‘We play a similar brand of football but it’s the players that bring it to life’: Former Sky Blue Talay putting his own stamp on the Phoenix

Friday night’s blockbuster return of the Hyundai A-League not only pits two of the competition heavyweights against each other but also two teams that have similar styles and philosophies.

It should probably come as no surprise considering the two head coaches – Ufuk Talay and Steve Corica – worked together as Sydney FC surged to the Championship last season.

Corica led the Sky Blues to the title in his first season as a head coach, with Talay one of his trusty assistants.

The Phoenix saw enough in Talay’s coaching nous to offer him their head coaching role for the 2019/20 campaign, and it’s been a marriage made in heaven.

Despite going winless in their first four games, Phoenix have been one of the surprise packets of the league, losing just two of their last 16 matches to sit third on the Hyundai A-League ladder.

“I wasn’t surprised. I had an unbelievable relationship with [Talay] last year,” Sydney FC star Milos Ninkovic told www.a-league.com.au.

“I didn’t know him as a player but when I saw him last year when he joined us in training I saw he was a very good player.

“I expected that he could be an even better coach, the way he explained things when he was talking on the pitch.

“That’s why I think he can be a really good coach. I’m not surprised as they have a good team and they have a very good coach.”

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Ufuk Talay
Ufuk Talay as part of the Sydney FC coaching staff last season

Fellow Sydney FC attacker Kosta Barbarouses wasn’t a member of the Sky Blues title success last season but has watched from afar as the 44-year-old has turned Phoenix into a team full of potential.

And he has paid Talay the ultimate compliment, comparing his impact across the ditch to one of his former clubs that took the competition by storm.

“It reminds me a little bit of my time at Brisbane where the squads not made up of too many big games but they are all hungry there to make a good impression,” Barbarouses said.

“They are respecting their coach and following what he wants out of the players.

“I think they are a great side, a dangerous team to come up against.

“It’s great to see Wellington doing well because sometimes when things aren’t going so well for them there’s a few people on their backs. So I like to see Wellington doing well.”

Wellington Phoenix
Phoenix players celebrate a goal during the 2019/20 campaign

Talay’s connection to Sydney FC goes back further than just last season’s success as an assistant coach.

The classy midfielder spent three seasons at the club as player and was part of the squad that won the inaugural Hyundai A-League Championship in 2005/06.

While his he brought some of the Sky Blues’ blueprint for success with him across the ditch, Talay stops short of labelling his side a ‘mini-Sydney FC’.

He admits the two sides share plenty of similarities but says it’s the qualities of the players in his squad that make the difference.

“Formation is just a starting point…but the way that I believe the game looks and the way that I want to play the game, the players are the ones that bring it to life with the attributes they have,” Talay said.

“For me it’s about having players in the right areas. We play a similar brand of football but it’s the players that bring it to life.

He added: “It’s a good match-up [against Sydney FC]. I know Stevie wouldn’t want to lose coaching against me.

“It’s just the passion and the competition we have and that’s why we’re where we’re at, at the moment. For me I love playing these challenging games.”

Ufuk Talay watches his side on the training pitch
Ufuk Talay watches his side on the training pitch