Graham Arnold is the even-money favourite to take charge of Sydney FC next season after the club sacked Frank Farina on Wednesday afternoon.
Arnold, who has also been subject to fierce interest from the Newcastle Jets this week, recently parted company with J-League club Vegalta Sendai this month and is now the league’s hottest available coaching property.
Also lingering is the omnipresent figure of marquee player Alessandro Del Piero, and with the Italian’s desire to enter management growing each year, many believe he could make a seamless transition to the dugout.
Farina was served notice of the board’s decision barely 24 hours after he was spoken about in glowing terms by chairman Scott Barlow at the club’s end of season awards night.
The news is hardly unexpected, however. Whilst Farina was contracted for next season, his failure to guide the Sky Blues to a top four position enabled the club to activate a clause that in his deal that allowed for the termination of his deal.
The board met on Wednesday and decided to fire Farina, who will leave the club without a payout .
“Frank joined us as coach in a difficult period last season and has always given his absolute dedication and commitment to the club,” Barlow said.
“Frank has shown great integrity and resolve in what has been often challenging circumstances this year. I would like to pay tribute to Frank for his professionalism and wish him well for the future.”
Whilst considered popular among the players, Farina was roundly disliked by the club’s fan base, who never warmed to the ex-Socceroos’ coach, and repeatedly requested his removal.
In particular, Farina’s failure to mould an attractive and successful playing style with the league’s most expensively assembled side blighted his reputation.
Under his tenure, the Sky Blues were noted for their counter-attacking and direct style, which proved increasingly unpopular with spectators when it failed to deliver consistent results.
The board contemplated sacking Farina at several junctures during the season but ultimately allowed him to see out the campaign, which ended last Friday when the Sky Blues were beaten 2-1 against Melbourne Victory in their elimination final.
Now the search will commence to find Sydney’s eighth permanent manager since they entered the A-League in 2005.
Arnold, who was born in Sydney and played most of his career in the city, is the obvious candidate to succeed Farina having guided the Central Coast Mariners to A-League glory last season.
But after making the switch to Japan, he left Vegalta Sendai after failing to win over a stubborn squad of aging players and finding the club’s resources, both financial and otherwise, unable to support his ambition. He is also yet to be paid out in full.
Arnold has already knocked back the Perth Glory job, which was taken on a full-time basis by interim coach Kenny Lowe on Tuesday.
The Newcastle job would offer real appeal, given Arnold’s finely-tuned blueprint for building powerful sides on shoestring budgets.
However, the 50-year old’s desire to test himself at the highest level is no secret, and led him to discussions with the Sky Blues when the position was last vacant in mid-2012.
On that occasion, the club’s reluctance to guarantee Arnold total control on football department matters, including the hiring of all staff, became a stumbling block of negotiations.
Despite being out of work, Arnold’s hand is even stronger this time given Sydney’s predicament and the failed Farina experiment.
Complicating matters is the future of Del Piero. While the 39-year old has already stated his desire to play on, the opportunity to coach Sydney – most likely with the aid of a trusted assistant from Italy – may prove an alluring prospect for him and the board.
Other candidates who sure be canvassed include ex-captain Mark Rudan, now coach of Sydney United, and former Newcastle manager Gary van Egmond, who has been linked with the role in the past.
One-time interim coach Steve Corica may have guided the club’s youth league to the league title this season but would appear an unlikely applicant. Current assistant Rado Vidosic may also be reluctant to apply after his failed stint in charge of Brisbane Roar.
With the club’s desire to build a centre of excellence in the coming years, the board is likely to prefer a candidate who is capable of implementing a long-term strategy, more reliant on player and tactical development, over short-term results.