now of speculation as to how other successful applicants seek to prosper with a new influx of finances.

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