Friday, September 8, 2006

Pundit laments Yorke departure but O'Neill's decision is the real killer blow

A-League.
They say bad luck comes in threes. And that's exactly the positive outlook Football Federation Australia needs to adopt following an unprecedented hat-trick of body blows in the developing game down under.

Late last month, its chief executive John O'Neill dropped a bombshell by announcing this season would be his last in charge of the game's administration. On the eve of the European transfer window slamming shut, champions Sydney FC then admitted they were preparing to sell the league's marquee signing Dwight Yorke to Roy Keane's Sunderland. Then, the final whammy arrived with Wednesday night's 2-0 Asian Cup qualifying defeat to lowly Kuwait.

"Just when we thought our week couldn't get any worse after John O'Neill quit ... it did," Fox Sports chief pundit Robbie Slater opined even before the Socceroos had slipped up in Kuwait City. "I couldn't believe Sydney FC would lose such a personality as Dwight Yorke. I feel like I've had a death in the family.

"Dwight was the face of the league and seeing him go after doing so much on and off the field is a letdown. He had a great impact on the field, being for me the standout player in the league as far as quality goes. He was also a great advertisement for our game.

"You can buy another player of immense quality but you cannot buy the whole package Dwight brought to Australia."

Slater's heartfelt comments have divided opinion in Australia, particularly angering the players other than Yorke which made the inaugural season such a barnstorming success. Socceroo Stan Lazaridis - one of those to have joined before season two after leaving Birmingham City - put the comments in perspective when asked whether the A-League could absorb the loss of Yorke. "Yeah, why not?" replied the veteran of over 300 appearances in England, including a handful alongside Yorke in Birmingham.

The majority of the Sydney faithful have been similarly optimistic particularly with reports firebrand striker Benni Carbone is heading to the harbour city on a short-term guest deal helping softening the blow. Most share Slater's view of losing Yorke's incalculable marketing impact but can only see positives in shifting the considerable financial burden associated.

Whether rhetoric or otherwise. Yorke made his feelings crystal clear before his departure. "I'm very emotional about it," he told Sydney tabloid The Sunday Telegraph. "I'm absolutely gutted to say the least. I'm devastated, just devastated. The least Sydney could have done, if they had shown any interest at all or wanted me to stay, was offer me another year but it never happened. I definitely would have stayed."

The decision of O'Neill not to renew his contract when it ends at the season's end had already seen the harbingers of doom crowing. In the minds of many, given a straight choice between keeping O'Neill or Yorke for another three years, Yorke would still be on the first plane to England.

There will always be a plethora of players able to fit the ex-Manchester United man's marquee mould. But O'Neill's straight-talking leadership style might not be as easy to match. While rumours regarding O'Neill's business relationship with FFA chairman Frank Lowy were being dreamt up by mischievous hacks, Australian sport's premier administrators were being intriguingly linked with the vacancy - a notable first for the sport.

The truth is O'Neill has achieved in three years what almost any other high-profile administrator might have ticked off in five. That's why he can afford himself the luxury of leaving earlier than even Lowy anticipated. The former Australian Rugby Union boss gets nothing but generous praise for his part in forming the fledgling league, the switch into Asia and reaching the World Cup finals.

Yorke's year in Australia was an absolute pleasure. But O'Neill's legacy will, with luck, last significantly longer.

A-League Summary

After just two rounds, Queensland and Melbourne have 100 per cent records while New Zealand (four points) stand third after registering their first-ever home win after more than a season. Malik Buari's goal of the season contender handed the Knights a deserved 1-0 victory over reigning premiers Adelaide last weekend. Neither Adelaide not the Central Coast Mariners have yet scored in the competition.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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