His contract with Sydney FC might have called time on Frank Farina’s role with the game in Oceania but his links with the region remain strong as ever.
Sydney FC take on Tahiti in a friendly.
His new two-year contract with Sydney FC might have called time on Frank Farina-s role with the game in Oceania but his links with the region remain as strong as ever.
Already having strong history with the region - his family lived in Port Moresby from 1966-76 - Farina was appointed head coach of Papua New Guinea in 2011, a role that grew into a development position for the Oceania Football Confederation.
Australia-s relatively recent rise in world football has seen the relationships with some of those nations the Socceroos often faced in the past eroded somewhat, but for Farina, working with amateur players and helping to establish new structures and pathways proved extremely rewarding.
The now full-time Sky Blues boss resigned from his position with the OFC when he took the job in Sydney but he is able to provide a unique insight into the growth of football in the federation that was Australia-s home for so long.
“It was refreshing,” Farina says. “It-s not as advanced in terms of coaching and the structure but in terms of working with the players and how passionate they are about the game.
“My other role with Oceania was coach, mentor and development of local coaches and programs. It gave me a different perspective of coaching, rather than the day-to-day of just working with the team.”
Most Australian fans still remember the days of Archie Thompson-s record-breaking 13 goals against American Samoa but Farina says the game in Oceania has taken great strides in recent years.
“Standards have improved 100 per cent. Papua New Guinea hadn-t played international football for eight years and they were basically the whipping boys of Oceania.
“When you look at the previous Nations Cup PNG participated in, you-d be lucky to get away with seven or eight-nil but we lost 2-1 to New Zealand and drew with Fiji; New Zealand got knocked out in the semi-finals and Tahiti are now going to the Confederations Cup.
"The standard overall in the region, both playing and coaching, has significantly improved.”
And as Oceania standards rise, the region will no doubt start to catch the eye of Australian coaches looking for untapped talent at bargain prices.
Solomon Islands footballer Benjamin Totori has made his mark for Wellington Phoenix this season, and last year Central Coast Mariners coach Graham Arnold noted the improvement in the region.
Farina believes there is some way to go before Oceania becomes a direct talent pool for the Hyundai A-league, given the restrictions based on visa players, but that doesn-t mean the talent isn-t there.
“There are a handful that wouldn-t be out of place in an A-League squad,” Farina says. “I-m not saying first-team players - but the major issue is they would be visa players and not many would be looking at taking any.
“There is potential there and before long we-ll see Oceania representatives - but visa players should be established internationals, otherwise they-re taking the spot of a young Australian player.”
Farina-s connections with the region also saw Sydney FC play a friendly against Tahiti, as the island nation prepare for their debut at the Confederations Cup, which takes place in Brazil in June. The Sky Blues strolled to a 4-0 win but Farina says he was more than happy to help the Tahiti team prepare for a huge step.
“They-re going to the Federations Cup but they-re struggling to get high quality matches and they played two or three games when they were here as part of the preparation. It-ll be a great experience when they go to Brazil it-s going to be very tough for them.”
In the meantime, getting the full-time job with Sydney FC means Farina has been able to shift his planning slightly. The focus remains on getting Sydney into the finals but knowing he will be there next season means the new coach can finally start thinking long-term.
“It came as a surprise that the owners and board decided at this stage because I was under no illusions coming down here that I was here until the end of the season and to get us away from where we were.
“My focus has always been week to week and to the end of the season. This won-t change that dramatically but now we can start planning for next season. We-ve worked our way into a position where we can potentially make the finals.
But now I-m going to be here next season, the players realise they-ve got to lift and perform if they-re going to be around next year.”