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Graham Arnold’s Sydney FC could usurp Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar as A-League’s greatest ever

Are Sydney FC that good, or is the rest of the A-League that bad?

Amazingly – but not surprisingly – you could probably split a poll right down the middle. Such is the lot of football in this country. A game with a deep undercurrent of vulnerability, one that struggles to acknowledge, or celebrate, success. The half empty approach.

So ahead of the third derby of the season, I’ll say it. Loud, and clear. The Sky Blues may not yet be the best team in A-League history – that tag still belongs to Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar – but by grand final day they could well be knocking at the door. What they are is the best-ever Sydney FC team, although they still need to win the championship to confirm it.

The stats tell something of the story. After 19 rounds they’re unbeaten, having conceded the fewest-ever goals, and accumulated the most-ever points. That’s impressive by any measure. What’s more telling, though, is that they’re getting better. All season, Graham Arnold reckons his players have been playing at around 60 per cent of their potential. In the last few weeks they’ve started to eat away at the remaining 40 per cent.

Case in point? The goal scored by Bobo in the last match against Wellington Phoenix – a triumph of energy, movement, ball speed, skill and intuition. Fitness has always been a foundation of Arnold’s teams. Now we’re seeing a level of finesse – dare we say adventure – which indicates the coach is a man of his word.

After last season’s disaster, Arnold maintained he would be expanding his philosophy, and his tactics, to give his creative players more of an incentive. Structure will always be important to Arnold, but finally on the whiteboard there’s room to move.

Andrew Hoole – in the form of his life back at the Jets – recently suggested that he felt suffocated by the tactical straitjacket imposed on him at the Sky Blues last season. It’s a revealing insight, regardless of whether you believe Hoole is right or wrong.

You don’t hear the same noises emanating from the dressing room these days. What you see is a group of players – many seasoned internationals – who are loving turning up for work.

After initially struggling to cope with the size and scope of the job at Moore Park, Arnold is now embracing every aspect of it. He gets it that Sydney FC need to win and entertain. So with the minor premiership effectively in the bag – and the heat off – my sense is that between now and grand final day we’ll see the new gameplan in full bloom.

Whether Sydney FC achieve their goal of becoming the first A-League team to go through a season unbeaten is less significant than the benchmark of their performance. The next three fixtures against Western Sydney, Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory will tell us just how big the gap is. The form guide indicates it won’t be bridged, and the Premier’s Plate will be inscribed in record time.

For long-time Sydney FC supporters, the mood has rarely been more upbeat. If you’re wondering why the Sky Blues perennially struggle at the gate, it’s because their fan base is virtually impossible to please. But they’re liking what they’re seeing now, more than ever before. They’re also beginning to appreciate the value of their coach. All that’s left is to start voting with their feet.

If Arnold does win the title, he’ll become the club’s first homegrown coach to do it. Sydney FC’s previous championships have come under Pierre Littbarksi and Vitezslav Lavicka, a German and a Czech. In my view they’ve been given a lot more credit than they deserve. But that’s the Eurosnobs for you. And Sydney FC have plenty of them.

The Sky Blues have their best-ever team, under their best-ever coach. Don’t believe me? Consider their two previous title-winning teams.

In 2006, this was the side that walked out for the grand final – Clint Bolton, Andrew Packer, Jacob Timpano, Mark Rudan, Alvin Ceccoli, Matthew Bingley, Terry McFlynn, Dwight Yorke, David Carney, Sasho Petrovski and Steve Corica.

In 2010 it was Bolton, Sebastian Ryall, Stephan Keller, Simon Colosimo, Sung Byun-hwan, Karol Kisel, Stuart Musialik, McFlynn, Alex Brosque, Chris Payne and Mark Bridge.

The 2006 side was very good, a pedestrian 2010 side produced a miracle. But neither side had the quality, flair, tactical flexibility or depth of the current version. Let’s not forget Yorke spent much of his season here playing as a central midfielder. In the current side, the outrageously gifted Milos Ninkovic isn’t even a marquee.

Littbarksi and Lavicka were good men, but great coaches? Please. It’s taken 12 long seasons for Sydney FC to find the right mix.

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