David Lowe: An inconvenient truth

Mark Jones shows his frustrations from the grandstand during the Jets' loss to Melbourne City. Picture: Getty Images
Mark Jones shows his frustrations from the grandstand during the Jets' loss to Melbourne City. Picture: Getty Images

Wow, haven't I been looking forward to writing this column! The Jets were well beaten on Saturday night at Melbourne City, all but condemning the club to a seventh consecutive season without finals football.

And we are all shocked to the core! For those unfamiliar with this column, there is more than a touch of sarcasm attached to that brief statement.

The old "mathematically possible" phrases have made their annual reappearance, perhaps a week or two earlier than I had anticipated, but by and large the Jets are about where I expected them to be, and have been for most of the season.

Yes, they have flattered on several occasions, prompting hope for the fans, but they have not been able to sustain their peak performances. Recognise that scenario, anyone?

The hardest part about writing a weekly column based loosely around the trials and tribulations of the Jets is not to repeat yourself too often, not to be negative, because that's an easy and boring option, and hoping, forlornly usually, that some of the critics remember that you actually made the same point as them two weeks, two months, two years ago!

Today, I don't care if there is revision and repetition.

I think it was about three seasons ago when I wrote a piece saying the A-League was in real danger of becoming a divided competition, "the haves and the have-nots". Those with the resources to take full advantage of salary-cap exemptions and concessions, and those who did not.

The three most likely casualties? The Jets, the Mariners and Wellington Phoenix. 

No less shrewd a judge and coach than Graham Arnold, having previously rejected Sydney FC's advances, recognised the writing on the wall, waited for the Del Piero experiment to finish, parted company with Central Coast and timed his move to the big smoke to perfection.

To be fair to Wellington, they have invested heavily in Barbarouses and Finkler in a bid to strengthen, but the net result shows that it takes more than one or two players to breach a widening gap.

The three teams I named have spent much of the past three seasons in the bottom four, largely because the bigger player budgets of the “haves” have enabled them to sign better players.

Of course, a popular, easy fix for many fans is "sack the coach and get a better one". Nice in theory, but tell me what is going to be the first requirement of a higher-profile new coach?

Sorry, I forgot about the much larger salary. Let's make it the second major requirement?

"New/better players, Lowey?" Correct, and congratulations, coaching 101 laid bare.

If I may relate it to another code, why do the Broncos and Storm start as favourites most weeks in the NRL but get as much as 15 points start on FootyTab cards during the Origin period? Is it because their best players are absent or because Bennett and Bellamy forget how to coach for six weeks?

Has Gui Amor, championship-winning coach last year and Barcelona legend, misplaced all of his football nous, leaving his team at the foot of the ladder, or has the departure of five or six key players, not adequately replaced, had an effect?

Or Graham Arnold, who went from a grand final with Sydney FC in his first season, to seventh last year?

This season he brought in Alex Wilkinson to steady the defence, Josh Brillante to partner Brandon O'Neill and outwork and outrun any other central midfield combination, and spent $1 million on Brazilian Bobo up front.

He flicked what he considered to be bad influences in the dressing room and has a bench that regularly includes Ibini, Carney and Dimitrejevic. 

Michael Zullo came in to replace young Alex Gersbach at left back, Danny Vukovic strengthened the goalkeeping ranks, and when Matt Jurman left in January, his European replacement was here within a week.

Throw in the retention of Brosque and Ninkovic , and it's a hell of a platform.

The bonus is that Arnold is also a shrewd tactician and an excellent man manager.

Compare that to the Jets, who threw Andrew Nabbout a successful lifeline, got Andrew Hoole back from Sydney, but haven't had a genuine left back for much of the season.

"Miller is better than Jones. He had more points at this stage," some argue.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. For me, comparisons are odious. Perhaps in 10 years both will have proved to be excellent coaches.

Point is both have had limited options due to overall quality and depth. At about this time last year we were waiting to see if the Jets would score more goals than Bruno Fornaroli!

Some say Jones has the better squad, but Miller had Carney for a productive first half of the season, the busy Alivodic and the much-maligned Milos Trifunovic, whose goal tally from last year exceeds the output of all of the visa players combined this time around.

Could the Jets have done better in both seasons?

Certainly, but even if everything had gone perfectly to plan, fifth or sixth was the highest possible finishing position you could reasonably expect.

Do I understand the fans’ frustrations? Yes, I do, and believe me I'd enjoy waxing lyrical about great performances, or the skill of a Ninkovic, Castro, Troisi or Rojas just for a change.

But if you think any coach can come in and turn everything around, in one season, with no new players, and no extra funds, you are dreaming. 

When Ancelotti, Guardiola, Klopp or anyone else goes to Rotherham and takes the incumbent squad to a Premier League title, and to Europe within two years, I will withdraw my argument with total humility.

It's not a question of effort, or pride in the shirt, or tactics, or preparation. All coaches at this level are educated, credentialled, ambitious and committed.

The difference between seventh and tenth this season is going to be absolutely minimal.

The gap to the top is massive, and not getting any smaller.

While the top teams’ best five to seven players don't count against the salary cap, meaning that their eighth best player potentially earns the same as the best player at those clubs within the cap, it's hard to see much changing.

Simple really, but sometimes difficult to digest.