Sydney FC coach Vitezslav Lavicka came to Sydney with a strong pedigree behind him, having managed Sparta Prague and the Czech Republic’s Under-21 team. His first season in Australia finished with the ultimate success, leading the inaugural A-League champions to a second Grand Final victory; all the better for beating their great rivals Melbourne Victory in the final. This was on top of claiming the Minor Premiership to complete a clean sweep of honours for the 2009/10 season.
2010/11 has not started so well however, and with the spine of the team departing, Sydney found themselves without keeper Clint Bolton, centre back Simon Colosimo or front man John Aloisi, all of whom joined new franchise Melbourne Heart. With Karol Kisel going elsewhere and talismanic captain Steve Corica retiring, Sydney have struggled this season and went without a win for ten games before turning things round and recording two wins and a draw.
Vitezslav Lavicka spoke to Inside Futbol’s Adoni Patrikios about his experiences in Australia, the club’s prospects for the rest of the season and his hopes for the future:
AP: What was your initial impression of football in Australia when you arrived to take over at Sydney?
VL: It was a new experience for me because my previous coaching jobs were in Europe, in the Czech Republic. I coached several clubs there and I was also with the Football Federation of the Czech Republic, so it was a great experience to get new information and the new philosophy here in Australia. And I have to say I am very happy. It is a bit different because it’s a different culture, a different football culture, because the most popular type of sports in Australia are rugby, AFL, but soccer, football, is going up bit by bit, that was my first impression.
AP: And were you surprised by the level of passion for football in Australia?
VL: Yes, I am very, very happy because especially last year we reached a great result with the championship. With so many people, so many fans, coming to support us, during the whole season and especially in the last part through the final series and Grand Final, so I am very happy to meet the new people. I met new people in the club so it was a great experience for me and I have to say the Sydney FC players, staff, board and fans are fantastic.
AP: Did you expect to have such success so soon and do you think that last season has made expectations this season too high?
VL: I think every coach that is coming here has their own philosophy and their own goal, I had the same before I came here. I spoke to the board before I signed my deal with Sydney FC, I explained to them my philosophy, my coaching philosophy, and I also told them I knew that Sydney FC were one of the biggest and best teams in the A-League and I knew they had a great squad and had had a successful season before I came, so we tried to work hard, together and reach a success as soon as possible. We did… so I was happy.
AP: This season things didn’t start so well, do you think you know why that was?
VL: Yes, of course everyone is disappointed this season because everyone expected we were going to get the same results in the same style as we did last season. I am also disappointed, but I am a naturally very positive person, and it is the same with the people around me at the club. We know that after the Grand Final when we finished last season we changed the team and some experienced good quality players left the club, so, we brought good quality, maybe younger players in who need more time to settle. We’re going through a tough period this season, but we’re still staying a unit, hard working, positive; we all believe we are able to improve this season, improve our results.
AP: And you’ve had two wins in your three games before playing Gold Coast United; do you think this is a turning point now?
VL: Yes, we played last three games and got seven points, so it’s not bad, but it is small small steps forward, we need to improve many things.
AP: In the game against Newcastle Jets there was a controversial goal. Did you realise when you were watching the game that the ball had gone out?
VL: Look, you know talking to Fox [TV] straight after the game I said, yes it’s a controversial goal, I agree, but everyone can make mistakes; players, coach and referees and before we’ve played a couple of games when the controversial decisions have gone against us, this moment was for us, but of course the Jets are unhappy but…
AP: Now on to Nicky Carle; when he came, a lot of people expected him to slot into the Steve Corica position and that doesn’t seem to have gone to plan. Do you think he’s going to be able to lead the team in the same way or do you think he’s got different attributes so what is expected from him must be adjusted?
VL: Nicky Carle is a different kind of player to Steve Corica, but he’s also a good quality player. Unlucky for him and the whole team that he’s been injured many times this season, there’s been problems for him. Of course it’s difficult for us to replace him, he’s a marquee player, one of the best players in our squad. We need him on the pitch, not injured. But, I believe he will be ready soon and he will be a very good player for us.
AP: You’ve said before you think one of Sydney’s big problems is not scoring more than one goal. Do you think Nicky coming back into the team will be a good way to solve that?
VL: Yes, look, if I turn back and look at the game we played in Perth when Nicky Carle started and we won 3-0 over there. He’s an important player, but Sydney FC’s philosophy is not about one player, one of the main things, pillars of our philosophy, is team unity so…
AP: In terms of scoring more goals, there’s been times when you’ve played Bruno Cazarine, Mark Bridge and Alex Brosque at the same time, which is very attacking, do you think going forward that will be the way to really get goals for the team?
VL: We brought Bruno Cazarine not at the start of the season, he came for round five, so it’s possible. I’m very happy Bruno is here, he’s the kind of striker strong, tall, good finisher in the box, so we need his quality and we expect goals. But it’s not about one player, he needs good service as do Alex Brosque and Mark Bridge, I expect more from them all, but the whole team needs to improve our attacking play.
AP: Are there any young players coming up we should watch out for? And anyone you think you can draft in to freshen things up. I saw Dimitri Petratos come on against Newcastle, and he looked promising.
VL: As I said before, after last season we changed the squad. We brought in several young players with good potential for the future, so Dimitri Petratos played the last part of the game against Jets and did well. I thought he was an impact player, he turned the game, changed the game and we’re happy, but we have other good young players in the squad like Terry Antonis, like Rhyan Grant, Seb Ryall, Kofi Danning…
AP: So do you feel you have, long term, the resources and the ability to bring this squad up to a championship winning level with a new, fresh young team?
VL: Look if you put on the pitch young players one game they have a top performance, next they drop down, they’re inconsistent, but that’s normal, they need time for settling. I’m very happy that the staff around me look after them very well so they have good space to develop at this club.
AP: The fans are all behind you and feel that in light of last season you deserve all the time in the world, do you find that helps the team?
VL: Respect for each other is one of the basic pillars of Sydney FC. When I came here to Australia before last season I met the Sydney FC fans and I was happy. I was happy because they are very open, they support us. Of course it was a beautiful, beautiful season last season, but I really appreciate their support this season because everyone knows that we’ve had trouble this season. Expectations were very high and we’re going through a tough period, so I really appreciate their support and I believe they will stay together and with us for many seasons to come.
AP: The Asian Champions League (ACL) is coming up and some people in the press are saying that should be Sydney’s main focus now. I disagree with that myself…
VL: I disagree, absolutely.
AP: But do you feel confident about putting in a good shift in that competition. Can Sydney go far?
VL: It’s easy to say now, ‘We are near the bottom of the table, we can’t win this season’ but that’s not our style. We’re focused on getting the best possible results in the A-League. Also the A-League is good preparation before we start to play the ACL.
AP: Do you think Sydney have a chance of winning the Asian Champions League?
VL: Hard to say. It’s a great to play the ACL because not many teams have a chance to play this competition. When I was in Europe I played the European Champions League, so it’s a great experience for the whole team, but regarding our chances it’s hard to say. We know that in Asia there are some very good and rich clubs, but for us it’s a great challenge and a great experience to go there and play.
AP: How would you like to be remembered in the game?
VL: I am part of the squad. As I said, I’m an open person, before I came I told the board and the players my philosophy so I have a respect, and I expect that respect to be between each other, between the players and the coaches, among the players, among the board, and with the Sydney FC fans. Coaching is a never ending process, but it’s important to have goals. Season goals, small goals, and to do it bit by bit, try to be, day by day, a little bit better.
AP: Thanks a lot Vitezslav.