Roll up, roll up ladies and gentlemen, for the greatest travelling roadshow the A-League Men has to offer. Touring until 15 January, your favourite team from Western Australia, Perth Glory, will be bringing their purple-powered wares to a ground near you. Don’t miss out on a chance to see Bruno Fornaroli, Brandon O’Neill and special marquee attraction Daniel Sturridge across nine different dates.
Yes, coach Richard Garcia’s Glory will assume the role of ALM travelling circus in the week’s ahead; WA’s stringent border restrictions sending them out onto the road early in the season in the fleeting hope that, come the back end of the campaign, conditions will have changed enough to allow them to stage a series of home games.
Though not the fault of anyone involved at Glory or the A-Leagues’ head office, it s clearly a far-from-ideal situation. In theory, three points earned during a homestand in the season’s closing weeks count for just as much as those earned at its start but, in reality, a slump in the opening months – unless you are Adelaide United in 2015-16 – generally condemns your campaign in its entirety.
In such circumstances, where night after night in hotel rooms away from family and friends increasingly fray the nerves, the margins within which Garcia is operating, in both an on- and off-field context, become razor-thin. Any erring in selection, misstep in tactical approach or coarse word between teammates, could provide the straw that breaks the camel’s back and sends the team into a hole from which they may never pull themselves out. In 2020-21, Western United entered an end-of-season road trip looking all but certain to play finals football; by the end of it were ninth, out of the play-offs, and coachless.
Thus, under such a state of affairs, the last thing a club needs is for external factors to make their lives needlessly more difficult. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that is just what happened to the Glory in the opening ALM game of their tour against Western United on Friday evening.
After 78 minutes of uninspiring football which can, perhaps most charitably, be described as simply having happened, the hosts finally made a breakthrough when Dylan Wenzel-Halls tapped home a Connor Pain cross-cum-shot on the goal line. to give his side a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish. Whether the Glory deserved more from the 90 minutes is a debatable topic, but replays of the Wenzel-Halls goal clearly showed that it should not have stood – Pain was unable to keep the ball in before he laced his shot across the face of Brad Jones’s goal.
“I’ve seen the still and I’ve seen that the ball is out,” Garcia bemoaned. “Honestly. What do I say to this? Do we have the resources to use it? Are we using it properly?”
Inevitably, of course, the other major talking point to emerge was that, on the opening night of Glory’s ALM tour, the role of leading man Daniel Sturridge was played by Daniel Stynes.
After a 10-minute cameo in round one’s 1-1 draw with Adelaide, the former Liverpool striker was completely absent from the squad that lost to United; his pre-game amble across the pitch alongside Glory chief executive Tony Pignata the extent of his contributions at AAMI Park. While this did deny promotors their latest sugar hit, it was, in hindsight, hardly a surprise.
Not exactly renowned for his durability, Sturridge only exited hotel quarantine days before the season opener and, prior to that, had not played a competitive football match for almost two years. After Friday’s game Garcia conceded that, had Glory not been playing in front of a sold-out home crowd eager to get a glimpse of ALM’s latest shiny new toy, he likely would not have played against the Reds. Reasonable enough, although that Sturridge saw the field for non-footballing reasons could emerge as a concern if such logic continues to affect selection policy in the weeks and months ahead.
Garcia’s authority, however, was undermined slightly the next day by the revelation from Glory owner Tony Sage that the decision for Sturridge not to figure against United had been made not by the gaffer, but by the striker himself. Chief executive Tony Pignata then took to Twitter on Monday to “put the record straight”, claiming Sturridge had indeed wanted to play, but was told he could not as he builds his fitness for the long season ahead.
That a player would rule themselves out of contention, in and of itself, is not remarkable. But that this information would be made public by a club owner a day after the coach opted not to do so, which in turn required the intervention of another club official to clarify the situation, is enough to raise an eyebrow.
Indeed, Sturridge’s presence – or absence – will only add to the fishbowl effect Glory face in the short to medium term, and that is before the possibility of further border closures – WA has already restricted entry from South Australia – because of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.