Two phenomena have created the perfect environment for local coaches to make an impact on the A-League: financial trouble that has plagued the competition and the rapid evolution in this country of coach education.
Lingering financial problems among many of the A-League’s key investors has signaled an end to the era of foreign coaches and in all probability, expensive foreign players. Clubs simply can’t afford to shell out for that big marquee name and what we are left with is a seller’s market in the coaching ranks.
The evidence of this lies in the recent head coach appointments of John Aloisi at Melbourne Heart, Rado Vidosic at Brisbane Roar and Ange Postecoglou at Melbourne Victory. Add to that Tony Popovic’s pending deal with either of the Sydney clubs and Graham Arnold’s re-signing at Central Coast Mariners and for the first time in the competition’s history, 90 percent of the coaches are locals. Such has been the growth and development of top Australian coaches, that they have posted greater success in the A-League over the past two years than imports. Added to which, locals present a reduced risk or safer investment for immediate return of results.
This process has been really enjoyable to watch, as our locals have been challenged to raise their game and have committed themselves to higher standards of learning, understanding and professionalism to compete with the influx of foreigners.
One thing about Aussies that is guaranteed, we love a challenge and the way our coaches have responded is a credit to each of them. The buck can’t stop here. Every season we want to see someone take the game further forward, challenge the rest, create new thinking and bring us closer to the higher levels of the game.
The adaptation process is still too slow for my liking and the quality of coaching not yet spread across the entire A-League. Every club must have an outstanding practitioner so that every match becomes something that each must prepare for, anticipate and overcome to succeed.
This will come in time.
When reflective on his time coaching in Italy, Jose Mourinho says that the media’s thorough knowledge of the game allows it to hold coaches accountable. On the side pitch you are engaged in a tactical battle with your opposite number from the first whistle to the last.
With each tactical change during a match, there is usually an instant counter-response form the opposing bench, something that shows the very high tactical level across their coaching ranks. This is our aim in the A-League, both within the media and throughout a match. The end result is extremely versatile coaches and, by extension, players.
In the early years of the A-League, it was imperative that the local monopoly and insular coaching community was broken and new methods brought in to change the dynamics of the industry.
The early coaching appointments from abroad were disgraceful, yet they served a purpose of creating an environment where improvement was necessary so local coaches could challenge within a market governed by misconceptions.
We are an island and it is critical we develop an outward-looking culture with a strong institutional focus on constant challenge and learning, otherwise we’ll fall further behind.
This process has not always been a comfortable one - challenge and growth never is - but it has been highly successful and we now have a new way of looking at the game. The methodology is constantly changing to create more professional coaches who are technicians, rather than managers, and all of this takes us forward, step by step.
There are still major issues, like the high cost of coaching licenses, but great progress is being made.
One excellent initiative introduced by Han Berger is a standard of minimum accreditation required for every level of the game.
A few years ago, Berger instituted Football Federation Australia Coaching Scholarships. Alistair Edwards (Joey’s coach), Paul Okon (Young Socceroos), Steve Corica (Sydney FC Youth), Alex Tobin (FNSW TD) and others have since matriculated from this an excellent initiative.
It is pleasing to see that a decade after we started a conversation (well, an argument) about the level of Aussie coaches and the urgent need for education and modern methods, we are now seeing a new generation coming through.
Some have crossed over from previous years, such as Postecoglou, Arnold, Vidosic and Gary van Egmond - all of whom have done or are doing their Pro Licences and had to re-educate themselves - and others are just undertaking their A-Licences now: David Zdrilic, Zeljko Kalac, Kevin Muscat are a few that come to mind.
Aloisi and Popovic took the opportunity as former European professional players to study and become accredited abroad, making them an excellent addition to the collective knowledge base of the domestic game.
So we arrive at a point where, for the first tim, our former players are being educated at a high level thanks to the new structure in place from Berger. Now the game is ready to employ them due in large part to the financial situation locally.
Given their playing backgrounds and experience at higher levels of the game under leading practitioners, I believe the next generation will surpass any we have had to date.
That’s the way it should be, and our former coaches would be delighted to think that is the case, because we all want Australian football to succeed.
After a sometimes painful process which succeeded in changing the level of thinking and challenged everyone to raise their level to survive, they’re ready to begin their development on the job, and that is the most gratifying part of all.
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