Victory stripped of talent

Edited version published as ‘Reds snare Sarkies’, Geelong Advertiser, Monday 2 April 2007, p. 27.

Melbourne Victory is being stripped of more of its championship winning talent with the news that Olyroo midfielder and playmaker Kristian Sarkies has moved on a one-year contract to Adelaide United.

Adelaide already has two of the most exciting young attackers in Australia in Nathan Burns and Bruce Djite, who has just agreed to a further two-year contract with the club.

Victory’s loss follows that of Brazilian star Fred who has gone to Washington DC United in the United States when Victory could not match the salary on offer.

Simon Storey, an ever present full back, has set off to seek his fortune in Europe, while a number of players who figured largely in the first season, though not so much last year, have also gone including Michael Ferrante, Mark Byrnes and more recent signing James Robinson.

At the end of last A-League season, Ernie Merrick talked about the break-up of any winning team and the need to improve if the club were not to go backwards, but what has happened since then has been worrying.

He has picked up an excellent, experienced defender in former Melbourne Knights player Ljubo Milicevic, a new wing back in 24-year-old ex-Chelsea player Joe Keenan, and a talented young keeper in Mitchell Langerack.

But the loss of Sarkies, who had few chances to shine in 2006–07 as Grant Brebner, Kevin Muscat and Fred held down the midfield places, is a real concern.

Merrick has been a strong supporter of the 20-year-old since he first brought him into the Victorian Institute of Sport squad at thirteen.

He said then that Sarkies was one of the most talented players he had spotted.

On Saturday he said, ‘Kristian has walked into the Australian Under-17, Under-20 and now the Olyroo teams, but it is much harder to play regularly and consistently in a senior team when you are competing with the likes of Fred, Brebner and Muscat’.

‘In 2005-06 our midfield was Sarkies, Steve Pantelidis and Ferrante and we finished last’. ‘In 2006-07 it was those three and we broke every record.’

Sarkies had the opportunity to take over Fred’s role and blossom in the creative freedom he has shown in recent matches for the Olyroos, where he has both set up and scored goals against Saudi Arabia.

Sarkies obviously harbours ambitions of a career in Europe for he has only signed a one-year deal with Adelaide.

Merrick told me he thought Sarkies’ decision to stay in Australia for another year was wise.

‘The Olyroos squad is heavily weighted towards Australian-based players, given the difficulty that youngsters seeking to establish themselves in Europe find in getting leave to play in Australia or Asia and the travel involved’, he said.

Sarkies will have a more lucrative contract at Adelaide but the youngster told Melbourne Victory that he felt the need for the change at this stage in his career.

There is a fair amount of time before Victory embarks on its third season in September, but one of the features which underlay its success in the past year, was the extended and thorough pre-season training and planning which Merrick put in place.

As a result of its championship winning performance Victory will then go into the Asian Champions League in 2008 and for that it will require an experienced squad, so the club will have to move fast if it is to attract players of even higher quality than the ones which it has lost in the last few weeks.

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