Adam Le Fondre has cemented himself as one of Sydney FC’s greats and one of the best imports to grace the Isuzu UTE A-League after a fine career in the Premier League and England. Ahead of a Semi Final showdown against Melbourne City, he looks back on some significant moments with KEEPUP’s Sacha Pisani and reveals what’s fuelling the Sky Blues.
Mindset. It’s what separates the best from the rest and it’s why Adam Le Fondre is still at the peak of his powers with Sydney FC, five years on from his arrival.
It’s not just his goals and European pedigree. For example, the former Premier League striker has scored 11 goals from 19 appearances this season – equalling the tally from the previous two seasons combined, having scored in five consecutive games. Yet, he still isn’t happy.
Le Fondre has dealt with injury problems in 2022-23, but it is that ruthless mentality that has the 36-year-old spearheading Sydney’s Championship quest heading into Friday night’s Semi Final first leg against three-time reigning premiers Melbourne City at Allianz Stadium.
“It’s been really annoying for me really,” the two-time Isuzu UTE A-League champion told KEEPUP, before highlighting Sydney’s change in formation this season.
“It’s positive the way I’m finishing the season but I look at my season as a whole and think I could’ve done a lot more if I wasn’t injured. It’s something I need to look at myself to see what I can do different to keep myself on the pitch.
“I definitely think I should be getting 15-plus goals a season in this league at the stage I’m at now. When I look back on this season, regardless of what I score now – unless I score bloody three hat-tricks if we get to the Grand Final, I’d consider it disappointing really.
“It’s great I’ve got to double-figures in the limited games but I should be getting 15+. It’s me rueing what could’ve been and I don’t like doing that, I don’t like dwelling on things.
“To have two injuries this season is really disappointing. The form would always be there, it’s just making sure I’m there to help the team all the time.
“I read lots during the season that I’m finished etc, all I knew is that if I got the chances, I’d score goals. The tweaks we’ve made has made it really fruitful for all of us. Whereas beforehand I didn’t feel like it was quite as fruitful for me in the front free. It was a lot of adapting for me to do. We’ve all come together and created the perfect formula.”
Scoring against Man Utd & Chelsea: Alfie’s rapid rise
Football moves fast, so it is incredible how quickly things can change for a player.
At the start of the 2011-12 season, Le Fondre was running around in League Two with Rotherham United. Twelve months later, he was starting a Premier League match for Reading after playing a key role in just their second successful promotion from the Championship.
He capped the opening day of the Premier League season with an equalising 90th-minute penalty.
“It was very special because the season prior to us getting promoted, I had played three or four games with Rotherham,” he recalled. “I made it known I wanted to play higher but nothing really materialised then Reading came in and signed me.
“For me it was like a dream come true. The season later, I started the first game against Stoke City in the Premier League and literally 12 months before that, I was playing somewhere like Barnet at home.
“The turnaround was absolutely incredible. Just the club as a whole welcomed me as a person.
“It helped me grow into a man. I was more of a kid before. I was 23 but I wasn’t as responsible because I lived close to my parents. I probably relied way more than I should of on them. It made me really focus on my career.”
It was a memorable first season in the Premier League for Le Fondre, who is second on Sydney’s all-time goalscorers list behind club legend Alex Brosque.
He ended the campaign as Reading’s top scorer, with 12 goals in the Premier League and 14 in all competitions, having found the back of the net against the team he supported as a child – Manchester United.
This was Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winning side in his final campaign, led by Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in a thrilling 4-3 victory at Madejski Stadium, where Le Fondre had equalised in the 19th minute of a seven-goal opening half.
“It was around my birthday, so I had a lot of family down. My dad is a staunch Red like me. To watch them as a kid and the next minute, I’m playing against them,” said Le Fondre.
“Rooney, van Persie were up front. It was almost bittersweet because I’m watching them link up to cut our midfield, defence and me to shreds. Yet, it’s sort of the stuff I cheer at home.
“Scoring against them.. I’d go back to when I was in League Two. Looking and dreaming about being talked about on Match of the Day and stuff like that. You fast forward 14-15 months and I’m scoring a goal against Manchester United.
“That sort of thing was only a dream before that. It was a very surreal moment. It’s a memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life, not just the rest of my career. It’s stuff I can say I have done.
“Scoring against United is something I would’ve loved to have done when I was seven years old so to tick it off the list, it’s not something many people get to do.”
Le Fondre went one better against Chelsea that season, bagging a double in a 2-2 draw with a Blues team that boasted Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, John Terry, Fernando Torres, David Luiz, Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Eden Hazard and went on to win the UEFA Europa League.
He also scored in a 5-2 loss at home to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. It was vindication for the Stockport-born forward.
“That one was one of the last days of the January window. It was almost a gravity for us, where the ball was getting sucked in by the fans,” Le Fondre said of his two-goal haul against Chelsea. “It seemed to be me as the only one shooting. It was amazing for me.
“We kept picking up results and it was giving us confidence as a group that we might be able to climb out of relegation. Unfortunately we couldn’t sustain it.
“Scoring against Chelsea was incredible. I managed to score against Arsenal too. Scoring against some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League really vindicated what I always believed in myself that given chances, I’ll score against anyone.
“It almost gave me more self-confidence in the process I’d done up until that point and beyond.”
That wild 12-goal shoot-out against Arsenal
October 30, 2012 is a date remembered for one of the craziest and most entertaining matches in recent history.
Arsenal overcame Reading 7-5 in what is now the joint-highest scoring match in the history of the League Cup. At one stage, it was the outright record.
Reading, with Australian goalkeeper Adam Federici between the sticks, raced out to an incredible 4-0 lead in the fourth-round tie before Theo Walcott pulled a goal back before half-time at the Madejski Stadium.
Arsenal turned the match on its head with a three-goal second half, forcing extra time thanks to Walcott’s 96th-minute equaliser. Pavel Pogrebnyak traded goals with Marouane Chamakh before he and Walcott sealed a jaw-dropping win.
Le Fondre, who was Reading’s leading goalscorer in back-to-back seasons, was an unused substitute that night but watched the drama unfold on the sidelines.
“Funny enough, we went ahead 4-1 at half-time and I was thinking I’m definitely not coming on because I’d normally come on if we were losing or drawing,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘oh yeah I’m staying on the bench all game here, this looks like it’s wrapped up’.
“They came out in the second half and absolutely rinsed us… It was an incredible game really.
“I remember watching Walcott and coming out after the game, thinking ‘bloody hell’, I know players are good in the Premier League but honestly that day I was like, ‘oh my god, Walcott is absolutely unbelievable’.
“That game he was unstoppable. He was like Messi dribbling through everyone.
“It was an incredible experience. Everyone who played in that team that season, they’d probably say we were on the wrong side of games like that too much. We were always in entertaining games, but we were on the wrong side of results.”
Working with a United idol
After three years with Reading, Le Fondre made the move to Wales to join Cardiff City.
A prolific scorer loyal to his Greater Manchester roots, supporting United, he idolised two Red Devils legends – Eric Cantona and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
So, when the opportunity came up to join forces with Solskjaer at Cardiff in the Championship, he jumped at it. It was a brief union, however, as the Norwegian only lasted eight months in the role.
After three years with Molde, he returned to United as caretaker manager in 2018 following Jose Mourinho’s departure and was eventually appointed permanently before he was sacked in 2021.
“It was very interesting. I felt really sorry for him at Cardiff. To be fair, he’d been trying to sign me for about six or eight months when I was in the Championship to go to Cardiff in the Premier League and they had to wait,” Le Fondre said.
“He was one of the major factors in going to Cardiff because of how much I idolised him and I thought he could help improve my game. To work with him was almost a dream come true. To work with someone who was a fantastic striker and amazing finisher, it was something I jumped at.
“To work with Ole was amazing. From my experience in the Championship, he just needed some more experience around him who knew the Championship a bit more than he did. I think he thought, at that time, beautiful football would be the winner… no pressing.
“The squad we assembled, we had some very good players but it was a bloated squad. We had a squad of 30 and a lot of them were pulling in different directions so it wasn’t an easy job.
“The hierarchy above him weren’t too keen on some of his selections, so they were forever having arguments. That’s why I think his tenure was cut short a bit in cardiff. Given time and some more experience within his coaching staff, he would’ve done a really good job.
“I’m not gonna sit here and slander him because I think he did a decent job with the cards he was dealt. He had the right idea.”
‘It would be such a sweet moment to ram it down people’s throat’
It has been a challenging season for Le Fondre and star-studded Sydney.
After missing the finals for the first time in six years in 2021-22, there was a change in formation and personnel, with the arrivals of Robert Mak, Joe Lolley, Jack Rodwell and Diego Caballo.
The Sky Blues struggled at times during the regular season amid mounting pressure on head coach Steve Corica but he has shielded the squad from the external noise and has Sydney peaking at the right time.
Ahead of City’s visit, Sydney are are in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak after upstaging bitter rivals Western Sydney Wanderers in the Elimination Final.
The 2019-20 double remains at the top of the list for Le Fondre, but going on to win this season’s Championship would represent significant satisfaction.
“As a collective, this would be a nice ‘f you’ from all of us. All the players have see the pressure Bimbi’s been under and how he has shielded us,” said Le Fondre, who added former Socceroo and Reading teammate Federici had played a role in relocating Down Under.
“We’ve all had certain parts where we’ve been slagged off or whatever. It would be such a sweet moment to ram it down people’s throat that we are the best, even though we haven’t been great this season. It could turn out to be unbelievable season.
“But we have a big challenge ahead of us. We have the premiers, who have arguably been the best team in the past two years or so. We know it won’t be an easy route and we relish that. We’ve shown with the squad we have, a lot of big-game players, we relish the challenge that’s coming.
“As a prize for us to do that, if we do accomplish it. It would be amazing achievement and a great moment for us. It gives us a good siege mentality going into the play-off, how much everyone has written us off.
“One of the funniest things for me going into a finals game, we were the underdogs.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been an underdog as a Sydney player in any finals game. It’s a different tag to live under but it was quite nice. I think it brought us all together a bit more.
“It doesn’t get bigger than playing against the premiers. The last four or five years I’ve been here, they’ve sort of been our arch-nemesis of us. There’s been toing and froing for the first two years we had it and it’s crossed over to them at the moment. It would be nice if we start to wrestle that back.”