30/05/2024
Joe Lolley is the latest import to have a major impact in the A-League. (Photo: Provided)

Joe Lolley is the latest import to have a major impact in the A-League. (Photo: Provided)

From Dwight Yorke, Marc Janko, Miloš Ninković, Adam Le Fondre, and Alessandro Del Piero – Sydney FC’s long-term success has been made possible by effective scouting and quality import signings.

Although not a household name when he arrived down under, Joe Lolley has cemented himself as an integral piece in the clubs’ quest for glory. Yet, you could argue he’s still underrated considering the prodigious productivity with the ball at his feet and tremendous work rate without possession.

After a four-year spell at Huddersfield Town which included a loan move to Scunthorpe United, it was at Nottingham Forest, a historic club that proudly owns two European Cups, where Lolley took the next step up – with the highlight being Forest’s promotion to win ‘the richest game in football’ in the Championship play-off against his former employers in Huddersfield.

You can listen to the interview with Lolley in this mini-episode of the A-Leagues of Our Own podcast.

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Ahead of another highly-anticipated Sydney derby on Saturday night, the 31-year-old is hoping to instil that same competitive edge within his teammates to claim bragging rights in the city.

First, Lolley recounted his thoughts with The Inner Sanctum about his adventure in English football and how those years have ultimately made him stronger.

“Playing in England and learning through different coaches throughout my time whether it be in the youth academies or at senior level has given me a new perspective to allow me to grow as a footballer,” Lolley told The Inner Sanctum.

“It’s shaped who I am today and within that, all the managers you play for and what they expect from you, it makes you adapt to what they want as well.

“I’ve enjoyed my career and hopefully I still have a few more years left.”

After helping Nottingham Forest gain promotion to the Premier League for the first time in 23 years, the Reds’ 2018/19 player of the season was seeking a new challenge abroad.

In 2022, Lolley agreed on a deal to join the Sky Blues in what was a tempting project – one that he wanted to be part of as he explained his motives behind the decision.

“I thought naturally the lifestyle would be more relaxed with nicer weather and that’s all true,” said Lolley.

“In general, we play less games (compared to domestically in England) and from that perspective, it is more laid back. We try more because we don’t play as many games, but the balance and lifestyle is really nice here.

“I enjoy both sides of life both on and off the pitch. I’m starting to build more friendships outside which makes me feel more comfortable and at home.

“I just wanted to be successful in joining the biggest and most successful team in the country, so hopefully we can compete for titles and win silverware.”

16 goals and 19 assists in all competitions since the beginning of last season, including 16 goal contributions this campaign are jaw-dropping numbers that paint a true reflection of the Englishman’s influential presence and impact.

Those statistics would satisfy most players in the A-League, but not if your name is Lolley – hence the champion mindset that Sydney has acquired.

“I still always think I should be doing more, so it’s something I want to improve and try to build upon,” Lolley admitted.

“As long as I’m doing my job for the team and we’re winning games and competing at the top, then I’m happy.

“When I score or assist, it’s always a nice feeling, especially as a forward player because it’s what you thrive on.

“It’s the business end of the season now, so the team is what matters most and it’s about what we do. It would be nice to end the season in the Grand Final.”

There are club legends, and then there’s Steve Corica – two championships as a player and two as head coach. Unfortunately, all dynasties come to an end at some point, and the former Socceroo was relieved of his duties after only three games this season after suffering a poor start.

The lingering question soon arose as to who would be the best fit to fill the vacant void. Ufuk Talay, another former Sky Blue champion part of the inaugural Grand final triumph in 2006, was immediately appointed as Corica’s successor – months after displaying an impressive blueprint at the Wellington Phoenix.

Since his arrival, the squad looks highly energised and has discovered a certain intensity that has been nothing short of impressive. Inspired by the ‘Leipzig press’ initiated by Ralf Rangnick, was brought over by Sydney’s assistant manager and former Socceroo striker David Zdrilic who learned his craft in Germany at Red Bull Leipzig as an assistant to the U-17 and U-19 squads.

Lolley spoke highly of the positive influence that the pair have had on the club since they walked through the doors.

“(Their contribution) has been massive and it’s something all the players have bought into,” he said.

“We want to dominate teams, we want to be aggressive and on the front foot. In the majority of the games, you see we do that. As long as we don’t get someone sent off in the first half, we usually dominate possession, shots, and all those stats.

“From a performance level, we’re in a good spot. It all comes down to the minor details and being ruthless in both boxes, but we’re in a good place and it’s still early days.

“The coaching staff didn’t have a full pre-season to implement everything that he wanted, so it’s onwards and upwards and I’m excited to see what the future brings after this season.”

This weekend sees the 38th meeting between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers in a fixture that rarely ever fails to disappoint.

Since the Wanderers’ inception over a decade ago, the Sydney derby is, without doubt, the biggest rivalry in the country and has surpassed the Melbourne derby – the colourful atmosphere, quality football, fiery battles, and memorable moments suggest just that.

Fourth place Sydney is aiming to separate itself from the red and black side of Sydney, sitting one point behind in sixth position.

Astonishingly, the previous six meetings have all led to the away side picking up all three points, something that Lolley wants to change on Saturday as he also touched on what he expects from the encounter.

“They’re always big games, always tough,” Lolley admitted.

“Funnily enough since I’ve been here, it’s always been the away team that’s won, and I think that’s a big motivation for us to end that run. We want to get the win in our own stadium, in front of our fans.

“That atmosphere is always incredible and it’s such a great build-up to the game. These are the matches you look forward to at the start of the season, the ones that get the adrenaline going and get that extra bit of excitement, so it’s about time we managed to get the winner at the Allianz.”

Switching alliances to play for another nation with attachment is becoming common. The latest examples from an Australian perspective include 36-year-old Bruno Fornaroli who represented the green and gold in this year’s Asian Cup, whilst Brazilian-born Daniel Penha recently pledged his loyalty toward the Socceroos.

With time still in his favour at 31, does Lolley potentially identify a future with Australia further down the track?

“I don’t want to think too far into the future. We’ve still got this season to go, but those two years take me to four years here where I can get permanent residency. If I’m still feeling good and contributing on the pitch and doing well, then I don’t see myself ever leaving,” he said.

“I’m not sure about the Socceroos. I think I’m pretty old, but I guess with Bruno (Fornaroli) finding himself there, you can never say never but I think it would be pretty unlikely.

“I love being in the country and it’s a beautiful place to live, so I’m open to all of my options in the future.”

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