When looking to pick an A-League team of the season it’s tempting just to stick in the whole of the Sydney first XI.
After all, Graham Arnold’s team have proven themselves week after week to be so far ahead of the rest that even second-placed Melbourne Victory have needed binoculars to see them in the distance.
Sydney has set a new benchmark for the most competition points in a season, their 66 in 27 games bettering Brisbane Roar’s 2010-11 record of 65 points in a 30-game season.
They also set a record for an undefeated start to a campaign, going 19 games without a loss, and also became the first team to post 20 wins in a regular season.
Not surprisingly, the 17 points by which they won the title was also a new standard, bettering the 12 points Victory had to spare over their opposition in 2006-07.
What has been a key to Sydney’s success has been their parsimony at the back, which is why our team of the season features four of the Sydney back five. Hardly surprising given they have conceded only 12 goals in 27 matches, keeping 16 clean sheets in the process.
So step forward Danny Vukovic, Rhyan Grant, Alex Wilkinson and Michael Zullo, respectively the goalkeeper, right-back, centre-half and left-back of the all-conquering Sydney squad.
Vukovic has given Sydney stability between the posts and his excellent form this season was rewarded by national-team coach Ange Postecoglou with a call-up for the Socceroos for the recent World Cup qualifiers against the UAE and Iraq.
So, too, was marauding full-back Rhyan Grant, whose driving runs and energy have made him a key component on the flanks for the Premiers.
Alex Wilkinson’s days in the Socceroos may be over but he is still a rock-solid proposition at the heart of defence. Along with Vukovic he has given Sydney a solid spine that they lacked before and his calmness and organisational ability have played a major role in the Sky Blues’ concession of so few goals.
Zullo is, like Wilkinson, another former Socceroo who appears to have been discarded at national-team level. But he has enjoyed a new lease of life in the NSW capital after leaving Melbourne City last season and his pace and skill on the left flank mirrors Grant’s work on the right.
There are few candidates who stand out to partner Wilkinson. Jordi Buijs would be a contender, but the Dutchman only joined Sydney in January and missed half the season.
Evergreen Jade North has started in 24 games for Brisbane this season, but perhaps Danish defender Michael Jakobsen might get the nod. His coach, Michael Valkanis, says he is the best centre-back in the league, and City badly missed his defensive nous when he was out of action for eight weeks.
Given this is a team that will play only on paper we can eschew some of the niceties of real-life selection.
Were this side facing an Asian Champions League opponent we might be tempted to field two midfielders of the ilk of Sydney pair Brandon O’Neill and Josh Brilliante to provide a base for the likes of Milos Ninkovic, their Sky Blue teammate, to wave his creative wand.
But as it’s playing in fantasy land we can dispense with the blue-collar virtues of holding midfielders and plump for creativity in our midfield unit.
So the Serbian Ninkovic is the first name on this list, alongside the Argentinian Nicolas Martinez, who has lit up the centre of the park for Western Sydney Wanderers as Tony Popovic’s men made a late-season charge to the finals.
We can also find a place for Melbourne Victory’s James Troisi, whose consistent season and attacking flair has allowed him to win his place back in the Socceroos squad.
Up front it’s hard to go past the two men who shared the Golden Boot award this season, Victory’s Besart Berisha and Brisbane’s Jamie Maclaren, with Perth’s scintillating Spaniard Diego Castro also adding to the squad’s attacking armoury.
Tim Cahill has delivered in the big moments for Melbourne City, so he is on the bench, alongside teammate Bruno Fornaroli, Kiwi winger Marco Rojas, with Rojas’ Victory teammate Lawrence Thomas as back-up shot stopper and the aforementioned O’Neill and Brillan
This is a side that is certainly entertaining and attacking. And who, in a fantasy world, is going to argue against picking a side that plays fantasy football?