After going so close to snaring the championship in his first season as an A-League coach, Graham Arnold is grappling with a major dilemma ... what to do with a seven-month off-season.
His Central Coast Mariners team was only seconds away from landing its first title but it saw its dream of glory shattered by Brisbane Roar’s amazing comeback and subsequent shootout victory.
The next league season will not start before October and Arnold is in the process of mapping out the club’s course of action in a bid to stop his men from becoming “fat and unfit”."I don’t like our long off-season," Arnold told The World Game. "Most teams in Europe have four weeks off and they’re back into it.
"With us having seven months off we have to be very careful how we handle the pre-season so the players don’t go stale or lose their fitness and match momentum.
"I will be talking to Andrew Clarke and my staff. The way I look at it, if you give the players too much time off they will become fat and unfit.
"You can’t give them more than six weeks off so we’re training till the end of March then have six weeks off.
"We will probably have three to four weeks’ short and sharp pre-season from mid-May."
The Mariners will also be looking for some worthy opponents to keep them motivated ahead of the 2011-2012 campaign.
"Hopefully we will play a tournament in Asia in June or July, give the players another couple of weeks’ off then come back for another pre-season of seven or eight weeks which will include regular friendly matches," Arnold said.
"Players don’t like to train but they love playing football.
"That’s why I’ve agreed to some players like Alex Wilkinson and Adam Kwasnik going to Asia on loan deals because it’s a way to keep playing.
"Central Coast Mariners don’t have money and with some players going to China and not having to pay them for four months will give me back some $150,000, which we can use on buying a very good player.
"But on the other side if the competition were to start in August I wouldn’t have let the boys go."
Arnold hopes the experience he and his players gained from the late, final push for the 2010-2011 championship will hold the Mariners in good stead next season.
"I sincerely believe that we have had a fantastic season, despite losing the grand final in such unfortunate circumstances," he said.
"Brisbane took the game to a new level and made us other teams work even harder.
"I thought we are getting closer and closer to them.
"But we missed injured Patricio Perez enormously in the grand final. I’m not taking anything away from young Musti (Mustafa Amini) but he’s the sort of player who gives us a new dimension when he’s on the park."
Arnold is confident the Mariners’ reputation as a football-playing team that is prepared to give young players a go will make the club an attractive proposition to many players.
"Goalkeeper Matty Ryan and young Musti were the success stories of our season, a couple of young boys nobody would have heard of at the start of the season but now everybody is talking about them," he said.
"There is also the AFC Champions League, which should appeal to many players.
"And off the field we’ve set up a few training venues so no one can say that we are a club without proper training fields any more. This gives players a better sense of stability.
"We’ve got some recruitment to do and a couple of positions are open. Nick Mrdja has retired and Chris Doig has gone to Asia.
"I’ll be looking to strengthening the squad because we have a 21-member squad at the moment and six of them were under 18.
"Next season we have the ACL so we need more depth. I need a bit more quality in midfield and another defender."
Former Australia defender Dino Djulbic says he's happy to be home after signing a two-year A-League deal with Perth Glory.