Corica now stands on the cusp of even more history as the hunt for a third consecutive A-League championship begins on Saturday, as the Sky Blues opening the new campaign against Wellington Phoenix in Wollongong.
No team in the 43 years of domestic soccer in Australia has won three grand finals in a row. Only one has managed to put together a three-peat: Sydney City in 1980-82, two years before the National Soccer League introduced a finals series to crown its champion.
Granted, Corica has enjoyed a reasonably smooth ride. He was handed a gold-plated baton by his Arnold, and still uses broadly the same tactical approach as the Socceroos boss once did when he sat in the same chair.
But that’s less about his good fortune and more a statement on the sort of self-perpetuating winning culture that Sydney FC has built. And for that, Corica deserves enormous credit too – he’s been there since day one, after all, first as a player and now, 16 years later, as the club’s figurehead and coach. Call them Stability FC.
Corica has spoken previously about his desire to test himself overseas. Most coaches who have won what he’s won in the A-League would be starting to get itchy feet by now, but the good news for Sky Blues fans is that he’s still hungry for more.
“It’s been fantastic, the first two seasons for me. But it’s in the past,” Corica told the Herald. “I just put that in the back of my mind, and now it’s about concentrating on this season and doing it again. I’ve been very loyal to this club and the club’s been very loyal to me over the 16 years, but nothing changes for me.
“I’m still motivated to win every possible trophy. When I don’t have that, that’s the time to move on. But at the moment I still have that passion. There’s a lot more trophies I want to put in the cabinet before I leave this club.”
The Sky Blues enter this season in a unique position: they are defending the two most significant trophies in the domestic game, the A-League premiership and championship, but still feel like they have something to prove to themselves and the football world.
That’s because of their continued struggles in the AFC Champions League. The four matches they played in a hub in Qatar across November and early December should mean they’re more physically prepared than their A-League rivals for the new season, but their failure to progress out of their group is continuing to gnaw away at Corica, who is convinced they were more than good enough to go all the way and belong among Asia’s elite.
“If you look at the teams that went through, even to the final – Ulsan [Hyundai, the eventual ACL winners], we played them last year. We drew with them and probably should have beaten them,” Corica said. “I was very happy with the way we played but I really think we should have went through in that group if we took our chances. It’s not rocket science, you could see we were in every game.
“The boys believe that now – we’ve never been outplayed once, other than the Yokohama game, which was a long time ago. And we all agree, we’ve got to do better.”
With no word yet on when the 2021 ACL will be played – Sydney has qualified directly, while Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar have play-off berths – Corica and his men will have to wait to tick off the next item on their trophy bucket list and channel their frustrations on the A-League, which they’ve conquered repeatedly.
Their squad remains almost entirely unchanged, aside from the loss of star striker Adam Le Fondre and the addition of some newfound depth from their academy ranks.
Their style of play will be the same, too, although Corica is trying to introduce a more aggressive approach to pressing the opposition.
With so many other teams having lost key players during an off-season of great upheaval, it’s hard to mount a case against Sydney being there or thereabouts again come finals time.
Repetitive? A little. Boring? Maybe for the rest of the A-League but certainly not for the Sky Blues, who know no other way.
“It would be very special. No other club has done it in the A-League,” Corica said on the prospect of a three-peat. “It’s a very good challenge for us, but it’s business as normal.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.