It is not, as Robbie Slater claims, like the loss of a family member. Robbie is either a slave to journalistic hyperbole or he has never lost someone close to him. But Dwight Yorke’s departure from Sydney FC and Australian football is depressing, and leaves a hole that will be almost impossible to fill.
It’s not just that he is the genuine star, the beaming face of the A-League, a marketer’s dream whose name and image fill billboards and newspapers even as he jets to Sunderland. More importantly, it was the way he played football that fans appreciated, and the exciting dimension he brought to our game.
I have missed only a couple of Sydney FC’s home games, and have often watched Yorke through the binoculars. Contrary to initial expectations that the party boy would be in Hugo’s Lounge most nights and would not work hard on the field, Yorke was an inspiration. From the time first-season coach Pierre Littbarski moved him to midfield, Yorke ran from box to box, one moment defending, seconds later arriving at the opposing penalty area.
As much as his overall contribution to the team, it’s the delicacies we will miss. Yorke can take a ball with his back to two defenders, and with a surprisingly deft pirouette, suddenly find himself in open space, surging forward on long, silky strides. Nobody else in the league has this touch.
Sydney let him go because the club is run by businessmen who lost $5 million in a year when the team won the competition, hosted 40,000 fans at the Grand Final and earned US$1 million in the World Club Championship. Littbarski was the first to go, and Sydney probably “saved” $1.25 million from Yorke’s departure (his $750,000 salary plus $500,000 transfer fee). The accountants will be delighted.
But the decision is short-sighted. Fans go to the game to watch a player like Yorke, and he was the pivot on which both the Sydney team and the game in this country turned.