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Sport: The Australian Disease -

Back to the future for Sydney FC

December 29th 2010 13:49
Sydney FC football club
Is Vitezslav Lavicka the new John Kosmina?

It seems an appropriate question given how much the Sydney FC of season six resembles the Sydney FC of season four – and how little the Sydney FC of season five.

Lavicka was praised for the impressive outfit he produced last season, while Kosmina was sacked after turning out a rabble the season before.

So now that the Sydney of 2010/11 has the same air of hopelessness about it as the Sydney of 2008/09, does Lavicka, the star coach of 2009/10, deserve the same treatment as his predecessor?

Certainly, many of the criticisms that were made of the Sky Blues two years ago can just as accurately be levelled today.

Both versions have failed not through lack of perspiration, but lack of inspiration.

Commitment has never been lacking. Personal pride has never been lacking. Teamwork has never been lacking.

What has been lacking is an idea of what, precisely, needs to be done when the team has possession.

Lack of confidence has been both the cause and symptom of this uncertainty.

One thing that is to the players’ – and coach’s – credit is how focused they have been on using short passes to make their way up the field.

Teams struggling for form and confidence will generally resort to long balls to somehow reach the goal box that seems so distant.

However, the first instinct of Lavicka’s cellar dwellers is always to protect the ball and look for an open man. That suggests that they believe in his game plan and are still playing for him.

Sydney’s woes are a product of the spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak.

The player with the ball wants to hit an open man, but the pass never quite seems to reach him.

The player without the ball wants to make space, but his runs never seem to be properly timed.

With each failed action, confidence diminishes, giving rise to doubt and tentativeness. Passes are no longer as crisp, runs no longer as decisive. The result is more failure and less confidence.

When Sydney has possession, the players understand the game plan the coach wants them to follow, and genuinely believe in it. But they can’t figure out how, precisely, to execute it.

Therein lies the answer to the question. Lavicka is no Kosmina.

Kosmina’s mob tried hard, but had no idea what he wanted them to do. That was unsurprising – Kosmina had no idea either.

Lavicka’s men are also trying hard and understand what needs to be done. They just can’t figure out how.

That, then, begs another question. If Lavicka is no Kosmina, why is this season’s team so inferior to last season’s?

Confidence provides part of the explanation. In much the same way that lack of confidence produces a vicious cycle, self-belief has the opposite effect. The Sydney of 2009/10 was confident.

Injuries have also been partly responsible. Sydney’s key players have spent more time off the park this season than they did last.

But the main reason for the loss of form has been the reduction in talent. This has had the knock-on effect of making Lavicka’s diamond formation unsuitable. The same diamond that allowed Sydney to unlock defences last season has been suffocating the attack this time around.

Sydney’s lack of width under Lavicka has forced them to play through the middle. Only skilful footballers can navigate their way through a crowded central channel. That skill was there last season; this season, it has been lacking.

Sydney’s problems start from central defence. Simon Colosimo – Sydney’s best player in 2009/10 – has been replaced by Hayden Foxe. While Foxe is equally adept with the ball, he is less mobile, preventing him from being able to make the same incisive surges as Colosimo. The result is that Sydney’s attacks are now being launched from deeper positions and with less penetration.

Sydney’s problems continue into the holding midfielder’s position. Stuart Musialik is also comfortable on the ball, but has been in and out of the side after suffering an inexplicable loss of form. His replacements – Terry McFlynn, Hiro Moriyasu and Rhyan Grant – are poorer passers. The result is that Sydney is now moving the ball less efficiently to the more advanced midfielders.

The problems then continue in the attacking third. If Nicky Carle had been fully fit this season, he would probably have been more productive than the man he replaced, the ageing Steve Corica. But those injury worries have meant that the retired playmaker has been replaced by a combination of an unfit Carle, Mark Bridge, Moriyasu, Brendan Gan and Terry Antonis – all inferior.

Regular injuries to Alex Brosque have deprived Sydney of pace and guile. The shoes of the crafty Karol Kisel remain unfilled. And without Corica, Brosque and Kisel to play off, Bridge has struggled to produce the one-twos that wreaked such havoc last season.

To play through the middle, passes and runs need to be perfectly executed. Last season’s team had the skill and confidence to do so; this season’s doesn’t. The passes that were isolating defenders in 2009/10 are now going straight to them.

The logical alternative is to use the less subtle approach – pour in balls from the wing to be attacked by determined runners. But Lavicka doesn’t like wingers.

Kofi Danning, who is a natural winger, has been forced by the diamond to operate as a right-sided central midfielder. It is a position he is clearly uncomfortable with.

The same goes for Scott Jamieson, who is generally preferred as the left-sided central midfielder. While Jamieson is a natural left back, he could probably make a success of the left wing. But like Danning, he looks lost as soon as he is asked to move inside.

Despite Sydney’s almost certain absence from the upcoming finals series, there is still much to play for. The ambitious club starts its second Asian Champions League campaign on March 2 and will want to progress to the next round. That leaves two months for Lavicka to come up with solutions to his team’s problems.

If he wants to continue using the diamond, he needs to inject more skill into the line-up. The holes left by the retired Corica and the injured Brosque will presumably be filled by a fit Carle and a fit Brosque. But a new Colosimo and Kisel need to be recruited – and if Musialik and Bridge can’t rediscover their form, they also need replacing. Identifying the right recruits and quickly integrating them into the team will require a keen eye and strong management.

If Lavicka decides to revert to a conventional 4-4-2, the challenges are just as great. He will have to overhaul his game plan in a short amount of time. He will also need to find one or two more wingers, as Danning and Jamieson are currently Sydney’s only options.

Either way, the reigning Professional Footballers Association A-League coach of the year will have to show that where Kosmina failed, he can succeed. Otherwise, he will end up experiencing the same fate.

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2 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by The Dogboy

January 4th 2011 22:13
Great article Nick. Agree with all you have stated, but would like to add a bit more about the defence.

The loss of Bolton should not be underestimated. A confident leader shouting instructions from behind the back four is irreplacable. Neither Reddy nor Necevski have stepped up the plate.

Additionally, I believe Foxe to be over-rated. The centre pairing is simply not good enough.

Replacing Bolton and Colosimo (both leadership and talent) with Reddy and Foxe is a step down, and the FC's defensive fraility will continue until changes are made.

BTW - I'm still in the pro Lavicka. Given the injuries and massive personnel changes from last year, I say give him another year to sort it out.

Comment by Nick Bendel

January 5th 2011 08:58
Like you, Dogboy, I think Lavicka should stay.

I was distressed to read reports that he was on the verge of being sacked, because I think the A-League would lose a great talent if that happened.

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