Rewind to A-League preseason 2018-19.
The 10 teams are beginning to shape their squads for the new season, and they drew attention, mostly for differing reasons. Some drew plenty of chatter, others less.
Eventual premiers Perth Glory drew plenty of it, and fair enough too. The club appointed Tony Popovic as manager and signed a myriad of past and present Socceroos.
That proved justified as most of – if not all – of those recruits, including the manager, delivered on their massive promise, finishing eight points clear at the top of the table.
Melbourne Victory had their share of the limelight as well. Keisuke Honda and Ola Toivonen were two of the A-League’s highest-profile steals, and the club had come off its fourth championship.
Somehow, a Sydney FC side that lost just four games all up in two seasons slipped under the radar, and went – not unnoticed – but with a great deal less fuss externally.
The biggest movement was Graham Arnold’s anticipated departure to the Socceroos job, and Steve Corica took over. Perhaps the lack of attention was due to the familiar feel of the squad, despite Adam Le Fondre an Siem De Jong’s arrivals.
In the regular season, they won the second-most games of any team to finish second on the table and secure a grand final berth against the Glory, their third since 2015.
Sure, they lost seven matches. But despite the change at the top, a winning mentality remained, and the points continued to stack up.
The Sky Blues’ 6-1 demolition of Victory came as an emphatic statement ahead of the grand final, but only from the outside, according to skipper Alex Brosque.
“All throughout the season, all the talk was about how well Perth were going and how great of a side Melbourne Victory were,” Brosque said on Thursday’s Daily Football Show.
“No one was really talking too much about Sydney. Every time we won, it was ‘scrappy Sydney’, ‘Sydney have scraped through for a win here, it was an unconvincing result’.
“Yet other teams did that and it was all about how good they were, so I know personally I use that to help us when it came time to be in there (the finals), knowing that we deserved it.
“This is the same squad that one the league by, I don’t know how many points over the last two years. It’s the same team, the same group of boys and I know we had it in us to be there. I didn’t doubt them for one second.
“I knew the talk is more media than anything else and certain parts of media like to push certain teams, that’s their agendas.
“But behind closed doors, from our side, we knew we had the side to be there in the grand final, so I think that ‘statement’ is more one that can be looked at from the outside.
“(It) was a performance (6-1 against Victory) we’d been threatening all year but never quite did. We knew we had it in us.
“We didn’t expect it to happen in the way it did against Melbourne, but we knew that if we get it together, we have an outstanding team and can beat anyone.
“If anything, it’s helped us going into the grand final. Perth Glory seeing us smack Melbourne 6-1 is probably the last thing they wanted to see.”
The grand final will be Brosque’s final A-League match after some 220 appearances for Sydney all up, and he is eager to end his storied career on a high.
Another championship would come as the 35-year-old’s third, alongside three premierships.
“In a way, I can’t wait for this week to be over, but I understand that it is a dream to go out playing out in a grand final and hopefully winning it,” Brosque said.
“I haven’t thought too much about everything and get caught up in it all.
“I will take some time on Sunday when we walk out, to enjoy the moment, but I’m just trying to treat it as another game and not my last game.
“I think that’s something I’ll look at once the final whistle goes and try to take in all the emotion after that.”
Sydney – who are one of just two clubs to win a grand final interstate since the A-League began – will take home their fourth championship with victory at Optus Stadium.
According to Perth CEO Tony Pignata, ticket sales for the match have surpassed 50,000, and the Sydney Morning Herald has reported FFA bosses are now considering if temporary seating can be used to increase capacity.