Melbourne Victory’s Daniel Georgievski pulled no punches when asked to describe the playing surface at Allianz Stadium ahead of Sunday’s A-League grand final, dubbing it “dreadful”.
The poor condition of the pitch overshadowed Sydney FC’s semi-final win over Perth Glory on Saturday, with players regularly losing their footing – and worse is to come this weekend when the venue hosts the league’s showpiece occasion.
Unbelievably, less than 24 hours before Victory play Sydney in the A-League decider, a Super Rugby match between the Waratahs and the Blues will be contested on the same pitch.
On a playing surface that is already bad, it is asking for trouble, and it poses the question: how is it possible that a marquee occasion in Australian sport will be marred by a sub-par pitch?
Talks – albeit hastily planned ones – between the Waratahs, the SCG Trust, the NSW government and Football Federation Australia on Tuesday discussed the possibility of moving the rugby match to North Sydney Oval, but it was deemed too hard at such a late stage.
“These things are always more complicated than perhaps first envisaged,” FFA CEO David Gallop said.
“The fact is our grand final deserves a world-class surface and the traffic on Allianz Stadium makes this a challenge.”
The implication that the Waratahs match could have been shifted if discussed earlier left football fans scratching their heads – how did this only become an issue on Monday?
Gallop admitted the pitch had a “noticeably detrimental effect” on Saturday’s match and it is hard to envisage it being any better after 130-kilo forwards contest countless scrums on it this weekend.
It is a blow to the A-League, which deserves an excellent pitch ahead of what should be an enthralling match between the two heavyweights of the competition, the ruthless and excellent Sydney FC and the well-supported Melbourne Victory.
Former Socceroos star Ned Zelic says the standard of the game will suffer due to the pitch fiasco.
“It [the pitch] makes a big difference, especially to the most skilful players,” he told The New Daily.
“(Glory’s Diego) Castro was a good example last week. You look at his performance on a lush surface at AAMI Park (against Melbourne City) the week before and then last week (against Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium).
“He was trying, but it’s just so much more difficult.
“You usually don’t think about the pitch when you’re playing, everything’s just automatic.”
While both teams will have to contend with the same conditions, Zelic believes it’s another home-ground factor favouring the dominant Sydney, who have lost just once all season.
“I reckon Sydney probably would have adapted to the pitch we have at the moment, because they’ve played on it a few times when it’s been poor,” he said.
“It’s still a challenge for players like (newly minted Johnny Warren Medal winner Milos) Ninkovic and Brandon O’Neill, who’s someone who likes to get on the ball.”
So how does the prospect of a poor surface affect the way the players prepare, particularly considering that Victory won’t be able to have a run on the ground the day before the big match due to the Super Rugby?
“It really is a mental challenge,” Zelic says.
“That’s the biggest test for players, to not think about it too much, but it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re used to playing on a good pitch and all of a sudden you’re confronted with something else.”
Victory star Marco Rojas admitted to AAP on Tuesday the pitch was “a little bit of a worry”.
For football officials, it should be far more than that. A grand final deserves better.