It is one thing to be clever and another to be wise, as Brisbane Roar discovered on Friday night.
The Queensland battlers welcomed Western United to Suncorp Stadium and proceeded to dominate the stat sheet – Robbie Fowler’s side had 72 per cent of possession and won the territory battle almost two to one.
They maintained an 88 per cent passing accuracy statistic while completing 408 more attempts than their opponents.
They played 51 balls into the penalty area compared to United’s nine and had 20 shots to six.
Roar fought valiantly, Roar fought nobly, Roar fought honourably. And Roar lost 2-0.
Though coaches, players and pundits alike will often point to the impartial stat sheet and declare a team, despite a disappointing result, ‘dominated’ a fixture, such a distinction is meaningless unless put into proper context.
As France demonstrated at the 2018 World Cup, possession of the ball is not a required ingredient in success: Les Blues having only 34 per cent of the ball and being outshot 14 to seven as they defeated Croatia 4-2 in the final.
Despite having less of the ball, however, Didier Deschamps’ side made its moments count – putting in six shots on target to Hrvatska’s four and leveraging set pieces to become champions.
For all its possession and shots on Friday, Roar could only manage to put a single effort on target compared to United’s three, indicating that, for all the dominance on the stat sheet, Roar was unable to create clear chances in the face of United’s first-half goals.
“I thought we were smoking cigars in the second half, to be honest with you,” Western United coach Mark Rudan said after the game.
“The last two games we’ve controlled the opposition without the ball, and I believe it’s a fine art being able to play without the ball.”
Losses … meh!
Though much of the reaction post-game centred on the blow-up between himself and Roar CEO David Pourre and Rudan, the loss to United normally would place further pressure on Roar coach Robbie Fowler.
The first-year Roar boss’ side sits second bottom on the A-League table at the end of 10 games with just a single game remaining in 2019.
Nonetheless, as pointed out by Western Sydney Wanderers gaffer Markus Babbel, the nature of the A-League means that coaches don’t operate with the same concerns as others around the world.
“The worst scenario [in the A-League] is you finish last and start next year again,” Babbel said after his side lost 2-0 to Perth Glory on Saturday and made it five defeats in a row.
Without the spectre of relegation and over half the league playing finals, the tenure of coaches in the A-League can depend just as much, if not more, on internal club metrics, perceptions and narratives than the football.
And this means that, despite their poor form, Fowler and Babbel’s positions are likely more secure than Melbourne Victory head coach Marco Kurz, whose side was disappointing in a 0-0 draw at home to Wellington Phoenix on Saturday.
Like Sydney FC, Victory is an entity that perceives itself as being perennial A-League heavyweights – a club that should be competing for premierships and championships year in and year out.
However unlike Sydney FC, which jagged a 1-0 win over Central Coast to remain top of the table, Victory has struggled mightily in 2019-20.
A loss in the pre-Christmas Derby against Melbourne City, which thumped Newcastle Jets 4-0 on Sunday, would deal a further blow to Victory’s prestige. And with a bye the week after, possibly leave it bottom of the league on January 1.
If one was removing a coach, doing so heading into a bye week and with an imminent transfer window would be prime timing.
December 21, therefore, could be Kurz’s D-Day.
The W-League’s pecking order
The W-League season is now just over a month old and a natural food chain is beginning to take shape.
Widely tipped at the beginning of the season to challenge for the title, Melbourne City, Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers occupy the top three positions on the table and appear highly likely to play finals football.
City defeated Victory 1-0 and Sydney downed Newcastle Jets 2-0 while Wanderers had a bye.
Brisbane Roar defeated Adelaide 3-2 and Canberra United drew with Perth Glory 1-1 in other games.
Roar, with the likes of Katrina Gorry, Carson Pickett, Clare Polkinghorne, Hayley Raso and Tameka Yallop on hand, would appear to have the most well-credentialled squad to crash the top three’s party – with the history of the Dub showing that nothing should be taken for granted.
Coaches, Asia is calling
Fresh from serving as an assistant for Ange Postecoglou’s J-League winning season at Yokohama F. Marinos, Peter Cklamovski has joined rivals Shimizu S-Pulse as its new gaffer.
The 41-year-old has never been a coach in Australia aside from a very short stint in charge of the national U17s, but now has a gig in the best leagues in Asia.
With the risk-averse nature of A-League hires and Postecoglou’s success opening doors, it may be a sign of things to come.
Asia may be calling for Australian coaches.