End of an era: Steve Corica’s Sydney FC legacy & the 2005 comment that puts it into perspective

WATCH: Steve Corica's final press conference as Sydney FC manager.

Steve Corica’s exit as head coach of the Sky Blues brings a remarkable period of service – and success – to an end.

For once when a coach leaves a football club, the phrase “end of an era” is entirely justified.

Steve Corica wasn’t just a chapter in Sydney FC’s history; he was part of the glue that bound its entire history, and has left an indelible mark on the club. No wonder there was a note of genuine sadness in Sydney’s announcement that he is leaving as the club seeks “a new direction” on the field.

If the exit felt inevitable after such a mediocre start to the season, broader perspective is needed to understand a contribution to the history of the A-Leagues that affords Corica a unique place in the competition’s story, let alone just that of the club.

It’s startling to realise that his Sky Blue involvement has traversed 19 years, and delivered 13 trophies.

END OF AN ERA: Sydney FC announce departure of head coach Steve Corica after 19 years

Corica of all people knew how much success is demanded because he had delivered so much when he succeeded Graham Arnold in 2018 as head coach. He would also know that loyalty in football is always finite, even towards someone justifiably lauded today by Sydney as a club servant.

When Corica signed for the nascent Sydney FC, at the start of 2005, the club didn’t even have a head coach. In the company of Socceroos like Kevin Muscat and Archie Thompson, he had decided to return from Europe for a career swansong in Australia, giving the newly established A-League some local star quality.

The impact was instant through his winner in the inaugural Grand Final, and Corica quickly became synonymous with the Sky Blues under a succession of head coaches. If it was cruel that his significant contribution to the next title win, in 2009-10, was ended prematurely by a hamstring injury, meaning he missed the Grand Final in Melbourne, that injury also made it easy to make up his mind to retire.

With football intelligence that wasn’t always obvious at the time, Sydney moved quickly to keep him involved, moving straight to coaching some of the club’s youth teams. Thus began an impressive and old-school apprenticeship as he moved through the coaching ranks and assisted Vítězslav Lavicka, Ian Crook, Frank Farina and Graham Arnold.

No wonder, as the club was pondering the future beyond Arnold in 2018, he sat on stage at the end-of-season Sky Blue Ball and declared that they should give him the job – “I’m ready,” he said, and the trophies that followed reinforced his claims to the top job.

Corica and Graham Arnold speak during the Sydney FC Sky Blue Ball on May 19, 2018 .

If it’s true that he inherited a highly successful team from Arnold, Corica also had to cope with the exits of Bobo and Adrian Mierzejewski, arguably its leading lights that season, within weeks of becoming head coach.

Sydney still finished second, and won the Grand Final on penalties, in Corica’s first season; then began the second at a rate of knots, winning 15 of 18 games before Covid struck.

Even a wobble in the bubble that followed wasn’t enough to throw Corica’s team off course and they won that Grand Final; a year later they were second on the table and runners-up in the Grand Final. It was an incredible record for a debutant head coach, and that earned goodwill then carried Corica through two very underwhelming seasons.

But a year ago Corica spoke of his new tactical plans to utilise exciting European signings only to watch his team splutter to just four wins in the first half of the season; there were enough wins in the second half to make the finals but the fans were increasingly restive at a limp loss to Melbourne City in the semi-finals.

Every era at a club has its limits, and there was a sense that everyone at Sydney needed a change – Corica included, as he spoke of the “mystery” of his team’s performance last Friday night. Such a proud man, and such a servant of his club, would never walk away, but now he has the chance to rest and reinvigorate; at 50, he has years of coaching ahead of him.

But for now there is time to be with his beloved family, and reflect on all but two decades of service to one club. It’s worth remembering an interview he gave on signing for Sydney at the very start of 2005.

“This is my opportunity to put something back into the game in Australia,” he said. And how.

The team on the Official Isuzu UTE A-League podcast broke down Sydney FC’s form prior to this announcement. Listen below or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or where you get your podcasts.