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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.

ROGER SLEEMAN
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?

STEVE CORICA
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.

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

STEVE CORICA
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. 

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

STEVE CORICA
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.

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

STEVE CORICA
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.

ROGER SLEEMAN
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?

STEVE CORICA
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.

ROGER SLEEMAN
How good can Buhagiar be?

STEVE CORICA
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.

ROGER SLEEMAN
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?

STEVE CORICA
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.

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

STEVE CORICA
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.

ROGER SLEEMAN
Can Sydney FC keep Adam Le Fondre?

STEVE CORICA
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.

A-League supporter numbers grow – but 2 million football fans still unattached

Despite attendances dropping in A-League matches over the past few years, supporter numbers across the board have grown in the past 12 months, according to a recent Roy Morgan report.

“A-League clubs have enjoyed a substantial increase in support over the last year in line with the increases seen for other football codes such as the AFL and NRL,” Roy Morgan Industry Communications Director, Julian McCrann, stated.

“Over 3.6 million Australians now profess support for an A-League club, an increase of over 1 million (+38.3%) on a year ago.”

“As we have seen across other football codes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to be played in front of empty stadiums but live on TV to supporters stuck at home in the many lockdowns we have seen over the last 18 months around Australia.”

Sydney FC have the biggest supporter base with 640,000 fans according to the report, a 32% increase on last year’s numbers.

Melbourne Victory were also well placed on the supporter ladder, slightly behind Sydney with 632,000 fans, an increase of 46% on a year ago.

A-League Men’s champions Melbourne City and expansion side Macarthur FC also saw impressive numbers of increased support.

“Another big winner over the last year has been Melbourne City which won its first A-League Men Championship earlier this year after defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final (between Melbourne’s fourth and fifth lockdowns) in late June,” McCrann said.

“Melbourne City’s support has increased by an impressive 50.9% on a year ago to 249,000 to have the highest support of any A-League Men expansion team.

“The newest club in the A-League Men, Macarthur FC, has had a successful first season in the league with a finals appearance, a victory in an Elimination Final, and a loss to eventual Champions Melbourne City in the semi-final.

“Not only has Macarthur FC performed strongly on the pitch but they have already attracted 84,000 supporters to rank in tenth place overall.”

Whilst all A-League sides saw an increase in supporters in 2021, Central Coast Mariners experienced the largest percentage rise from 2020 – with fan numbers growing by 90%.

In regards to television numbers, over 1.5 million Australians watch the A-League Men’s competition.

However, the report states that 3.5 million Australians watch any football match on television, including leagues such as the English Premier League or international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup.

This represents a huge untapped audience of around 2 million Australians, something which should be capitalised on.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for the A-League will be to continue to grow the league in an increasingly competitive sporting market and find a way to connect with the millions of Australians who love their football but don’t presently engage with the A-League,” McCrann said.

“There are over 2 million Australians out there who watch high quality football competitions, such as the English Premier League, who are yet to become fans of the A-League. This at-hand market of 2 million Australians is a significant market for the A-League to target during the recovery from Covid-19.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the new body running the professional game in this country, have continually emphasised in their messaging that they want to target football fans of all types to engage with the local elite competition.

The organisation’s investment in a $30 million digital hub is set to play a big part in converting these fans into A-League supporters.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football,” Danny Townsend, Managing Director at the APL, recently told FNR.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need.

“Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that – they’ll keep coming back.

“You put great content in there, you serve it, and you will continue to understand that fan and all of their preferences.”

Catherine Cannuli: “It wasn’t easy to pursue coaching as I felt like I was back at square one again”

Catherine Cannuli

June 1 this year saw long-time stalwart of the Western Sydney Wanderers – Catherine Cannuli – appointed to the role of Head Coach of the Women’s side for the upcoming 2021/22 A-League Women’s season.

In addition to having built up an impressive resume through her role as Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Football Association, Cannuli has been announced as the latest addition to the Executive Committee at Football Coaches Australia (FCA).

Her landmark year of achievements thus far reflects her immense efforts in working to reach what she acknowledges as a personal high point in her coaching career. Cannuli’s success is undoubtedly a testament to her determination, but her transition from player to coach was self-admittedly challenging one.

The lack of clear routes towards securing coaching roles at all levels of the game has led FCA and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) to announce – within their Memorandum of Understanding strategies –all members of PFA’s Alumni will have their joining fee to FCA waived in an effort to provide additional support to aspiring coaches.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, Cannuli spoke on her efforts to reach the point she is at now in her career and highlighted the significance of this recently announced FCA and PFA Alumni partnership.

Coaching

It was announced in June that you were to become the new Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers. What has that been like for you so far?

Catherine Cannuli: It’s been exciting and challenging. Obviously, with the current COVID-19 situation that we’ve been in, I probably had four or five weeks in charge as the head coach and then we went into lockdown. So a lot of it has been done from behind a computer. But it’s been a great time to be able to plan and make sure that everything was ready to go come first day of pre-season.

In terms of opportunities for females in football following the end of their playing career, can you give us some insight into what was going through your head as you were coming to the end of your playing time?

Catherine Cannuli: I really didn’t think about coaching straight away to be honest. I retired and I thought I was going to get my weekends back and be a normal person. My friends were always having a go at me for missing so many significant birthdays or weddings.

It was after being off for about six or seven months, and not having football, where I realised more than anything what it left in me as a person. Football’s been such a big part of my life. It took me some time to realise that I couldn’t be a player anymore, because the commitment at the time was really hard – juggling full-time work and doing everything that I wanted to do. I was at a crossroads in my career at that point. It was thinking ‘do I sacrifice another four years or do I just focus on work and preparing for life after football?’.

It was at that point that I got into contact with the Southern Districts Association and explained that I wanted to give back to our community and asked what I could do to get involved with the girls. I went down and did some sessions with the team at the time, and within six months I’d landed myself my first coaching gig. I took over the First Grade Women’s team there and that was it. I fell into coaching.

What was it like mentally traversing that transition period between playing and coaching?

Catherine Cannuli: It was clear, because everything that I’d spoken to the club about they were on board with what I wanted to do and the vision that I had for young girls in the South-West region. For kids in the Liverpool and Fairfield areas, young girls like myself didn’t have the opportunity to be mentored or be coached. They didn’t have an environment where they felt they’d be able to really excel.

For me it was pretty clear from day one that I wanted to make a change. It was hard to transition, because after my first couple of years in coaching I remember going back to some of my coaches that had coached me for a long time and apologising. Because I didn’t realise what it actually took to be a coach. As a player, you turn up; you train; and you go home. As a coach there’s so much planning going on in the background that players just wouldn’t have an idea about.

The transition was definitely difficult, but after my first 12 months of coaching, I chose to dedicate myself to it. I had a business at the time and I stepped away from it to be able to then go into coaching. At the time I was working at Westfields Sports High School and Southern Districts and learning my trade, and it wasn’t easy when I decided to pursue coaching as I felt like I was back at square one again.

But it was really important for me to experience it that way. Even now that I’m at the top of my game as the Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers, I feel that as a coach it is really important that you learn your trade, go through different environments and see different things before you actually get there. It shapes you as a person and as a coach.

Cannuli

What have been your key learnings in your role as Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Football Association?

Catherine Cannuli: I think that the main one has been learning to build an environment for not just your players, but your staff and everyone to excel in. I think it’s important that everyone knows what your vision is and what direction you’re wanting to go in within your program and your football. It’s important that everyone understands that if they’re on this journey with you, they have a clear understanding of what the message is and what you want to do.

Whether I’m at Southern Districts or at the Wanderers, having that clear message with your players and your staff of ‘this is what it’s going to take to be successful’, and that we can do it as a collective.

Sometimes you see people saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’, whereas with me it’s about bringing people on the journey with you and making them understand what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.

Do you feel the partnership between FCA and PFA Alumni will aid aspiring female football coaches?

Catherine Cannuli: I think back to when I did my first C License and how far coach education and support has come. FCA have been a massive game changer in the coaching space, not only for females, but for males.

For any coach that aspires to be better and wants to be helped, even for those A-Leagues players wanting to transition out of playing into coaching, I think it’s important that there’s a mentorship and a process in what we want to do and how we want to do it.

Sometimes when we jump straight into the deep end it becomes difficult to have an understanding of what the role of a coach is. If you are a player, the role of a coach is a very different role to when you’re a player.

The partnership between FCA and PFA is huge. I’ve always said that football needs to come together and we need to work together as one. This is showing that together we can be stronger. And these partnerships are only going to allow our players and people to grow and further develop their skills in that space.

You’ve recently been announced as an addition to the Executive Committee at FCA. What initiatives will you be looking to drive as a part of your work there?

Catherine Cannuli: I think the main one is to give as much coach education as we can for all coaches. Giving all people from all different levels the number of resources that they can get onto. You can already see that with a lot of the workshops that we’ve been running. The numbers that we’ve been getting for these have been fantastic.

For me, the key thing with FCA is to drive its existence for people to understand that FCA is there and what it can do for coaches. Because I’ve already seen how it supported me over the last two years as a member. And I think, down the track, FCA is going to have such a significant impact on the coaching life. It’s going to be amazing to see where it’s going to be having known where it started.

FCA

What changes and opportunities for the women’s game are you hoping to see come to the fore leading into and after the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Catherine Cannuli: The greatest achievement for me with receiving the opportunity to be the Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers is that other females can look to this and say: ‘Hey, I can be a Head Coach at the A-League Women’s as well’. That’s the most important, that young female coaches can actually aspire to be a coach in the A-League Women’s.

The more that we see it on the TV and the papers that there are female coaches leading the way, there’s going to be even more opportunity for young females to come through NPL clubs and do coaching.

At the moment, the number of coaches in the female space in a professional environment is probably quite low. And that’s something that we need to keep driving change for; changing the dynamics around females not thinking that there are those opportunities for coaching when there are.

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