Miloš Ninković joins infamous band of football turncoats with cross-Sydney move | Joey Lynch

By moving to Western Sydney Wanderers the Serbian playmaker has ensured any bond built with the Sydney FC fanbase will evaporate

What do Sol Campbell, Luis Figo, and Miloš Ninković have in common? They fill the not-so illustrious turncoat archetype; players that with one stroke of a pen abdicated their chances to become legends of their club and, at best, cast a cloud across their legacy.

In swapping Sydney FC for Western Sydney Wanderers, Ninković has arguably come as close as any in the A-League Men to rivalling Campbell’s move from Tottenham to Arsenal or Figo’s switch from Barcelona to Real Madrid. Plenty have played on both sides of the Harbour City in the past, but none have possessed the kind of legacy that the Serbian maestro has forged during his time at Moore Park.

Signed from Red Star Belgrade in 2015, Ninković won three championships, three premierships and an FFA Cup for Sydney, as well as scooping two Johnny Warren medals, an Alex Tobin medal and a Joe Marston medal. He sits comfortably amongst the pantheon of the club’s all-time greats and is arguably the greatest foreigner to lace up his boots in the competition. In all probability, Sydney’s dynasty would not have happened without him. Any separation was always going to be painful.

Yet now, having engaged in a seven-year love affair, Sydney fans will have to watch on as he pulls on the shirt of another. And not just any other. They will watch on after having their emotions played with for weeks, since Ninković posted a farewell message on Instagram only for the club to respond the next morning by saying that negotiations between player and club were very much ongoing – despite their social media managers posting a quickly-deleted farewell message of their own.

What followed was a tide of whispers linking the player with a move to bitter rivals Wanderers that ultimately became a cacophony.

Ninković said he would “never forget these years and I will also have a huge fondness and a strong bond with our members and fans”. But any such bond will evaporate quickly the first time he is seen taking orders from Mark Rudan in the next Sydney derby.

Sydney made clear that their efforts to keep the playmaker “included the offer of a new playing contract and a future role in player and game development”. The sentiment that Ninković has operated as a mercenary and thrown away his connection with the Sky Blues’ faithful, will likely permeate the fanbase.

Ninković lifts the A-League Men trophy.
Ninković lifts the A-League Men trophy. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

From a narrative perspective, it’s top stuff. It’s difficult to see, with early-season derbies now an established trope of the competition, how league operators fail to take advantage of the acrimony and schedule a Sydney derby in the opening weeks of the season. Indeed, it’s not inconceivable that the Sky Blues could mark their first ALM game at the new Sydney Football Stadium against Ninković’s Wanderers. The man that months prior deserved a statue outside the venue will now be opening it in the colours of the enemy.

Yet, what of the actual football? How does 37-year-old Ninković fit into the plans of Rudan and the Wanderers? He clearly thinks he can still contribute. At his best, the Serb remains a nightmare for opposition. Age arguably caught up with his legs years ago but his mind remains as sharp as ever. His lack of speed can be obscured by an innate sense of positioning and anticipation and he possesses a sense of gravity on the field; defences are pulled in his direction.

Nonetheless, Father Time is undefeated and, eventually, his grip on Ninković will tighten. What role he is expected to take at CommBank Stadium and his responsibilities on the pitch, will dictate the ramifications. This conundrum is likely why Sydney, at the crossroads of their own rebuild, were not as proactive in their attempts to retain Ninković. These are the hard decisions football clubs make.

History may validate them for this. The Wanderers have lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rebuilds, but that won’t stop the first-time Ninković lines up in opposition being a bitter pill for Sydney FC to swallow. And if silverware should follow him to Sydney’s west, a sense of melancholy amongst the Sydney fanbase will likely turn to anger, pointed outward and inward.


Joey Lynch

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sydney rivalry shows why derbies are the lifeblood of Australian football | Joey Lynch
Few A-League fixtures produce the pumping scenes and vibrant atmosphere that materialise when the city’s east meets west

Joey Lynch

08, May, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC: A-League Sydney derby - as it happened
Minute-by-minute: Sydney FC have continued their dominance of the Sydney derby in recent seasons with a thumping demolition of their crosstown rival

Richard Parkin

08, Oct, 2016 @11:03 AM

Article image
NSW plans to spend $2bn on Sydney stadiums, but will that mean bigger crowds?
Melbourne has a culture of people going to sporting fixtures in huge numbers, Sydney doesn’t, and state-of-the-art stadiums are unlikely to change that

Matt Cleary

08, Dec, 2017 @7:00 PM

Article image
A-League: Sydney FC 0-0 Western Sydney Wanderers – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: It’s honours even between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers

Richard Gadsby

14, Jan, 2017 @10:59 AM

Article image
A-League 2018-19 preview part two: Newcastle Jets to Western Sydney Wanderers
Sydney FC have recruited well, Perth and Newcastle are contenders, but a long season awaits Phoenix and Wanderers

Jonathan Howcroft

17, Oct, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
A-League opening round starts with a bang, record crowds, and a few red cards
Between DeVere’s stunning equaliser, the Mariners’ rousing revival and Sydney’s thumping derby win it’s been a busy round

John Duerden

09, Oct, 2016 @7:30 PM

Article image
David Squires on … the Sydney derby soap opera
Our cartoonist looks back at the fiery encounter that sets things up nicely for next month’s rematch

David Squires

16, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Newcastle Jets fans show some spirited tribalism is just what the A-League needs | Emma Kemp
Carl Robinson and Bernie Ibini had a fiery return to McDonald Jones Stadium. Can a Covid-era crowd light up the first Sydney derby of the season?

Emma Kemp

12, Jan, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
David Squires on ... Arsenal's pre-season trip to Sydney
Our resident cartoonist looks at the fallout from the Premier League club’s recent tour to Australia

David Squires

19, Jul, 2017 @6:00 PM

Article image
Sydney FC: struggling A-League Men club arrives at crossroads | Joey Lynch
With their ACL and ALM finals hopes hanging by a thread, Australian football’s most successful club finds itself in an unfamiliar position

Joey Lynch

27, Apr, 2022 @5:30 PM