The City Football Group has invested millions of dollars to transform Melbourne City into an A-League powerhouse.
Their spending – a reported wage bill of around $9 million this season largely because of the investment in Tim Cahill – was also driven by their desire to become a regular contender in the Asian Champions League.
After their wild night in Western Australia on Sunday, when they crashed 5-4 to Perth Glory in one of the most bizarre games in the A-League’s 12-year history, that dream of Asian participation is now hanging by a thread.
If City is to qualifying for the Asian tournament, it is going to have to do it the hard way by making the grand final. To do so they may have to defeat premiers Sydney away from home in a semi-final, that is, assuming they can defeat Glory next Sunday evening in the elimination final in Melbourne.
Still, they at least get a home final, the very barest of expectations for such an expensively assembled team.
At one point it looked as if they were even going to blow that as Glory, needing a four-goal win to leap ahead of City on goal difference, raced to a 4-1 lead with 15 minutes to go.
Tim Cahill reduced the deficit to 4- 2 with a goal 10 minutes from time, sparking a mad few minutes in which another three goals were scored.
Cahill was right when he said seconds after the whistle that this was simply not good enough.
The FFA Cup win was something to hang their hat on, but for an operation like the CFG, where money and resources is not an issue, continual mediocrity is not acceptable.
The season is not a write-off just yet, but City have shown little of the mettle required to suggest they can surmount the challenges ahead.
While they can score goals,
of the top six teams only one – Glory – has conceded more goals.
The return of Michael Jakobsen was supposed to help the defence, and they did keep a clean sheet against Adelaide on his first game back, but his organisation could do little to prevent such a flaky performance on Sunday.
City could do a lot worse than get former England manager Roy Hodgson, here for a few weeks on a mentoring mission, involved in some emergency defensive coaching.
One thing Hodgson can do is organise a back four and stay calm in a crisis, having shown that repeatedly in the English Premier League at Fulham and West Bromwich Albion.
City coach Michael Valkanis has a week to work on keeping things tight at the back. He has plenty to think about.
“It was a crazy game, a crazy game. I can’t believe how many goals were scored, but I guess both teams were chasing wins and needed to win,” Valkanis said.
“We probably could have had another four or five goals as well … we conceded a sloppy penalty at the beginning of the game … then there were two Perth goals that came from passages where we were about to score and we were in a good attacking position.
‘The boys’ endeavour to keep going even when at one stage it looked like it could have been horrible just turned it around. In the disappointment, you have to look at some of the positives, especially going into finals now.
“We lost the battle today, but not the war.”
City have been far better at home this season than on the road.
“We’re a very good team at home. We have fought and battled away from home and the results haven’t gone our way,” Valkanis said.
Cahill was frustrated and disappointed that his club had not achieved its goal of securing at the very least an ACL qualifying berth, and Valkanis said that was a measure of the Socceroo veteran’s will to win.
“He performed very well and got himself two goals and pushed and pushed. He’s a leader, he’s an organiser and he’s very disappointed not to finish third – every player is – and he’s an important player coming into finals.”