Graham Arnold congratulated Melbourne Victory on a well-deserved Hyundai A-League grand final win but declared the heart-breaking experience will make Sydney FC an even stronger force next season.
The Sky Blues struggled to deal with Victory’s intensity, eventually succumbing 3-0 in a fiery decider at a heaving AAMI Park.
An early hamstring injury to experienced defender Jacques Faty didn’t help the visitor’s cause but there’s no doubt Victory were worthy champions.
“I’ve got to be honest, tonight Melbourne Victory were the better team,” a disappointed but proud Arnold said.
“The loss of Jacques Faty early in the game unsettled us. Jacques is a real communicator at the back.
“Matty Jurman having to come off a couple of times with the blood rule as well, it rattled the side a little bit.
“But you have to give credit to Melbourne Victory, they were the better side tonight.”
Both sides found it hard to get into any great rhythm as a spiteful clash became stop-start due to a number of free-kicks.
But it was the home side that made the most of the key moments, with grand final specialist Besart Berisha scoring in the first half before Kosta Barbarouses and Leigh Broxham both scored inside the last seven minutes.
Arnold took responsibility for the late goals as the Sky Blues chased an equalizer but said overall he was thrilled with the season for the club.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the players. We’ve had a tough season in terms of the injuries we had and we’ve also come a hell of a long way,” the Sky Blues boss said.
“As I just said to the boys in the dressing room, I can’t be angry with them, they gave me everything they’ve got this season.
“If at the start of the season you told me we’d get Asian champions League in year one, second spot and play in the grand final, I would have signed for that straight away.
“We’ve had a hugely successful year.”
The focus will now turn to keeping the majority of the squad together for next season, with a number of key player’s off-contract.
Marquee man Marc Janko, winger Bernie Ibini and imports Faty and Mickael Tavares will be priority signings.
“I’m confident we can keep at least 17 players out of the 21 or 22,” Arnold said.
“We’ll go away from this and re-assess because Jacques Faty and Mickael Tavares were our injury replacement. We’ll talk to them and see where they’re at. We’ve also got other players who are off contract.
“We’ve got time to recruit and look at things and make sure we get it right because I’ve always been a firm believer you have to lose one before you win one.
“I want them to remember these feelings, as disappointing as it is, how bad they feel for the motivation for next year.”
Arnold said he was unsure over Janko’s future, with the striker reportedly already making up his mind on where he will play next season.
The Sydney boss also said the upcoming friendlies with EPL giants Chelsea and Tottenham would be reward for the player’s efforts this season and a chance to quickly get over the pain of grand final defeat.