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.