Miloš Ninković’s defection from Sydney FC and subsequent unholy union with cross-city rivals Western Sydney Wanderers is arguably a lose-lose situation for both sides on the pitch.
The real winners can be found off the pitch. The move will give the Sydney Derby a much needed bump on the heat scale, with both sets off fans experiencing polar opposite, extreme emotions and neutral A-Leagues fans once again captivated by the fixture’s potential.
Three Premierships, three championships, two Johnny Warren Medals and one Joe Marston Medal. Miloš Ninković has had a glittering A-League Men career in Sky Blue so far, but as season 2021/22 drew to a close, he added one more stat amongst his extensive list of accolades: one defection.
In all honesty, it is a move that make little sense for either side when you consider football factors, but one that can boost the interest in the league and re-ignite the spark in the Sydney Derby after both clubs experienced disappointing 2021/22 campaigns.
This saga has been littered with controversy, with Ninković prematurely announcing on his personal Instagram account that he will be leaving Sydney FC, not revealing any specific reasons but insisting the people close to him knew where his frustrations lay.
The midfielder thanked the stakeholders of the club and even former coach Graham Arnold, but stopped short of mentioning current Sydney coach Steve Corica.
The following day the video was deleted, with Sydney insisting it was still negotiating with the Serbian star. On June 21st, the club officially announced it could not reach an agreement with Ninković, despite offering him a playing role and a full time youth development role after retirement. From that point, the writing was well and truly on the wall.
Ninković will turn 38 during the upcoming season, and while he is not the player he once was, he would have still been an invaluable asset to Sydney FC, especially with his passion squarely routed at developing young footballers.
The club is currently in the process of rebuilding its squad after a disappointing year, but when such a successful organisation goes through that process it must be done with the sensitivity and care commanded by the achievements of the individuals involved, something that Ninković obviously felt was absent.
It feels like a lifetime ago that Macarthur was entering the competition and were throwing the kitchen sink to the ageing Ninković to join its inaugural squad.
The Sydney FC icon rejected the advances, staying loyal to the Sky Blues. Both player and fans would be heartbroken that the management of the situation has led to an irreparable difference of opinion that has led the midfielder seeking an opportunity across town.
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Enter the Western Sydney Wanderers, a side that has been chronically overachieving for years, a side that has been going after big names rather than adequate fits.
Is Miloš Ninković going to be a good fit for Mark Rudan’s side? That is a seperate conversation, but even if he is, how much does he have left in the tank?
When you look at the Wanderers’ track record of big signings and how underutilised their state of the art youth setup is, it is a hard move to try and justify the move from an on field perspective.
Despite the quality Ninković is still capable of producing in spurts in the twilight of his career, the Wanderers should really be looking at long term solutions instead of quick fixes that end up being just a short-term sugar hit.
This is a signing that will bear its fruits off the field. After years of languishing in their big brother’s immense shadow, the Wanderers are responding. The Western Sydney Wanderers have hurt Sydney FC and not in the traditional three point sense, but by taking a shot right at the soul of their rivals.
One particular sore point is Ninković stating, “I will be part of the club for many years to come,” hinting at the agreement of two years that the midfielder will spend with the Wanderers post his playing career.
Sydney FC fans would be livid that one of their legends that should be involved with their club will be fostering the next generation of their rivals.
Many clubs around Australia have experienced the heartbreak of seeing their favourite sons play for a rival team; think Adelaide United’s Marcos Flores lining up for Melbourne Victory or Brisbane Roar star Besart Berisha following coach Ange Postecoglou to Melbourne and making himself a Victory legend.
This does not happen to Sydney FC, but a misstep left a door open that the Wanderers kicked down and took full advantage of.
As Simon Hill once put eloquently, Miloš Ninković helped, “dreams come true in Sky Blue,” and Sydney fans will remember him for that. But come the first matchday of Season 2022/23, a moral crisis will unfold in the heads of every Sky Blue fan.
Does Ninković’s legacy outweigh his defection? To blame the club or the player or to blame both?
One thing is certain, when the first Sydney Derby back at Allianz Stadium kicks off, Sydney FC’s favourite son will no longer be seen as such. Instead he will be wearing red and black, a scenario that Sky Blues fans would not have crossed their minds in their wildest nightmares.
Regardless of if the move is a success or a failure on the pitch, all eyes will be on the Sydney Derby, a sign of a league and a rivalry regaining much-needed momentum.
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