The A-League Grand Final has come and gone, but that doesn't mean there's nothing left to talk about -- in fact there might be even more. Welcome then, to ESPN's Australian football wrap!
On the Waterfront
"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds left to conquer."
Hackneyed as it may be to begin this week by quoting Hans Gruber, his famous line does have some utility in describing Sydney FC's dominance over the A-League. Sealing their third title in four years and status as Australian football's great dynasty with a 1-0 Grand Final win over Melbourne City on Sunday evening, the question on Steve Corica and his Sky Blue side's minds now must simply be what's next?
How does one improve on an Australian legacy that is seemingly already etched in stone? Of course, Sydney really has a lot of worlds left to conquer. Fitting, given that the Die Hard villain's line isn't an actual historical idiom, but instead likely a mischaracterization of Plutarch's declaration in the Moralia that Alexander wept not because he had run out of potential conquests but upon hearing Anaxarchus's theory of infinite worlds and his realisation he couldn't even conquer one.
Especially when compared to their titanic success at a domestic level, Harbourside triumphs at a continental level are sorely lacking; their only trophy arriving in 2005 when they defeated New Caledonian side AS Magenta 2-0 to win the Oceania Club Championship. Inadvertently revealing a lot about the state of the Australian game, since moving to the AFC the A-League's dominant club has only advanced out of the group stages of the Asian Champions League once in five attempts -- at which point they were immediately bundled out in the 2016 Round of 16 by Chinese side Shandong Luneng.
Prospects of Sydney doing something in the 2020 edition of the tournament -- if it even goes ahead -- don't appear all that great given how exposed their regimented 4-2-2-2 system was against Yokohama F. Marinos earlier this season. Based off this history, Sydney would need to swing its focus to Asia on a much deeper level should they wish to extend their dominance to the continent -- adapting its approach on and off the field to mask the systemic weaknesses Australian clubs face against Asian foes. It may come at the cost of some domestic dominance, but success would help bolster both their legacy and improve commercial opportunities inevitably set to face diminishing returns from Australian results. It would shut Western Sydney Wanderers fans up as well.
Million Dollar Baby
Vanquished by Sydney in Sunday's Grand Final, City confirmed on Thursday that their quest to go one better next season will occur under the leadership of Patrick Kisnorbo, with coach Erick Mombaerts opting to return to France for family reasons.
A unique and affable character, Mombaerts' success at City provided a much-needed tonic to years of pragmaticism and disappointment and he departs having laid a stronger foundation than the one he inherited. Looking ahead, City's move to appoint Kisnorbo will no doubt further the narrative that the club, following their maiden Grand Final appearance, has a real chance to forge an identity that has evaded them for so long.
And for the existing fan base, there's truth to this. Kisnorbo is a popular figure that has (literally) bled for the shirt and has the potential to bring a Kevin Muscat-like spirit of defiance and pride to the job. Muscular, shaven headed and adorned with tattoos, his presence on the touchline will carry with it an edge that City fans can take inspiration from as they seek to become the biggest dog on the Melbourne scene.
Nonetheless, on a macro level, there likely still remains only one real long-term path that City has to develop and maintain a persona long term, one both simple and maddeningly difficult: winning. Inevitably for the Bundoora-based club, perceptions of every move they make are at some point framed around their ownership structure and access to the untold riches of the Gulf -- even though staff on the ground will be quick to tell you CFG's Melbourne outpost doesn't have access to the kind of money tap one might find in Manchester or New York.
The influence that CFG holds over the governance reforms that have taken place in Australian football in recent years, which nobody can claim is driven by altruistic motivations, only enhances this. Even Kisnorbo, in City's statement announcing his ascension, made sure to thank the CFG for the coaching opportunities he had been afforded -- despite every single one of them arriving in Melbourne. It's a reality that, although harsh on the players and staff on the ground (many who have worked there since the Heart days and do some fantasticwork in the community), is inescapable. One not able to be replaced, only obscured. Nonetheless, as seen in Manchester, Paris and even with City's W-League side, winning is a hell of a way to shift a narrative.
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Negotiations for a new A-League and W-League CBA remain ongoing, with clubs and the player's union meeting on Tuesday to discuss the outlook of future league revenues and what that may mean for player remuneration.
Talks, however, aren't believed to be close to a breakthrough. With border closures and these CBA negotiations seemingly already have made it a fait accompli, FFA CEO James Johnson confirmed to AAP on Monday that the next league year wouldn't commence until 2020. "Next year's A-League and W-League will start later," Johnson said. "Most likely it will start in 2021, in the early periods."
According to ESPN sources, which have been reinforced by widespread reports, a late January or February start date looms as the most likely scenario. With the Australian football economy in a parlous state, clubs are understood to be pushing for cuts of up to 30% to player wages for the upcoming season as part of the CBA negotiations, with a reduction of the salary cap from its current $3m plus total to a sum closer to $2m.
Though some level of belt-tightening is inevitable, clubs should be careful about seeking to peg their cost bases too low. If owners want to maintain the monopoly they hold over the top tier of Australian football, one of the greatest arguments they possess in favour of the setup is their ability to invest in the game at levels unable to be matched by lower-tier clubs. Not only will a number of the league's best players flee overseas should investment fall dramatically, but the lowering of that financial barrier to entry to a point where it is effectively meaningless also means an exclusivity argument goes away.
All Quiet on the Western Front
Tony Popovic is officially on his way to Greece, with Perth Glory confirming that the 47-year-old informed them on Wednesday morning that he was set to head to the Mediterranean to take over at Xanthi FC -- which was recently purchased by Sydney Olympic owner Bill Papas. Hayden Foxe will serve as the interim boss of the Glory in the wake of the move; Popovic's fiery headed assistant looming as a front runner for the permanent post.
"I think it's an exciting opportunity," Glory Football Director Jacob Burns said of the position. "We won't rush into it. There's a lot of uncertainty but what we do know is that we've got a fantastic squad and a fantastic structure here."
Burns also confirmed Glory won't rush to fill their roster until a new gaffer is in place, with youth players raised as one possibility of filling the squad's ranks should that individual not be found before the club returns to play in the ACL.
"We will look at the players once we've appointed a head coach -- on top of the 15 we've already got," he said. "We're not going to make a move on any player until a coach is in place."
Recently unveiled Nathaniel Atkinson and Andrew Nabbout are the two exceptions to Glory's recruitment rule -- the pair officially signed months ago under the old CBA. But as the duo walk in the door, questions on if Diego Castro may walk in the opposite direction remain. The relationship between club and club-legend has taken a turn for the worst in recent weeks, with Glory owner Tony Sage firing a broadside at the 15/16 Johnny Warren Medallist when he claimed Castro "threw the contract" at Burns and Popovic when asked to complete the 19/20 on reduced wages and then "went on holiday" rather than finish the season.
Players were given the options to opt-out of the 19/20 season's conclusion as part of the stop-gap CBA re-negotiated between the PFA and clubs.
"With Diego, he's still in Perth," Glory CEO Tony Pignata said on Wednesday. "We haven't seen him for a while, he decided not to travel to the Sydney hub. Since we've been back, we've been in quarantine, so we haven't had a chance to catch up with him and have a discussion, but we'll do that in the near future."
Though never say never, the tone adopted by Glory CEO and Football Director didn't suggest a happy ending was on the horizon. If Castro would even want to come back to the fold in the wake of the accusations sent his way also remains unknown.
West Side Story
Castro, however, is not the only high figure that could be on his way out of the West. A report from SBS has linked Uruguayan striker Bruno Fornaroli with a shock move back to Melbourne not to re-join City but, instead, to their mortal enemies Melbourne Victory.
"[I'm] surprised, given that Bruno's contracted," Pignata said when asked about the reports. "We had a discussion before he went to the hub about continuing his contract next year.
"[It's] surprising that Melbourne Victory is talking to a contracted player without advising us as well. So, it's all speculation at the moment. I haven't had a chance to speak to Bruno, but I will be about it."
But at the moment it's just speculation because he's contracted for another season. According to ESPN sources, Victory would be interested should Fornaroli become available, Diego Castro as well, but with the situation surrounding the CBA unclear, wage demands would be a major sticking point.
Speaking to ESPN, Victory General Manager of Football Drew Sherman would not be drawn on the speculation that Fornaroli would make a shock switch to Victory, instead urging caution when it came to reports linking high-profile names to the club.
"The reality is, players know that Melbourne Victory is a destination," Sherman told ESPN. "They know our circumstances and that we need to recruit so I think that you'll probably hear us linked to a lot of players that are trying to look to make sure they get the same sort of salaries that they had last year."
Alongside new coach Grant Brebner, Sherman is seeking to rebuild a Melbourne Victory squad coming off its worst campaign in club history this offseason. Several players were announced as officially departing the club last week, but the new Victory Football GM told ESPN that progress was being made on re-signing others, albeit with CBA delays hampering the process.
"We've made some commitments to keep them," he explained. "They'll be announced in the next couple of weeks. We still have a lot of work to do. What we've done is re-commit to the players that we want to stay, you can read between the lines of where that is because we've announced the guys that have left."
During his introductory press conference, Brebner intimated that he was already on the phone with several European-based players intending to bring them to Victory -- the Scot having previously stated that "Victory players [are] big-time players, big names, [who] also know what needs to happen on the pitch".
"There are [international] players that we're in good positions with, but it's not as easy as it ever has been," Sherman said. "With signing players from overseas, there's a lot of implications around arriving in Australia, and with visas.
"Although we're in a good position, we're not in a position where we'll be announcing signings. Even with the domestic-based players, we need to find out where the CBA lands before we can make some commitments to those. We're comfortable with where we're at, we've got some clear targets in place. We know what we need, and Grant is passionate about the type of player that he wants."
The Best Years of Our Lives
The next opportunity for Australia's youth to strut their stuff on the world stage is, nominally, next month. The AFC U19 Championships, in which the Young Socceroos were drawn in a group with Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Laos, is ostensibly set to kick off in Uzbekistan on October 14, while the AFC U16 Championships, where the Joeys were drawn in a group with South Korea, India, and Uzbekistan, is earmarked for a November 25 commencement.
Nicholas Bilokapic (Huddersfield), Ryan Teague (Famalicao), Cameron Peupion (Brighton), and Noah Botic (Hoffenheim) were all members of Australia's 2019 U-17 World Cup squad that parlayed their international form into European moves -- highlighting the critical importance junior internationals hold for generation next. Nonetheless, with the spectre of COVID-19 still hanging over the world, it's understood that discussions surrounding their current feasibility and possible rescheduling remain ongoing.
Though severely hampered by restrictions placed upon cross-border travel both into and within Australia, the FFA has conducted preparations as best they can should the events occur; a talent identification camp taking place for NSW-based prospective Young Socceroos in the past week.
Football Associations across the globe have given kit nerds plenty of material in recent days, releasing their national strips for the coming season -- the new Netherlands and England kits amongst the clubhouse leaders. Nothing has officially been unveiled in Australia, but sources have told ESPN that Western Sydney Wanderers are set to move from long-standing partners Nike to Kappa during the offseason. Rumours had also swirled that Melbourne Victory was set to make a switch from Adidas, possibly to Macron, but CEO Trent Jacobs denied the talk, telling ESPN that the club was "in contract with Adidas for next year and [there is] no intent to change."
Around the World in 80 Days
Samuel Silvera is the latest young Australian talent on his way to Europe. The crown jewel in the collection of young talent assembled at the Central Coast Mariners, the 19-year-old attacker is set to sign with Porugese side Pacos de Ferreira after a deal was struck between the two sides. Terms of the sale were undisclosed.
"It feels amazing to be moving to Europe. I feel like the football in Portugal will suit my style and I will be working hard to succeed over there," said the teen.
A former Western Sydney Wanderers academy player, Silvera made the move to Gosford seeking a clearer path to first team football and was promptly rewarded, making 21 appearances (11 of them starts) during the 19-20 season.
"He has worked very hard and we've given him every opportunity to flourish as a footballer, and I look forward to seeing him do well overseas," Mariners coach Alen Stajcic said.
"This Club was built on giving young Australian players an opportunity to grow and develop, and this move is a clear example of us returning to those roots and it shows the positive direction we are heading in."
Silvera's stellar form this season already earned him a trial with MLS side LAFC, but he returned to Australia without a deal -- setting up his eventual move to Portugal. The youngster is expected to fly out on his new adventure over the weekend.