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.

Football Victoria’s fifth year of Community in Business looks to reinvigorate business partnerships in the state

In what has been a tough 12 months for businesses across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Football Victoria (FV) will look to recharge the business community through their annual FV Community in Business (CIB) program.

The state governing body for football will host the first of its four CIB events this year on Friday, with Football Australia CEO James Johnson to give the keynote address.

Football Victoria will also be celebrating the five-year anniversary of CIB in 2021, a program which was the brainchild of current FV Head of Commercial Anthony Grima and prominent business identity Professor Greg Stamboulidis.

FV’s Community in Business network was established after extensive research was conducted in 2014 on sponsorship data. At the time around 2,000 businesses invested commercially into grassroots community football in Victoria, with significant financial contributions made to over 350 clubs in the state.

Grima further explained to Soccerscene the origins of Football Victoria’s Community in Business program.

“It was created to provide a platform for businesses, football clubs and their sponsors, media and all levels of government to unite in their shared passion for the world game,” he said.

“It really was born out of one of those ‘write on the napkin’ type moments over a coffee in Ivanhoe. The idea just grew legs from that very moment. It seemed right and we knew the grassroots game needed it.

“We knew that this shared passion would lead to the development of meaningful relationships between the vast range of stakeholders in football and provide them with affordable and effective opportunities to connect with one another for mutual benefits and returns; and at the same time achieve important outcomes for football in Victoria.”

The membership-based program had its launch event in late November 2015, on the back of the Socceroos Asian Cup success earlier in that year.

We were thankful to have the then Socceroos Head Coach Ange Postecoglou and Socceroos legend Josip Skoko, amongst others, to launch the new community initiative,” Grima said.

“Approximately 100 guests of the Victorian football community were invited to help us launch the new initiative. The event was hosted by George Donikian, who we are also very grateful to, being our inaugural MC and first Honorary Member.

Since then, the Community in Business brand has continued to grow exponentially, with over 100 businesses in any given year signing up as members to fund the program.

A major drawcard of these events are the special guests who attend the multiple functions across the year.

“Our feature guests continue to reflect the ethos of supporting every level of the game,” Grima said.

“We make sure that we are always celebrating Victoria’s football achievements, by unifying the achievements of football past, present and future in this country and the diversity of our great game.”

Guests from over the years include Harry Kewell, Graham Arnold, Craig Johnston, Archie Thompson, John Aloisi, Lisa De Vanna, Melissa Barbieri, Tony Vidmar, Paul Wade, Craig Foster, Les Murray and many more.

Other notable events over the course gave members the opportunity to meet former Manchester United and Liverpool players such as Wes Brown, Louis Saha, David James, Emile Heskey and Steve McManaman.

Occasions such as this couldn’t be possible without the assistance of event organisers, who the federation works alongside.

“A big thanks must go to the team at MSE Events,” Grima said.

“The events are very thoughtfully considered and planned, as much as possible, around special events where the celebration doesn’t end at the luncheons.

“For example, when Brazil and Argentina were in town, we gave all our members free tickets to these matches.”

Grima believes that without the support from clubs, businesses and the football community as a whole, the program wouldn’t be where it Is today.

“I am personally proud of how far the program has come,” he said.

“It is called Community in Business because it is a network that is owned and valued by the community. We are all in the business of making this community great. Together we can achieve more for our game, unified as friends in football.

“Community in Business continues to demonstrate how business and community can work together to achieve extraordinary outcomes for our game.”

More information on Football Victoria’s Community in Business program can be found here.




The future of the professional game in Australia: One-on-one with Sydney FC CEO and APL Managing Director Danny Townsend

Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend is one of the key central figures tasked with revitalising the A-League and the W-League.

Speaking with Soccerscene, the recently appointed Managing Director of the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) believes the professional game in this country is at a critical juncture, as the representative body looks to secure a new TV deal to underpin the future of the sport.

“It’s a crucial deal for the game,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being able to provide us with some financial security, but importantly also provide us with the right amount of reach for our game. I think we need to have all of the ‘media pipes’ on into the future, as we sort of re-invent the leagues.”

Townsend admits an agreement is set to be struck within the next 4-6 weeks and whilst a summer season for the A-League looks likely, the former Sydney United midfielder would not commit to it whilst discussions with broadcasters continue.

“We are working through that process at the moment; you’ve got to play when you are most commercially viable,” he said.

“What’s really important for this sport is having a sound financial framework around the game. That will mean we need to play when we are most valuable and the market will determine when that is. Equally, we will need to look at a lot of different factors around what it will do for other revenue streams in the game.

“It’s not just about the TV deal, it’s about attendances, memberships, sponsorships and all of those factors need to be considered when you set your calendar.”

The current on-field product of the A-League this season has been the best it has been for years, with the Sydney FC CEO outlining a few reasons why he believes that is the case.

“It’s been an amazing season so far,” Townsend said.

“The matches have a quality that we probably didn’t expect coming out of COVID.

“I think the 5-sub rule has helped, being able to change potentially a third or more of your team at any given time during a match just throws up a degree of uncertainty in games, which has just been interesting.

“I also believe the youth has been a major factor. The amount of quality young players coming into the competition this year – it’s a by-product of the COVID pandemic, which has influenced the financials of the game and meant that clubs have probably had to have a look to their own development pathways more than they might have done in other years.

“The proof is in the pudding. Players like Alou Kuol, Kusini Yengi, these guys that are being unearthed are phenomenal talents and they are great for our game.”

Sydney FC CEO and APL Managing Director Danny Townsend

The attractive product on the park this year doesn’t take away from the issues off the field. The A-League currently doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor since Hyundai exited a 15-year partnership with the league last year. It’s a problem which the APL’s new managing director believes will be addressed in due time.

“I think you’ll see more once we start to roll out the APL strategy, we are seeing a huge amount of corporate interest in what we are doing,” Townsend said.

“I think you’ll see those current vacancies filled pretty quickly.”

Crowds are down this season for a multitude of reasons, one of those being the after effects of a global pandemic, but Townsend realises the game has to do better with engaging fans of the sport.

“I think what we’ve got to do is reconnect and connect,” he said.

“What I mean by that is there are a lot of people who have been involved in football over a long period of time, who don’t support the A-League or W-League. We need to reconnect with those people.

“We need to embrace our multicultural heritage; the sport was built on immigration and those cultures that come together to play the world game. Ultimately, the beautiful thing about our code is that we are the number one sport in the world. We need to be the number one sport in Australia as well. I think that’s going to come with unity, bringing people back into the game and connecting with those already in the game.”

The APL will focus their energy on a digital first strategy to connect the close to 2 million participants in Australia to the game, with Townsend explaining it will allow the representative body to understand who those people are, know their preferences and serve them with appropriate content and information to link them with the sport.

Unique identifiers such as active support will also be prioritised, with the hope being to bring the level of support back to the golden years of the A-League.

“When I bring mates of mine who are Rugby League guys or Rugby Union guys along to a Sydney FC game, they are blown away by the atmosphere that’s created by the active supporters,” Townsend said.

“It’s something we have to embrace. It’s not simple because there are other stakeholders involved that contribute to how they are managed, but we need to reduce the barriers of entry for people who want to be a part of active support.”

Unifying the sport is a key point in the APL’s overall mission for the game and Townsend claims the representative body is supportive of a national second division, as long as there is a sustainable financial framework around it.

“We are about growing football. I’m still yet to really engage with anyone involved in a national second division to understand what their plan is, but where we can we want to help,” he said.

“We are up for working with the NPL and helping them grow the consumption of their content. They’ve got NPL.TV which is a fantastic initiative. How we work with that, with APL and our content, is important in bringing that unity back to the game.”



APL appoints three new executives for commercial and marketing

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have appointed three new senior executives who will develop a commercial and marketing function.

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have appointed three new senior executives who will develop a commercial and marketing function to be part of the APL’s ambitious growth strategy.

All three personnel have had extensive experience in marketing related to sport and global organisations, bringing across new ideas to promote the game.

Ryan Sandilands is set to be the APL’s first Commercial Director, tasked with supercharging the commercial and operational capabilities of the APL and club commercial teams. Sandilands is a sports and entertainment industry veteran of 20 years, having led commercial growth and strategic planning for companies such as Cirque du Soleil, Women’s Tennis Association, City Football Group and AEG.

Rob Nolan will lead the marketing and data operations function, as APL focusses on a new future about how it engages with football fans on a one-to-one basis. Nolan brings over 20-years of global marketing experience from six countries, including Kayo Sports, News Corp and iflix, one of south-east Asia’s biggest entertainment subscription VOD services. Nolan has also spent time building data capability to fuel growth with data agency Digital Alchemy and various telcos including Virgin Mobile, Vodafone and O2 in the UK.

Stacey Knox joins the APL marketing team to overhaul their operational capability to prepare the execution of the APL’s ambitious direct-to-consumer strategy. Knox has more than two decades of experience in global marketing organisations and agencies, including the Coca-Cola Company, News Limited and Inchcape. She’s also a coach and mentor to industry bodies and not-for-profit organisations.

“This team is here to innovate and supercharge the commercial and marketing capabilities of the APL as we realise our reinvention as a leading football entertainment company,” APL Chief Commercial Officer Ant Hearne said.

“We’re seeing the most entertaining football on the pitch and it’s our job to take that directly to fans with a world class fan experience and content offering.”

These new appointments add to the recently announced Managing Director Danny Townsend, Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke, Chief Commercial Officer Ant Hearne, Strategy and Digital Director Michael Tange, and Deputy Commissioner Tracey Scott in the APL leadership group.

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