Sydney's a media city - Melbourne's a banking city.

by Sebastian Hassett on Dec 15, 2011

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Gary Cole walked into Tuesday's press conference at the Sydney Football Stadium with his stomach in knots. A Melburnian to the bone, here he was sporting a light blue tie and sharing jokes about an unspoken love for the harbour city.

Was he nervous? We didn't need to wonder about that. He told the six or seven journalists present that he felt like a player signing up for a new club. He said he was excited to have a new opportunity; one feels he was more relieved just to be employed again. There is nothing more painful in football than being yesterday's man.

Cole's shed 20 kilograms since you saw him last. The sagging cheeks have given way to somebody who looks - and sounds - invigorated by eight months away from the game. Hopefully it's more than a facade.

He declared himself "an elite player, an elite coach and an elite administrator", which some may judge as overt self-praise, but it is all true. Cole knows what he is all right. His resume sparkles with success. So why isn't he still at Melbourne Victory?

Here's where it turns a bit sour. Gary Cole's double act with coach Ernie Merrick was bullet-proof, and they believed they could build a bullet-proof club. For a few years, they did. But over time, it frayed at the edges. In something of a first, results weren't enough to save Merrick or Cole.

A school teacher by trade, Cole doesn't mind handing out a lecture. Some dubbed him the unofficial spokesman of the "Victory Suits" - a phrase coined by the press pack for the small army of staff the Victory would bring with them, especially to press conferences. Subtle intimidation was all part of the club ethos, of being the biggest and the best. In other words: don't **** with us.

He effectively moulded Melbourne Victory into being the city's 10th AFL club; press opportunities were strictly controlled. A comment on an impending transfer? Don't let the door hit you on the way out. The press, and the fans, were irritants on the path to stability, which Victory read as the path to glory. AFL clubs have an almost identical approach. It's a Victorian thing.

But that is in the past, and maybe, at the time, such a fierce resistance to outsiders helped generate the siege mentality that took Melbourne to two premierships and almost a third. Players revelled in believing they were taking on the world each week. It worked, but then grew old, just as Kevin Muscat did, and Melbourne slipped off the pace.

Cole has a huge chance to re-invent himself at Sydney. This is his challenge. Can a leopard change its spots? It's been done. There is no doubt he can be a highly effective club administrator in this competition.

Sydney chief executive Dirk Melton certainly believes so. I asked Cole about embracing Sydney's largely welcoming media policy and he conceded he'd change if forced to. Melton went on the front foot, adding immediately that the Sky Blues wouldn't change their open-dialogue approach, declaring Sydney a 'media city' and Melbourne a 'banking city'. It was a good response.

And right now, Sydney FC needs all the good media it can get. They've been getting plenty of it, and it will go some way to helping the club land a major sponsor prepared to shell out a huge cheque.

Cole is going to have a huge say in what happens at the Sky Blues in the next few years. He officially works to liaise between the coach, the board and the chief executive, but if he gains the trust of the board, which he had at Melbourne, few decisions will be made without his input.

Hopefully he sees this an opportunity to be reinvigorated by the game he loves. He said he woke up on the morning of the announcement and was down at Bondi by 6am and thought "this is a pretty good place". He's right. It is. But he needs to embrace it, for if he does, Sydney may have landed a unexpected coup.

Open your arms to Sydney, Gary, and that's step one. But if you really want to succeed, leave the bullet-proof vest in Melbourne.