Lessons for the Roar

by Socceroos ready for a Thai Fight in Brisbane on Aug 24, 2011

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Usually in sport, it is the agony that comes before the ecstasy.

In Brisbane Roar’s case, the ecstasy of their maiden A-League grand final win has instead been followed by the agony of watching the championship-winning squad gradually dis-assembled.

Gone are captain Matt McKay, first-choice front pairing Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano and reliable defender Milan Susak.

Barbarouses and Solorzano contributed 22 goals between them, while McKay was the embodiment of a patient franchise come good.

Roar fans have every right to lament. They waited six long seasons before Ange Postecoglou guided their team to Australian club football’s highest plain.

But as soon as they rejoiced, they almost immediately began farewelling their heroes, lured away by wealth, the promise of an overseas adventure or both.

It has prompted much mourning on the various forums and sites by Roar fans, concerned the club – still in the hands of the FFA – will struggle to attract worthy replacements.

That no club has ever successfully defended their A-League title may have further heightened their fears.
It does not mean, of course, that it cannot happen.

One only needs look at the style of football Postecoglou inspired his side to play to know that the A-League’s history and its seemingly iron-forged moulds are made to be broken.

If this is a storm that the good ship Roar must battle its way through, then the club’s fans can be reassured by a trusty port of call.

Or Porto of call, to be more precise.

Like the Roar, Porto won their own league title last season, clinching the Portuguese Primeira Liga for the 25th time in their history.

In a league that has delivered just two winners outside the ‘big three’ – Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica – since the top-flight was established in 1934, the Dragons are one of Europe’s most successful clubs.

A burgeoning trophy cabinet also houses the 2003/04 Champions League and the 2002/03 and 2010/11 Europa League (UEFA Cup) titles.

Their former players include Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Anderson, Lucho Gonzalez and most recently Falcao. Yet despite the club’s consistent success, few of their modern greats have been with the club at the peaks of their careers.

Brazilian midfielder Anderson departed for Manchester United after leaving the club at age 19, Ricardo Carvalho went on to win titles at Chelsea and Real Madrid and – at age 25 – Falcao’s best is probably still yet to come.

It is why Porto know exactly what the Roar are going through. Perhaps the biggest ‘selling club’ in Europe, the Dragons’ seasons of success come at a cost, with their better performers usually auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Yet time after time, Porto recover.

The Dragons lost manager Jose Mourinho and key men Carvalho, Deco and Paulo Ferreira soon after winning the 2003/04 Primeira Liga and Champions League double.

Poor decisions when finding the right replacement for Mourinho meant they found themselves three points adrift from champions Benfica the following season.

But their extraordinary powers of recovery ensured they were to win four Primeira Liga and two Taca de Portugal trophies in the next four seasons – all despite the constant on-selling of the club’s best players, such as Jose Bosingwa, Maniche, Lucho, Ricardo Quaresma, Costinha… the list goes on.

Of course, Porto’s financial clout and savvy scouting network allows them to raid places like Argentina and Brazil for their hidden diamonds, while their status in Portugal enables them to be among the first to sign local talent.

These players are fostered and offered patience, rather than being thrust straight into the first team.

It means that, by the time the next handful of players are sold off, the replacements are already at the club.

Acting on that old Wall Street premise ‘buy low, sell high’, it is clout the Roar cannot match.

But the lesson for Ange Postecoglou – who turned down Melbourne Victory’s saucy advances to stay at the Roar – is clear.

A-League clubs will always be stepping stones for Australia’s best footballers, who in turn almost always possess a dream of one day playing overseas.

But Porto have showed a canny approach to transfers and player development can keep the club on top of the pile.

It is a regenerative approach that – history has showed – has yet to be mastered by an A-League coach.

It will, however, be only a matter of time before one does.

Postecoglou broke one mould in his debut campaign as an A-League manager.

Maybe this season, he will break another.