Ufuk Talay: Australia’s next great football coach?

George Clarke |

Focus, pressing and an accent on youth: Ufuk Talay has transformed Sydney FC this season.
Focus, pressing and an accent on youth: Ufuk Talay has transformed Sydney FC this season.

After just 24 games in charge of Sydney FC, and without so much as moving a single player on, Ufuk Talay has achieved what it takes most managers years to accomplish and overseen a revolution.

Sydney finished fourth in the regular A-League Men season, with a 50 per cent win rate under Talay, and will face Macarthur in an elimination final on Saturday.

But the numbers don’t quite tell the story of the radical change Talay has implemented since he replaced Steve Corica in November. 

In the intervening six months, the 48-year-old has transformed Sydney from a team who were bottom and winless after three games. 

He has reshaped the Sky Blues into a high-octane pressing side with the potential to go deep in this year’s finals series. 

Ufuk Talay.
Talay knew exactly what he wanted from his early coaching sessions with the Sky Blues. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

It was, as Talay explains, a direction he signalled on his second day in charge. 

“We did a yo-yo test to see how they’d react, to see which players would go, ‘What the hell is going on here?’,” Talay tells AAP.

“It wasn’t to destroy them or see if they were fit or not. We wanted to see their character, but it was also to show the mentality has to change.

“I thought when I came into the role that as a big club we should dictate terms with the way we play.”

Sydney smashed Adelaide 5-1 in Talay’s first game in charge, going on to overcome some teething trouble to successfully implement ‘Uffy-ball’, where the side press with purpose, attack with intent and shoot on sight. 

They finished the season with a 7-1 annihilation of Perth Glory, a fortnight on from snatching a white-knuckle derby victory against Western Sydney Wanderers with a 98th-minute winner.

Action from Adelaide United v Sydney.
Sign of things to come: Sydney battered Adelaide United 5-1 in Talay’s first game in charge. (Matt Turner/AAP PHOTOS)

The catch-cry the club has adopted is ‘we don’t stop’ and their ability to play at the break-neck speed demanded by Talay and assistant David Zdrilic has been enabled by an extra conditioning session every week.

Along the way, Talay has shown no favours to the club’s more established names. 

If there was a lasting critique of Corica’s tenure, it was that he struggled to integrate players from an academy side oozing with talent into the first team, with Sydney’s best youngsters often picked off and then sold for a profit by their rivals.

It has been noticeable, then, that – even when fit – big-name import Jack Rodwell and Socceroos left-back Joel King have struggled to find a way into Talay’s side.

The Sydney boss has preferred a central-defensive duo of Jake Girdwood-Reich and Hayden Matthews, both 19, along with 21-year-old Jordan Courtney-Perkins at left-back.

Corey Hollman, 20, has been a rock in the midfield alongside club captain Luke Brattan, who has wound back the clock under Talay. 

“We want to promote our own, but it is a balance in a salary-capped competition,” Talay says. 

The Sydney manager was once dubbed the greatest Australian player never to win a Socceroos cap.

On the last six months of evidence, it would be little surprise if Talay’s coaching achievements surpassed those of his playing career. 

Ufuk Talay playing for North Queensland Fury in 2010.
The ‘greatest player never to win a Socceroos cap’ in action for North Queensland Fury in 2010. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

The fast-rising coach spent time alongside Graham Arnold in Socceroos camp last year, and he was shaped by Ange Postecoglou and Corica before taking his first club job with Wellington Phoenix in 2019.

All those prominent coaches have played their part in Talay’s perspective, but arguably the most influential figure on his outlook – on life and football – is his 78-year-old father Yasar, from 15,000km away overlooking the Black Sea in Turkey.

Talay’s dad is so invested in his son’s journey that win, lose or draw, he will be on the phone in the small window between the fulltime whistle and Ufuk’s post-match press conference to find out what happened.

“He doesn’t get to watch the game because he doesn’t know how to work YouTube, but he gets the highlights on Insta and sees the game that way,” Talay says. 

Talay’s parents arrived in Australia from Turkey in 1969. When their then-teenaged son signed with giants Galatasaray as a player in 1995, they took the return journey.

Yasar, whose connections helped facilitate that move to Turkey’s Super Lig giants, remains a sounding-board to this day.

“When I was at Wellington, he loved Ben Waine. When I wasn’t playing him, (dad) would say, ‘Why won’t you play Waino?’,” Talay says. 

Talay coaching Wellington.
Dad Yasar always had strong ideas on Talay’s Wellington Phoenix lineups. (Kelly Barnes/AAP PHOTOS)

“I always say if I carry my old man on my back for 100 years I can’t repay him for what he’s done for me. 

“He doesn’t gain anything if he blows smoke up your arse … he’s a bit old school in that he doesn’t mind putting your feet back on the ground. 

“I will always call my dad and ask for his advice on big decisions, he never tells me what to do but he always says, ‘You’ll know best’.”

It’s a strategy that has set Talay up for success in his maiden year at the helm of the competition’s glamour club.

Beat Macarthur and Sydney FC will be one step closer to their first title since 2020, something Talay believes is more than attainable. 

“We have the players who enjoy big games and rise to the occasion,” he says. 

“From what the group has shown up until now, we have the capability of pushing and going all the way.”