Sideburns fade and fall

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By Max Grieve

It’s as hard for me to tell you this as it is for you to read it, but it wouldn’t be right for me to keep it from you until you’re older, harder, and have a greater control over your urge to take out your anger on government buildings and public art. Alessandro Del Piero isn’t entirely happy. I’m sorry to have taken an axe to your satisfaction with life.

It’s not complicated. Simply, Sydney FC aren’t very good, and Del Piero is. The Italian is cutting an increasingly frustrated figure – he could be playing for a poor team in Qatar and making millions more. The A-League is curiously competitive, and has already seen seen four different championship winners in its eight-year history, though the success of the major cities, Melbourne and Sydney, is vital to the greater success of the league – even more so now, given the international coverage that Australian football has been receiving since Del Piero’s arrival. While he has been one of the most watchable players in the league this season, Sydney are diving to new depths of mediocrity.

"Put a sh*t hanging from a stick in the middle of the stadium," said then-Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano in 2007 of Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool, "and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art. It’s not: it’s a sh*t hanging from a stick." There are no such delusions as to what Sydney FC are presenting to the league and the watching millions.

Australian football cannot have hoped for more from Del Piero, but there is a very real sense that the sport could be getting more out of the opportunity it has been given. Having taken on Del Piero, Sydney must also contend with the immense expectations of both their fans and the Italian. He is used to winning, and must have wanted more from one of the A-League’s ‘bigger’ clubs – should Sydney’s current form continue, one would imagine that he’d be reluctant to sign on for an optional third year at the end of his current contract. What were record crowds, driven by enthusiasm for the new arrival and optimism for the coming season, have thinned considerably in recent weeks. The team may revolve around Del Piero but the team can’t keep up, and as exceptional as that one individual is, it makes for a poor spectacle in all. 

Before you fetch your sledgehammers and start wildly bludgeoning buildings in a Del Piero unhappiness-fuelled rage, I should probably mention that it’s not all bad – just some of it. Sydney are only 13 points from the top of the table, and four from the finals, or playoff, places; benefitting from a competition as ruthless as and less blatantly rigged than the Nigerian Premier League. They have a new manager in ex-Socceroos coach Frank Farina, and if you squint your eyes, you might even make out signs of improvement in the team’s collective attitude. Del Piero appears to have a genuine appreciation for Australia; its people, its culture, and its approach to sport. If only Sydney started winning, we could all go into the Apocalypse later in the month happy, knowing that the world has done all it can do to keep Alessandro Del Piero’s sideburns content, and firmly rooted to the side of his head.

I can’t really claim to have a solution for Sydney’s woes. I don’t write about tactics, and don’t understand those mysterious patterns that see a football into a goal – and nobody wants to read how I’d fix something that I have no control over anyway. Stability, greater fight and a better approach to strategy should do it, but then that only seems obvious.

It’s lazy, easy and often a great source of amusement to the writer to dispense brutal criticism without regard for the other side, but I prefer to be reasonable, within reasonable reason. Simply, things should get better. Put away your weapons, and go back to sleep. It’ll be all right.

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