City battling COVID outbreak to be ready for FFA Cup

With just over 24 hours until his side faces Wellington Phoenix in the FFA Cup, Melbourne City A-League Men coach Patrick Kisnorbo says he is still in the dark on who will be fit enough to play following a widespread COVID outbreak amongst his squad. 

Set to decide a place in the final four of the Cup, City’s meeting with Phoenix at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex on Wednesday evening will mark the club’s first game since their 2-2 draw with Melbourne Victory back on December 18. 

After initially being set to back that game up with a mid-week Cup clash with Wellington, a widespread COVID outbreak amongst the club’s men’s football department forced the postponement of that fixture, as well as a subsequent ALM fixture against Newcastle Jets. 

The postponements represented but one aspect of a prevailing trend in the A-Leagues and broader Australian sport: all but one ALM game cancelled over the weekend – unfortunately for the Nix, the one game that went ahead was their 4-0 loss to Adelaide United – and reports circling that, in the face of rising cases, the men’s Big Bash competition was considering relocating to a Victorian hub. 

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For its part, the A-Leagues have adopted a policy wherein participatory clubs have the ability to seek the postponement of a fixture if five members of a previous matchday squad contract the virus, although the isolation periods required for players and staff that do test positive is still largely governed by the jurisdiction in which the club resides. 

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Although he emphasised how quickly things could change in the current landscape, Kisnorbo was still expecting Wednesday’s meeting with Phoenix, the first time City’s ALM side will have played a competitive fixture in Melbourne’s southeast since relocating to Casey, to go ahead. 

However, with a number of his players only just out of mandatory home isolation and their fitness post-recovery from a respiratory infection still unknown, he was uncertain as to who would be able to play a role in the coming contest. 

It’s been crazy,” Kisnorbo said. “We won’t know what we have until after training. We have boys returning but how they feel is… I don’t know. Some of the boys have only been training for two days and we haven’t had a lot of preparation. We’re going to be unknown. We have to adapt. 

“We’ve only had maybe five that haven’t had COVID. So the rest have had it. It’s been a difficult time for us. We have players that are available for selection. How they feel after today I won’t know what the bench will be tomorrow I don’t know. What the starting XI will be I don’t know. Your guess at the moment is as good as mine. 

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“We approach it like every other game. The expectation is that it could be an opportunity for players to come in and to get a chance but, as normal, we sort of go into every game trying to do what we want to do and what we want to do and follow our processes. 

“Who starts is irrelevant, the main thing is that we have healthy players and those that come in are healthy to play.”

Though Kisnorbo said that his club’s ALM coaching staff had been able to escape infection – meaning that they didn’t have to share their players fate of a Christmas isolated away from friends and family – he did admit that the outbreak represented one of the most challenging circumstances he had ever had to face since becoming a coach. 

The 40-year-old is starting down the present week not only needing to figure out how to field a side for this Wednesday but then have his squad back-up for a crucial ALM fixture against second-placed Macarthur FC on Sunday evening.  

“In my first year of coaching I had injuries and red cards and now we have a virus,” he said. 

“I know it’s the world that we live in but it’s difficult as well with us in the A-Leagues because our squads here aren’t 40 or 50 – we only have a squad of 23. So it’s very difficult in this current climate. 

“But what do we do? We just keep going and make sure that the player’s health is the most important. And if the players are ok to play, they play. If they’re not? We can’t do much about that. 

“The players have been hungry to get back to training. Obviously being at home for seven to ten days without moving, I’m sure it’s a difficult time. They’ve been great since they’ve come into training. They’re hungry. 

“How they end up or how they’re feeling after football I don’t know; a 90-minute game is completely different. That’s what we have to manage day by day. 

“I’m not the government. All I need to worry about is our team and how they’re feeling. What happens in [the COVID-restrictions] space, it’s not my decision. My decision is to keep the players safe, train them as hard as I can and when called upon play our strongest XI on the park.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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