The premature end to Sydney FC's season see's the inaugural A-League champion dethroned and the club in complete disarray. With all failures a post mortem must be conducted looking at where the strengths and weaknesses were this season both on and off the field and where the big fat finger of blame should be pointed at. First off let’s look at the team, despite an injury ravaged season along with a number of Olyroo call ups Sydney FC managed to set some A-League records. They set the record for the least number of goals conceded in a season along with scoring in the most consecutive games in a row. These statistics would indicate that they had the tightest defence in the league and also didn't have too much trouble finding the back of the net. So at a high level it does not seem to be a roster issue otherwise these records would not have been set and they would not have finished in the top four. Now let’s examine the marquee player situation, Dwight Yorke left the club or was shown the door (their still pointing fingers at who ended the relationship) at the beginning of the season. Some people are of the opinion that Dwight leaving the club is one of the reasons why attendances at home plunged this season. I can't speak on behalf of all those who attended matches containing Yorke but I know he wasn't a draw card for me. Melbourne and Newcastle didn't seem to have any trouble attracting large crowds and neither team had a marquee player. With Dwight's departure Sydney signed Benito Carbone for a four game stint. His impact was immediate, he directed play from mid field, could seemingly score from anywhere. He definitely added some missing flair and technical excellence while he was there. I'm not a fan of bringing in someone who is well past their prime who might appeal more to various ethnic sections of the community. I'm guessing Dwight was meant to entice those of a British background and Carbone was supposed to boost Sydney's Italian fan base. I'd rather they try and recruit someone who has talent and might be able to contribute to the league for a few seasons and rub off on some of the local players. Now on to the coach Terry Butcher. I felt sorry for the guy, what a period to be reigning as Sydney's coach. Is there anyone out there who honestly wanted his job this season? There were so many things that were out of his hands. Lets recount the myriad of issues Butcher had to deal with that were not of his own doing; first he had to watch Dwight walk out just as the season was about to commence, then he watch a brilliant Carbone succumb to a hamstring injury that ended his stint along with Sydney's marquee player foray for the season, then their was the injury list that at one point had the reserve keeper on the substitutes bench and wasn't helped by the Olyroo call ups towards the business end of the season. When you thought it couldn't get worse it did, Sydney were deducted three competition points for a salary cap violation. None of this was Butcher's fault; did it affect Sydney's fate? I'd say yes. When he did have a full squad to choose from Sydney played at a decent level and won most of their games. If Sydney did not have three points deducted they would have secured second spot and would have had a second shot at a grand final appearance. It's hard to imagine that Sydney with a decent marquee player would not have faired better throughout the season and such a player would have played a crucial role in the finals series. So had Sydney had a marquee player I'm fairly certain that they would have made a grand final appearance. The question is would this have been enough to save Butchers neck? Something tells me it would have been his final season even if he did win the title. It was announced today (7-2-07) that Sydney FC have terminated Terry Butcher's contract and are paying him out for the second season of his contract. There were reports of Butcher losing the team, especially amongst the senior players. We witnessed a couple of tense moments between Butcher and senior players that included Sasho Petrovski, Mark Rudan and that infamous "Fuck off" incident with Alvin Ceccoli. I read that Butcher was not to keen on keeper Clint Bolton because of his close relationship with shareholder Anthony Lapaiglia who sought to have him sacked early in the season. I came across an article that said players had organised extra training sessions for themselves because they felt Butcher was not conducting enough training sessions. This is an astonishing claim if it is true. Butcher received much criticism for the tactics and style of play Sydney were playing under him which some tried to link to falling attendances at home matches. Interestingly enough I think they also played some of their best football under him. Some of the highlight matches under Butcher this season had to be the first thrilling encounter between Melbourne and Sydney even though we lost 3 - 2, the debut of Carbone against Adelaide saw Sydney shock and awe Adelaide to a humiliating 3 - 0 defeat, we also witnessed Sydney keep their cool when facing a record hostile crowd of 50333 Melbournians. Sydney also flexed their muscle in their new years day match away to an in form Newcastle Jets outclassing them to the tune of 2 - 0. In Sydney FC's final match of the season away to the Jet's you could sense something was wrong in the Sydney camp. The body language of the players was negative and Alex Brosque was uncharacteristically aggressive which saw him red carded eventually. Sydney seemed to be playing without a game plan, none of their key players found any form during the match and they looked bankrupt of any ideas. They where lucky to lose by only a 2 goal deficit. I guess Butcher knew it was all over for him at the final whistle and maybe that's why he didn't console his players and instead chose to thank the travelling fans.
Now it's time to look at the Board of Sydney FC who I place a lot of the blame on. They've sacked Butcher who is just an easy scapegoat in my opinion. The board pretty much left Butcher out to dry early in the season never truly giving him their full backing and his job at Sydney FC never seemed secured and really never was. Members of the board openly criticised his tactics in the media and constantly fuelled speculation that their was a rift between Butcher and a numbers of players. Excuse me but wasn't it the board of Sydney FC that hired Butcher? Didn't someone do their homework on Butcher to see what his strengths and weaknesses were? Wasn't there a screening process? If Butcher is an ill tempered bad tactician who has bad personnel skills and is only schooled in the old boy’s school of English football then it's the boards fault for hiring Butcher in the first place. A turning point in Sydney FC's season was when they were deducted three points for a salary cap breach. Sydney decided not to challenge the ruling despite there being reports that Sydney FC had a strong case to launch an appeal as they acted on advice provided by the FFA. My theory is that the majority shareholder Frank Lowe had a hand in not appealing against the FFA's ruling. Why? Frank Lowe is the chairman of the FFA and his family are the majority shareholders of Sydney FC. His concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest is well documented in the media. Sydney were to face New Zealand after their three point deduction and I guess they felt that after slaughtering them 4 - 0 earlier in the season Lowe and company were reasonably confident Sydney would win their match against New Zealand and firmly secure the second spot. Unfortunately New Zealand had other plans and inflicted a shock 1 - 0 defeat to Sydney at home. This marked the beginning of Sydney's slide from second spot to fourth. If Sydney did have a strong case against the FFA's ruling then they should have challenged that ruling. If Sydney are concerned about a conflict of interest because their majority shareholder is also the chairman of the FFA then Frank Lowe needs to either reduce his shareholding, exit the club altogether or quit the FFA. Sydney should not be in a position where they are confined in their actions because of the dealings of any of its staff or board members. Another problem that surfaced a few weeks away from the quarter finales was a number of key players were approaching the end of their contracts and some were out of contract. From what I read in a local Sydney newspaper that had spoken to some of the players the club kept all the players in the dark regarding their contract renewals. The reason given was that the club needed to wait until the end of the season to start making preparations for the champion’s league. This situation would have had a negative effect on the team mentality, there's nothing more distracting in a workplace than uncertainty regarding your employment status. I'm betting that some players (and maybe even the coach) began thinking of life post Sydney FC in order to hedge their bets, not the mindset you want for a team fighting to defend their title. The board should have kept their players informed of when contract negotiations would commence. Sydney are lucky they did not hemorrhage more players at the end of this season as a result of their poor management skills.
When one looks back at the season that was in the end Sydney FC were undone by a number of issues that all culminated into mission impossible. I don't think any team in the world would be able to win a championship faced with the same circumstances as Sydney FC. Butcher is no longer a talking point regarding the future of the club given he was shown the door with a gag clause in his payout settlement. So we will never know Butcher's side of the story. The players did show their mettle throughout the season and if Sydney FC can appoint a decent coach and the board can resolve their infighting then Sydney FC should be able to put in a credible performance in the 2007 - 2008 season otherwise things will get much worse.