Sunday, 24 March 2019

Anatomy of a Cult Hero: Matt Simon

During the Graham Arnold era at Sydney FC, the club saw many brilliant players come in. From developing talents like Rhyan Grant, Matt Jurman, and Alex Gersbach, to international talent like Adrian Mierzejewski, Milos Ninkovic, and Marc Janko.

However, in a salary-capped league you need the rotation players. The bench options, injury replacements, and maybe a few clonkers. A-League backup players are of varying quality and varying levels of professionalism about their role in the team.

Once in a while, you get someone who embraces their role in the team as a backup player. For Sydney FC in the Arnold years, that was striker Matt Simon.

Synonymous with the A-League itself, Simon has been one of the greats as much as many wouldn't want to admit it. The forward has scored 50 goals in the A-League (as of time of writing), and played over 200 matches.

It's often forgotten how brilliant the young Matt Simon was in his first spell at Central Coast Mariners. A pacy, dynamic, and resilient striker, who played with his heart on his sleeve. I'd admired him for a long time from a far, and still do, for his work rate and his love of the game.

Matt Simon (then 29) was signed by Sydney FC in August 2015 after being released by the Mariners. Simon was incredibly thankful for Sydney's offer to reunite with former manager Arnold. At the time, Sydney manager Graham Arnold said:

"Matt is quality player and has exceptional personal attributes as well, he gives us something completely different to what we already have up front."  

What few would have probably predicted when he signed, was how vital he ended up being to the Graham Arnold system. The 188cm tall striker became a fixture of the Sydney FC bench throughout 2016/17, and 2017/18. Need to push on for an equaliser? Get Simon on. Need to defend a lead? Get Simon on. Best bit? He seemed to absolutely love his role.

His absolute dedication to the cause whenever called upon speaks levels of his professionalism and respect. Many players probably wouldn't settle for being a benchwarmer getting 10 minutes every week. Not Matty. There was always some cheers around the ground when "The Wizard of Woy Woy" was being prepped to come on. You knew he would give his absolute all, and would follow Graham Arnold's instructions to a tee.

His finest moments mostly came off the bench,

Who could forget his first goals for the club? Round 4 of 2015/16 saw Sydney in a predicament. Locked at 1-1 against his former club Central Coast Mariners in Gosford, with less than 10 minutes to go he's called onto the pitch. Filip Holosko breaks free down on the right flank, with Matty ahead of him. The Slovakian squares it up for Matt Simon, who takes a touch, then curls his effort into the top corner in the 82nd minute.

Minutes later, this time it is Senegalese defensive midfielder Mickael Tavares breaking free on the right wing. He whips in an early cross after spotting the big beam pole Matt Simon heading into the box. Simon then delivers one of the best headed goals you'll see to seal a 3-1 for the Sky Blues up on the coast.

Sometimes however, he was just instrumental in changing the game without scoring. In the 2017 FFA Cup Final between Sydney FC and Adelaide United, the choice to sub Matt Simon on for captain Alex Brosque was what changed it. With scores locked at 1-1 in extra time, Simon goes chasing after a long clearance from goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, before being pulled down by a defender in the first third of Sydney's attacking half. He had the ability to win fouls out of his nuisance factor. Opposition defenders looked scared marking him, because you never knew if you'd cop a stray elbow or be completely skinned by his pace.

What happened from that ensuing free-kick? Adrian Mierzejewski delivers a ball into the box which Bobo heads home to win Sydney their first ever FFA Cup.

If I was to pick a Matt Simon moment to best summarise him as a player, it'd have to be his winner up on the Central Coast, in Round 24 of 2017/18. Sydney had been 1-0 up for about 60 minutes and looked incredibly comfortable on the ball, until copping an equaliser in the 80th minute from Mariners' Jake McGing. Arnold subsequently subs Matt Simon on to try and push for a winner.

In the 93rd minute of extra time, a deflected cross from Paulo Retre found its way invitingly for Matt Simon at the far post for a truly heroic diving header goal to win it. He went for the ball like there was no tomorrow, with risk of likely hitting his head up against the goal post at full diving speed.

He put his body on the line everywhere. But nothing can better summarise him than that. How many players would have even tried to go for it? Many would have called it a lost cause after the ball had been deflected.

Stuff like this turns a player from "just a player wearing the kit" to a cult hero. Someone who you'll remember for years to come and always remember the best moments of. As a supporter, seeing a player like Simon push himself to be the difference endears them to you so much. As the famous quote from Arsenal great Tony Adams goes: Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and they'll remember the name on the back.

Having met Matt Simon several times I was also impressed by what a really friendly bloke he was. He was incredibly humble about himself, and has made a big impact on me personally. He knows he might not be a Milos Ninkovic or a Besart Berisha in talent levels, but he'll bloody well make himself known on the pitch.

His impact on his team mates too is telling. Alex Brosque said he was inspired by Simon to play on for 2018/19 after seeing the enthusiasm and love for the game the Woy Woy local had.

Photo by @jamcas50

His respect for fans is truly top notch, and I haven't seen many players as good as him with interacting with supporters after matches. Been many a story about Simmo being late to leave games due to staying behind to chat to supporters and take photos.

After 2017/18, Matt Simon returned to Central Coast Mariners for a third stint, this time as their captain. After scoring against Sydney in front of the Cove in Gosford, he didn't celebrate and paid his respects to the supporters. A month later in the return fixture, Matt Simon got a standing ovation from Sydney supporters as he was subbed off. I really can't think of many players who have had a return that good.

In truth, Sydney have been sorely missing someone like him this season. Someone who can really push off the bench when you need to change the game, and inject some passion into the match.

If you haven't been able to tell by this yarn, I'm a big fan of the man. I think he's truly one of the most interesting and hell, even inspiring players around. Sometimes passion and love for the game beats flavour of the week mediocre A-League talent.

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Thank you for reading this, and I hope you've enjoyed this look into the Albino Messiah. I plan on making more in this series of "Anatomy of a Cult Hero" as time goes on.

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin. 

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Case of Joshua Brillante

Over the last few months there has been whispers of Sydney FC central midfielder Joshua Brillante leaving the club in hopes of an overseas offer. He'd been receiving interest ever since he joined Sydney on a three year deal in 2016, with his strong performances in 2016/17 getting the attention of a Polish club, as well as a Belgian club. He was brilliant in that double winning season, and made such a dynamic duo with Brandon O'Neill.

His form the following season was a roller coaster. From October until December he was an absolute rock in the middle of the park, and then his form just fell off from there. He wasn't the player he once was.

2018/19 has been an unforgiving season for the Bundaberg born midfielder. A mixture of being found out by opposition and inability to learn from mistakes. He's a great player to have to break up the ball, but on the ball he's an accident waiting to happen. He's been at fault for several goals this season with clumsy turnovers and I definitely felt he had been a hindrance to the team's performances.

Over the last month I had received word from several overseas contacts that Brillante had been eyeing a move out. He rejected multiple contract offers from the club after learning of potential interest in Korea. Suwon, Jeonbuk, and Pohang Steelers were the clubs interested in Brillante.

Wednesday saw Brillante completely dropped by Corica after (allegedly) meeting with representatives of clubs whilst in Japan for the Asian Champions League game. Taking himself away from the camp is fairly unprofessional in my opinion, and shows a lack of class and respect for his current club and teammates.

Josh Brillante has also been dropped entirely for Sunday's home game against Melbourne City, and I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see him in a Sky Blue shirt again. I've had someone reliable tell me he's definitely signed with a Korean club and is jetting off to complete the deal.

What does this mean for Sydney FC though?

Well it's definitely a loss. Brillante had been a rock in his first two seasons with the club. The lad was so good he won himself Socceroos call-ups off the back of his Sydney performances. When he was in form, he was very hard to play against. His combination with O'Neill is one of the strongest duos I've seen in the A-League and it was great to watch them play together. I've definitely had my overall opinion of Brillante soured after this whole ordeal. I can deal with players having bad form but not focusing on your team and club during an important continental trip is very unprofessional.

However, this can also be seen as a positive. A new start and a chance to buff up a position causing us some issues. The two obvious replacements are Paulo Retre and Anthony Caceres. I'd personally go with Retre as he has shown himself to be a top professional, highly flexible, and has a lot more pace which the side has been lacking.

Anthony Caceres (on loan from Manchester City) has been played way out of position at right midfield, but is very capable at central midfield. I think he's a perfectly solid player but in his current position doesn't really offer much. In his past games for us at central midfield however, he has looked much more comfortable and fairly clean.

Long term, I think this is really good news for Chris Zuvela. Whilst still on the recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, he has shown great promise in his appearances and a good option to take the club forward. I think Zuvela's calmness on the ball, ability to play the killer pass, and get stuck in means he's a great replacement.

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Brillante made 94 appearances for the club, scoring 3 goals, winning 4 trophies, and getting into the Team of the Season twice. His contributions to the club's successes cannot be forgotten and he put his all in for the club. I respect his ability and his desire to play overseas but I think personally a move to Korea will only see him return to Australia in 6 months time.

Korea has been harsh to Australian footballers in the past. Only Sasa Ognenovski has great tales of success, whilst many fail to rack up appearances and get frozen out by their clubs. Brillante hasn't been playing well enough this season to even arguably start for Sydney FC, I can't see him doing the job in Korea in honesty.

The manner of which he's leaving the club is very disappointing. I think Danny Vukovic's departure after 2016/17 showed true class and respect for the club, and acknowledgement of the fans. This however, feels a bit like a slap in the face.

Thank you Brillante for your contribution, and best of luck in your future.

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Thank you for reading this. Please consider supporting me on ko-fi if you like what I produce. Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

MATCH REVIEW: Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 Sydney FC (Asian Champions League)

Sydney FC were unable to break their Japanese hoodoo against Kawasaki Frontale, falling to a late 1-0 loss.

It was a backs-to-the-wall job for the away side, with Kawasaki enjoying the majority of possession throughout both halves.

After a flurry of terrific saves from Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne, Kawasaki were able to nick the three points late on when the Australian side struggled to clear a ball.

But what did we learn from tonight's game?

1) What does Caceres add?

I really am at a loss as to why Anthony Caceres is our starting right midfielder. He doesn't add anything to the side and takes chances away from far more exciting and useful players like Luke Ivanovic and Cameron Devlin. He's been a passenger in the opening two Asian Champions League matches. 

2) Waste of talent

Steve Corica's insistence on his 4-4-2 system continues to cause frustrations for supporters. When your two best players aren't being utilised properly it completely nullifies their ability. Milos Ninkovic is not a left midfielder, and he won a Johnny Warren Medal playing as a central attacking midfielder. Adam le Fondre continues to make great runs but the ball never finds him. A lot of hoof and hope balls over the top which don't really favour the Englishman's style. 

3) Tactically what?

Kawasaki are a side that likes to pass the ball around with pace, take their time on the ball, and pass it out from the back. Naturally when you're playing away in continental football, you try a counter attacking game plan. But Corica just didn't choose an XI capable of doing anything on the counter. Caceres takes too many touches, Ninkovic isn't exactly lightning fast, so no chances arise from the counter. Once Sydney copped that 82nd minute goal, they played a bit faster but didn't do much. Corica used just two substitutes in the 90 (Reza and Ivanovic on) and didn't force the issue. 

4) Will we ever score?

It's now been over four and a half hours since Sydney last scored in the Asian Champions League. Honestly, it's hard to see where the goals will come from. We just don't have any pace on our wings in a 4-4-2. It forces the two strikers to go too wide and meaning there's no one in the middle. I can't see any reason to not just try a 4-2-3-1 against Melbourne City on the weekend with Ivanovic and Retre on the wings. We're just void of pace. 

5) When Sunday Comes

Sydney's next match on Sunday against Melbourne City will be a tough match after the travels back from Japan. I imagine we'll see a decent amount of rotation against the Victorians, my hope is that with rotation Corica may just see the light regarding certain positions on the pitch and viable replacements. 

Full player ratings

A frustrating loss to take against the reigning J.League champions, but there's still four matches left for the lads to turn it around. The strong performance from keeper Andrew Redmayne is promising - he's been immense for us. 

Final score: Kawasaki Frontale (1) def. Sydney FC (0)
MOTM: Andrew Redmayne

Follow me on twitter at @jamie_dunkin.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

MATCH REVIEW: Sydney FC 0-0 Ulsan Hyundai (Asian Champions League)

On an incredibly windy Wednesday night in Kogarah, Sydney took a point from their opening Champions League game. 

The match was fairly open and quite clean overall, and Ulsan didn't really give Sydney too much to fret over. Sydney definitely should have been able to nick all three points, but it just didn't all click.

Full time, it finished 0-0. But what did we learn?

1) Same old issues

Sydney again faced the same issues as they have for most of this season - slow on the ball, indecisive offensively, and prone to dumb turnovers. For a side with an attacking duo of Adam le Fondre and Reza Ghoochannejhad, you'd expect them to be used far more. Both of them made runs that went completely unnoticed and unused, some of which could have changed the game.

2) Defensively fine?

The back four all did their job well, and denied Ulsan from any clear goal scoring opportunities. Wilkinson and Warland both looked very comfortable on the ball, and won almost every challenge they went in for. Without a doubt, they are our best central defensive combo. 


The wind had such a major effect on the quality of football played, and I can't remember a windier match I've been to in a professional game. Every goal kick from the Ulsan goalkeeper went either straight into the touch, or dawdled in the air. Sydney's best effort on goal was an in-swinging corner from Brandon O'Neill. 

4) Asia's Finest

I don't ever think I'll get the apathy towards the Asian Champions League from supporters. In a league with just 10 teams, and 27 rounds we always complain about it being stale - yet when we get Champions League football with clubs from all over Asia we just don't care? To me there is nothing better than being able to watch continental football against clubs from places I'd love to visit. But hey, that's just me. 

Full player ratings

Whilst a bit frustrating to only walk away with a point, it's a hell of a lot better than how we started last year. I expected a 엉덩이 떨기 from this match and we got a solid performance in a 0-0. The trip to Japan next week against Kawasaki Frontale could be a ロバブラスト but should Sydney remain defensively well organised they could sneak a point. 

Final score: Sydney FC 0-0 Ulsan Hyundai
MOTM: Rhyan Grant

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Friday, 1 March 2019

MATCH REVIEW: Sydney FC 2-0 Adelaide United (A-League)

First goals for Reza Ghoochannejhad and Cameron Devlin see Sydney get the win at Leichhardt Oval against Adelaide.

Sydney started fairly well, with some nice attacking play and a clear directive to try and get the ball into the box using pace. Reza Ghoochannejhad opened the scoring following some superb play between himself, Anthony Caceres, Rhyan Grant, and Adam le Fondre. The Iranian nailed his finish and it was a big monkey off the back following some missed chances over the weeks.

Adelaide nearly equalised as the death of the first half, with George Blackwood's elegant chip being headed off the line by Alex Wilkinson to preserve the lead.

Adelaide tried hard to fashion chances and get into positions to score, but ultimately they lacked any sort of striker. Goodwin got on the ball often enough but failed to really live up to his previous exploits against Sydney.

With about a minute to go of stoppage time, Brandon O'Neill found himself leading the counter attack with Ivanovic to the left of him, Devlin to the right - choosing the latter option for the pass - to see Cameron Devlin score his first A-League goal with a clinical finish. All 3 points sealed for the Sky Blues at Leichhardt.

But what did we learn from tonight?

1) Strong finish

While the substitutions were a tad too late for my liking, I thought they very very clearly turned the tide against Adelaide and meant we could hold out. The Reds not being quite sure how to handle players like Ivanovic and Devlin causes them to think twice every time one of them gets on the ball. Luke Ivanovic is a very exciting player to watch, he really goes for everything and I'd love to see him start more matches - especially with how just sort of just okay Anthony Caceres has been. Cameron Devlin was smart in his cameo, some clever use of the ball and won several fouls - before scoring the goal to seal the match. A great finish from the youngster and it's great seeing our academy players get some time.

2) Hospital balls

Watching Sydney is really odd. They look like they could be winning matches by quite a few if they played the ball faster, and were just a bit more turned on in general. Nearly every attacking move started or ended with the ball finding its way back to Wilkinson or Warland. Often too Rhyan Grant had acres of room out wide but they just never played it to him. Instead, they opted for a hospital ball in a triangle of players. 

3) Clean sheets 

That was Sydney's sixth clean sheet of the season - mighty impressive considering there have been 4 different versions of our centre back duo, and with our right-back spot being occupied by 3 different players. Importantly, it seems Redmayne has really gotten into a rhythm of late. He is clearly more vocal and much better organisationally than he was 2 years back. His improvement has been brilliant to see. 

4) Under Pressure

With that win, there is now just a 5 point gap to the top of the table. Whilst I personally cannot see us actually winning the Premier's Plate this year, it still keeps pressure on Perth to continue performing. With a game against Melbourne City who are so dull and joyless they might just fall to the level of their opposition and drop some points. As for us, we still have two big games left in our calendar - Victory at home, and Glory at home. 

5) Asia, be afraid?

Alright let me be clear: We aren't brilliant or silky or as dynamic as previous years BUT we are grinding out results and have some firepower on the bench. If we set up similar to tonight against Ulsan and cut out the dumb mistakes, and finish those chances I really think we could get the points. Reza as a player is so clearly a step above this league and I reckon he'll be our ticket to any success in Asia. 

Full player ratings

I thought getting 11,000 in attendance on a Friday night was really quite good, and there was a great atmosphere to the place. Leichhardt Oval as a place to watch football really is pretty great. Back to Kogarah however for Wednesday night against Ulsan Hyundai in our opening Champions League match. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on my ko-fi page. Every donation has been such a big help to me and I can't stress enough how much it means to me to have people reading my stuff. 

Final score: Sydney FC (2). def. Adelaide United (0)
MOTM: Brandon O'Neill

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