Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold has thanked fierce rivals Western Sydney Wanderers for playing a huge role in Ali Abbas' memorable return to the Hyundai A-League on Saturday night.
In his first-game since suffering a horrendous knee injury against the Wanderers in November 2014, Abbas scored the match-sealing goal in the Sky Blues’ 2-0 win over Newcastle at ANZ Stadium.
“It couldn’t have been scripted any better. It’s a day for Ali Abbas, let the headlines be about him,” Arnold said afterwards.
“I have to be honest I said to [Sydney FC CEO] Tony Pignata when we were doing the salary cap at the start of the season I didn’t think he would come back,”
“I thought he would struggle to get on the pitch again with the horrific injury that he had but the amount of work that kid has done and the effort he has put in.
“He hasn’t had a day off in the 13 months since he copped the injury. I get to training the earliest at 7.30 and Ali is there at 7.35.
“He’s working and working non-stop and when he couldn’t run he was boxing or doing cardio work and getting himself fit. It’s a great story how it’s panned out for him today.”
It was an impressive 20-minute cameo from the Iraqi international, who let out more than a year’s worth of frustrations on the struggling Jets.
Ironically, the Sky Blues next clash is the derby and a return to Pirtek Stadium, the same place where Abbas suffered the injury all those months ago.
In the wake of that incident, Sydney officials were disappointed at some of the comments by Wanderers supporters to Abbas but Arnold says it’s played a big part in the 29-year-old’s return.
“I think we need to thank the Wanderers fans for motivating him to come back,” the Sky Blues boss said.
“If you go into our dressing-room and see the photos, step-by-step of the horrific injury and Terry McFlynn printed out some of the things that were said about him, he’s used it as motivation. That’s been the driving force of him coming back.
“I know on Monday he’ll [Abbas] be saying ‘coach I want the Wanderers’,” Arnold added.
“I know that’s what his aim has been for the last 13 months is to be fit for this game.
“He put the date on the dressing-room once the draw was done. He’s pencilled in this date and that’s when he wanted to be there.
“He’s worked extremely hard, he’s a wonderful kid, he’s a fiery little customer and he’s passionate and that’s what we need in this team.”
While it wasn’t Sydney’s most fluent display of the season, it was a vital three points especially missing skipper Alex Brosque and Olyroos trio Andrew Hoole, Alex Gersbach and Brandon O’Neill.
Filip Holosko’s early goal looked like it would lead to a dominant win but there were a few nervy moments until Abbas’s strike.
“The players looked a little bit flat. They were saying it was very humid inside the stadium, with no air coming in and the field was quite bumpy and hard,” Arnold said.
“I was happy with the performance. It’s a good lead in for the Wanderers next week but also to get a couple of goals and a clean sheet is good and there’s a lot of promising things.”