In the middle of winter in 2009 I sat at Leichhardt Oval with David Zdrilic, David Basheer and a few hundred others watching a pre-season game between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners.
While we were encouraged by what Vitezslav Lavicka was doing with Sydney at the time the night wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring.
Fast forward to 2012 when I joined two-thousand football fans at the same venue to watch Sydney FC play a pre-season game against Newcastle Jets.
It was fresh off the back of the announcement that Alessandro Del Piero had signed for the Sky Blues and the excitement around the inner west area of Sydney – which has a large population of residents with Italian heritage – was palpable.
For me the excitement wasn’t confined to the hype around Pinturicchio, it was on the pitch too.
I’d been living in Europe during last season so the last game I watched live in Australia was the 2011 Grand Final, but even in comparison to that, I was blown away with what I saw at Leichhardt Oval.
Not so much in a technical sense, I believe we still have a long way to go in improving that area, but most certainly from a tactical perspective.
Sydney FC was very well organised in a 4-2-3-1 system (although there are indications it might play a 4-3-3), keeping the lines tight without the ball, pressing when it could and always looking to play out from the back.
Newcastle was equally as impressive in a 3-4-3 system, one similar to the complex 3-3-1-3 made famous by Marcelo Bielsa and used by Barcelona at times last season.
The Jets too were well organised and looking to play out from the back, although most impressive of all was their incessant pressing, one some European teams would be proud to orchestrate.
I marveled at the tactical complexity on show in a country that less than 10 years ago seemed a slave to the flat 4-4-2 while looking to knock the ball as far as possible when any sort of pressure was applied.
It’s not just Sydney and Newcastle which are set to make this the most intriguing campaign since the league’s inception in 2005.
At Hindmarsh Stadium last week Adelaide United played what coach John Kosmina referred to as “the best football in the club’s history”.
Again I was taken aback by the quality on show against a highly-regarded Bunyodkor side in a quarter-final of a continental competition. Adelaide used a fast, aggressive 4-3-3 that took its opponent, as well as a few fans, completely by surprise.
From reports it seems that Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory are also set to light the league up with an exciting brand of attacking football too.
Without having seen much of the other teams it’s difficult to make a judgement but when every coach talks about a commitment to playing out from the back and producing entertaining football, the omens are good.
Aside from a passing interest in the Brisbane Broncos I don’t really mind who wins in the NRL. But for the Grand Final between Canterbury and Melbourne I will be backing the Bulldogs, for reasons that have nothing to do with Rugby League.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler has taken a team that finished outside the finals places to within one win of the title, albeit without changing the players and by introducing an intellectual, professional approach to Rugby League coaching.
What makes the Bulldogs’ success so important is that it could inspire a cultural shift in Australian sport.
For many Australian sports fans the key to success lies with the players, with coaches having little influence on performance, but Hasler and A-League coaches are demonstrating that high-level professional coaching is a key component to success and a sport’s development.
Meet Our Bloggers
Fondly known as 'Mr Football', Les has been directly involved in all
the major events covered by SBS Sport, including five World Cup
football tournaments. Follow @lesmurraysbs on Twitter.
As SBS’s chief football analyst, Craig provides expert opinion and unrivalled insight. He has also represented the Socceroos and played abroad. Follow @Craig_Foster on Twitter.
Considered one of Australia's most gifted players, Ned Zelic represented the Socceroos 34 times over a decorated career that spanned Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom. Follow @NedZelic on Twitter.
After years playing abroad and a 20-goal career for the Socceroos, David turned his hand to football punditry and is a beach football fanatic. Follow @zdrila on Twitter.
Scott’s passion and knowledge of Asian football has consolidated his reputation as Australia’s foremost Asian football expert.
Vitor commentates for SBS and works as a presenter for The World Game. His passion for European football resonates through his blogs. Follow @Vitor_TWG on Twitter.
Philip Micallef is a football writer with almost 40 years of experience. He has worked for News Limited and now SBS. He is a long-time follower of AC Milan.
The Circus is The World Game's regular look at the beautiful game from left field. So join us every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for something a little more light-hearted than the norm.
British-born Tim works as a journalist and has lived in Brazil since 1994 and provides unrivalled knowledge of South American football.
Hailing from Amsterdam, Ajax tragic Cornell vander Heyden has over 12 years of journalism experience and cites covering the 2006 World Cup among his career highlights. Follow @dvanda101 on Twitter.