In a rarity for an A-League final, much of the cast are stars of tomorrow. The absence of six Australian internationals (three from City, three from Sydney) has opened the door for youth to shine on the biggest stage, and already plenty are showing promise.
Sydney FC defender Joel King was one of the best in the semi-final last week, while back-up goalkeeper Tom Heward-Belle is yet to put a foot wrong.
Without Maclaren, City will start young striker Marco Tilio. A former Sydney FC youth player, Tilio was the star of their semi-final win over Macarthur alongside teenager Stefan Colakovski. Fullback Nathaniel Atkinson has been one of the most consistent performers this season and is bound for the Tokyo Olympics with Australia’s under-23s.
If the careers of the youngsters reach the heights predicted, Sunday’s game could be remembered in five years time as the announcement of a host of Socceroos stars for the 2026 World Cup in North America.
3. Class coaches could be next to head overseas
In a fortnight where Ange Postecoglou was appointed Celtic coach and Kevin Muscat was offered the job at Yokohama F. Marinos, the two in the dugouts in the A-League grand final could be the next Australians in line for moves abroad.
Australian coaches are beginning to get the respect they deserve overseas and it may not be long before Sydney’s Steve Corica gets head-hunted by foreign clubs. He is in his third season as a head coach and, remarkably, is coaching his third grand final. He plays a quick, possession-based style of play that is eye-catching to say the least. His team is defensively strong and has conceded the least number of goals in the past two seasons. While he is in no rush to leave Sydney and has another year on his deal, he does hope to test himself overseas in the future.
“I do have ambitions to go abroad one day and coach, when the time is right,” he said. “I am really enjoying my time here and I am still learning here as well. I am sure one day I will go overseas and coach, but I am really happy at this club; we have a special bond here.”
A third successive title could lead to overseas clubs trying to tempt him away earlier than planned.
Similarly, Patrick Kisnorbo is a coach on the rise. His debut season has been superb, finishing top of the table and reaching the grand final. Enjoying the comforts afforded by the City Football Group, Kisnorbo has made a talent-rich squad ruthless. They are disciplined, resilient and clinical, mimicking their Manchester namesake in style.
CFG have shown their willingness to promote from within their organisation and, if Kisnorbo can continue on his promising path, it might not be long before he’s elevated to one of the group’s affiliates such as NAC Breda, Troyes, Yokohama or New York.
4. A-League’s best foreign import
While Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha may disagree, Milos Ninkovic makes a strong claim to being the best import in A-League history.
Sydney’s star playmaker was joint winner of the Johnny Warren Medal this week, earning the player of the year award for the second time in his six years in Australia and becoming one of six players to have won the award twice.
The Serbian international is simply a cut above the rest. With such a soft touch, he glides across the park seemingly effortlessly. He reads the play like few others, can unlock defences with his superb passing game and isn’t a bad finisher inside the penalty box either.
He looks to have overcome a calf strain and is set to feature on Sunday, where he could claim a fourth A-League winners medal.
5. The quality
For the past two seasons, Sydney FC and Melbourne City have been well ahead of the chasing pack. They’re the country’s two best teams and are playing attractive, clinical football. With wages cut across the league as the game battles through the pandemic, standards at most clubs suffered, particularly in defence. However, the competition’s two richest clubs have maintained their high pedigree.
They’re well coached, well-resourced and have squads littered with Socceroos, Australian youth internationals and foreigners who’ve played at the highest level, including Craig Noone, Adam Le Fondre (both former English Premier League), Bobo (Brazilian Serie A and UEFA Champions League), Adrian Luna (Copa Libertadores) and Ninkovic (UEFA Champions League and Ligue 1).
It makes Sunday’s final a fitting spectacle of two clubs seeking to better the quality of football in Australia.