Five reasons why bad blood is simmering in A-League’s Sydney derby

If you’ve tuned out of the A-League over the last few years, now is a good time to tune back in.

Saturday night’s derby clash between Sydney FC and the Wanderers is the 34th meeting between the crosstown rivals. It’s arguably the most consequential, and potentially the most combustible one yet.

There are all sorts of on-field permutations for this clash at Allianz Stadium, where a crowd of nearly 35,000 beckons. For the first time in a long time, both teams are alive in the finals race, jostling for position with just four points separating them on the ladder. They have the same number of wins on the board — eight — despite what feels like wildly divergent seasons for each of them, with the Sky Blues generally perceived to be on the slide, and Western Sydney on the up.

But the best bit? They absolutely hate each other again, for a bunch of different reasons.

“I can’t remember a build up like this one for quite some time,” said Sydney legend Alex Brosque.

Let’s dive in.

Former teammates Steve Corica and Mark Rudan appear to have fallen out since taking on roles on the opposite side of the Sydney derby divide.Credit:Paramount/10

Rudan v Corica

Former teammates at Sydney FC during the A-League’s early years, starters in the inaugural 2006 grand final win, and both originally from the western suburbs, Steve Corica and Mark Rudan seem to have spectacularly fallen out since settling into opposing dugouts.

After the last derby, which Sydney won 1-0 at CommBank Stadium, they were at each other’s throats, barking insults at lickspittle range and furiously pointing fingers in faces. Rudan was unhappy with some alleged play-acting from Sky Blues players, accused them of parking the bus, and evoked a previous disagreement from when he was coach of Wellington Phoenix a few years ago; Corica said he was just being a “sore loser”.

At no point during the derby’s history has there been this much tension between the two coaches. While Corica and Rudan were never the closest of friends back in the day, and are entirely different types of characters … that’s just what these games can do to people, Brosque says.

Steve Corica and Mark Rudan celebrate a goal together during their days as teammates at Sydney FC.Credit:Getty

“They’re just two blokes who don’t like losing,” he said.

“Regardless of whether it’s your mate, when you come up against someone equally as passionate and fiery and wanting to get one over you, you’re going to get guys clashing. It’s great theatre. I’ll know they’ll try and play it down. But we need it. That’s what creates incredible derbies.”

The ‘downtrodden’ west v the eastern elite

The socioeconomic and cultural divide between Sydney’s eastern and western suburbs has always been a core feature of this derby, and splits the city in a way no other sporting rivalry does. And no coach has ever pressed so hard on it as Rudan, who has again leveraged the “downtrodden” west’s battle against the elite from the east this week as motivation for his players.

His rhetoric has raised eyebrows across town. Corica reckons it’s a bit rich, since so many Wanderers players have chosen not to live in the west — while there are plenty of Sky Blues fans who do, and some of them were given voice by Sydney’s official website, claiming that the rich-against-poor dichotomy was outdated.

Wanderers fans unveil their impressive tifo before the start of the last Sydney derby.Credit:Getty

Brosque, as another example, grew up in the west with his Uruguayan migrant parents. “A lot of people have that feeling sort of ingrained into them, what [Rudan] said. I just disagree with them, because I wasn’t brought up that way. And I don’t feel that that’s the way it is,” he said.

“I didn’t feel like anything was harder for me or my family because of where we lived. My parents were just as hard working as anybody else. That wasn’t the conversation around our dinner table. But Rudes has done extremely well in hyping that up and using that as fuel for his players to go out there and fight.

“Years ago, I told our players that we have to hate every single one of them. In a derby, that needs to be true. You need to have an edge. And if the players are going in there, like their fans, with this chip on their shoulder, that gives them that slight edge. So you have to find something that levels that playing field.”

Speaking of which…

Borrello’s blast

Newly recalled Socceroos winger Brandon Borrello may have given the Sky Blues exactly the fodder they need in the bitter fallout of the last derby.

Speaking to Paramount straight after the final whistle, Borrello said Sydney were “bang average” and deserved nothing from the game. That comment, Corica said this week, was “out of order” and will be used by his team as motivation this time around.

Did Brandon Borrello give Sydney FC psychological ammunition for the derby?Credit:Getty

What isn’t widely known is that Borrello had the chance to join the Sky Blues in pre-season. He turned down bigger money from them, according to sources, in favour of the verbal agreement already reached with the Wanderers, where he has settled in beautifully.

The crosstown defectors

We’ve been through the Milos Ninkovic affair, the pigs heads and dead rats, and all the bickering and accusations between the two-time Johnny Warren medallist and the Sky Blues over who was to blame for his departure. We’re reliably informed it nearly led to defamation action. He’ll get booed again on Saturday night.

But perhaps the loss that will sting Sydney for the longest that of Calem Nieuwenhof, the tidy, crafty midfielder from the northern beaches who burst onto the A-League scene with the Sky Blues after coming through their academy. There’s more than a bit of Aaron Mooy about him.

But Sydney insiders suspect the 22-year-old had mentally checked out towards the back end of his last injury-wrecked season, and already had a new deal with the Wanderers stitched up. He’s been thriving there ever since.

Calem Nieuwenhof has thrived at the Wanderers since crossing town from Sydney FC.Credit:Getty

“It’s an incredibly huge loss,” Brosque said. “We know his quality, he’s a fantastic player, and it’s no surprise, really, what he’s doing. But it’s hard to see him in their colours when I know what he could be doing in ours.”

The Wanderers also poached Sydney’s long-time strength and conditioning boss Elias Boukarim, as well as a few academy players. That has ruffled some Sky Blue feathers, given Western Sydney are already sitting on arguably the country’s biggest hotbed of talent, and have struggled to bring much homegrown talent through.

The Cove v the Red and Black Bloc

All of the above feeds into how the fans approach this game. Not that they needed any bonus reasons to argue with each other. The RBB showed off a spectacular pre-match tifo before the last derby, depicting Freddy Krueger with his claws hovering ominously over a flame-engulfed Sydney Opera House.

Great. Then followed a tedious social media argument between them and the Cove about whether it was technically the biggest tifo in A-League history, and whether the RBB had aped the design for it from the internet. We await the Cove’s response on Saturday; fingers crossed everyone behaves.

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