Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yorke wobbles but stays with Sydney

The aftermath of Sydney FC's grand final victory almost saw the game's leading light Dwight Yorke packs his bags and leave for good - only for clear-the-air talks with Sydney officials to reveal a breakdown in communication between the club and its major asset.

In a week of turmoil for local supporters and A-League management alike, the realisation of Sydney's 1-0 victory over the Central Coast Mariners in the league's showpiece decider was only just sinking in as the news of Yorke's anticipated departure broke. It was not the news Sydney fans had wanted to hear.

On and off the field, Yorke had succeeded in captivating the previously unconvinced Australian sporting media during a stellar season down under. The former Manchester United striker capped off a memorable campaign with a sparkling second-half cameo in the grand final against the Mariners when his patience and precision set up Steve Corica for the game's only goal. Despite a sluggish opening to proceedings, Yorke was awarded the Joe Marston Medal for his man-of-the-match contribution and as captain became the first player to get his hands on the A-League champions trophy.

Officials from the game's governing body Football Federation Australia could barely suppress their smiles. It would foolhardy to think A-League founders such as chief executive John O'Neill would want anything other than the country's most high-profile club and its golden boy scooping the major awards. For the good of the sport's short-term future, it was the right result.

For the second time this season, football dominated the sports pages of the dailies. Dwight Sets Sydney Alight the Sydney Morning Herald reported while Melbourne's The Age preferred Sydney and Yorke Show Their Class.

Then, from nowhere, calamity almost struck. Four days after the grand final, a clearly emotional Yorke spilled the nature of his behind-the-scenes discussions with the new champions to Fox Sports show Total Football.

"I've signed a two-year contract and as far as I know I'm obliged to my contractual agreement," the 35-year-old started. "But there are so many rumours flying around, so I'm going to tell you straight as it is. Three weeks ago, two weeks ago, someone from behind the scenes contacted my agent and told him I can go next season. Someone very influential in the club. So I don't know where all the other things have come out about how I was the one who instigated things.

"A lot of people out there are thinking I'm going to leave Sydney. I'm only going to leave Sydney if Sydney FC wants me to go. The people here have been wonderful, the supporters have been great, working with [assistant coach Ian Crook] Crooky and the gaffer, [Pierre] Littbarski, they've been magnificent. I mean, I have a lease on the apartment I'm in for two years. Everything is in place for the two years.

"I'm disappointed, of course I am. Here I am, doing everything I possibly can for Sydney, to have football have the place it belongs in Australia. I thought I'd come here and do the right thing, promote the league in the right way. And here I am, being told through my agent, that I can leave … for me, that's a huge disappointment. I've been told, for whatever reason, and it's not for me to say, that I can leave. That was the last thing I expected."

Sydney management acted quickly to quash the idea they were trying to force Yorke out the door. It was claimed a miscommunication between the club and Yorke's British-based agent caused the confusion. Sydney were happy for Yorke to leave if such a decision would allow the striker the correct preparation for June's World Cup where Yorke will captain Trinidad and Tobago. The club always wanted him to return after the finals to start training ahead of season two, they insisted.

But others are less certain. Some have suggested Yorke's mammoth salary - reported as anything between AUD$900,000 and $1.5m per year - is overburdening the fledgling club with debt. Others believe Yorke engineered the whole scenario to force the club into showing their hand. Who could blame the player who left the UK under a cloud after gloomy spells with Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City making certain of his immediate future.

But whatever the nature of the misunderstanding, it seems Sydney FC's marquee signing will be flying the football flag down under for another 12 months at least. Now, perhaps, the FFA can breathe a sigh of relief.

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