When Josh Brillante signed for City in August last year, fans knew it was likely to spell the end for fan-favourite Luke Brattan, who departed the following day.
The two central midfielders, quite alike in their style of play, ended up moving in opposite directions, with Brillante arriving at City from Sydney FC and the Sky Blues announcing their acquisition of Brattan not too long after he left Melbourne.
Unsurprisingly, the question of ‘who got the better deal’ from that particular series of events has been occupying unconscious space at the back of fans’ minds for the duration of the season thus far. Indeed, the comparisons between the two players’ successes have been hard to avoid in conversations with mates at the football.
The midfielders’ statistics from 2019/20 tell an interesting story, with the numbers outlining the importance of either player to their respective teams in different areas of the pitch.
To preface, Brillante has made 23 appearances (22 starts) this season, with Brattan behind on 19 (starting in every one of these), so this may need to be considered throughout the rest of the comparison.
The goal and assist figures, though not entirely relevant to these two holding midfielders, go the way of Brillante, with City’s midfield engine scoring once (against Western Sydney) and turning provider on three occasions this season.
Brattan, on the other hand, is yet to score and has provided just one assist which is a surprising finding given that he seems to have played the more offensive game of the two this season, with a higher percentage of forward passes, a higher number of crosses and a higher number of passes made in the attacking half of the field.
One possible explanation for this contradiction could be that the majority of the direct offensive work for Sydney is performed by two of the league’s best attacking midfielders in Milos Ninkovic and Alexander Baumjohann playing ahead of Brattan, with the latter’s forward-half involvement likely diminished to just a supporting role.
Brillante, in contrast, excelled offensively early in the season when playing alongside the strictly-defensive Rostyn Griffiths by occupying spaces higher up the pitch and making runs beyond our attacking line, which may also help to explain his higher number of shots (25 to 20).
It was the City midfielder, however, who was far superior on the defensive side of things, winning 55% of his duels (vs 48%) and 72% of his tackles (vs 60%), all while picking up just two bookings (vs 7).
Brillante left City fans impressed in Round 4 when he put in a man-of-the-match performance at centre-back against Wellington, with the 5’8” midfielder demonstrating defensive capabilities and physical competitiveness far beyond what might have been expected of him in that position.
To ease off the statistical pedal for a moment, what Brillante has demonstrated consistently throughout the season is his versatility as a footballer in addition to his more expected attributes of consistency and reliability.
Particularly in the first half of the season, Brillante felt like a Player of the Year dark horse; whilst Jamie Maclaren was scoring goals left, right and centre, much of the build-up play to progress the ball to JMac’s lethal feet felt like it was being dictated largely thanks to Brillante’s midfield tenacity and final-third involvement which far exceeded anything that may have been expected of as a ‘holding midfielder’.
Perhaps the key determinant for which team got the better deal might be the noteworthy discrepancy between the ages of the two players.
Both midfielders celebrated their birthdays in March earlier this year, with Brillante turning 27 whilst Brattan hit the milestone of 30.
Whilst Brillante is only signed to a 2-year deal (and we’d be crazy not to extend that deal as soon as is reasonably possible), he remains in his peak physically and as a player, with a handful of years left before the inevitable natural decline that all players must endure – it’s a decline that’s likely to arrive a fair bit sooner for Brattan.
Whilst it was difficult for fans to say goodbye to Brattan after three full seasons with the club – perhaps feeling as though a few more years may have elevated him to ‘club great’ status – our acquisition of the younger, arguably superior Brillante can only be seen as a good bit of business by the club.
Sydney may be on the verge of yet another A-League title with new signing Brattan in the heart of midfield, but it’s City who have struck themselves the better deal with the acquisition of such an influential player as Brillante.