Apprenticeships seldom last as long as the one Steve Corica has had to endure. All up, it’s eight years since he retired and joined Sydney FC’s coaching ranks.
In that time, he’s been the club’s youth coach and then assistant coach to several different bosses, starting with Vitezslav Lavicka and then progressing through Ian Crook, Frank Farina and Graham Arnold. Between Crook and Farina, he was briefly interim boss, but soon shifted back to the number two role.
It’s unusual for an assistant to last so long at one club, for the change of head coach usually precipitates a change in his deputies. Not so with Corica, who has managed to stay the course.
And so his time has finally come. Last month he put his hand up to take the big job. He could have stayed as a behind-the-scenes man that bit longer, but he stuck his neck out and risked it all. Good on him.
One of the unspoken rules of football is that it is very difficult for an assistant to remain at a club if they have actively applied for the top job and been knocked back.
But the payoff would be potentially huge if he could see off the competition for his job. And in the end, he did just that, winning the trust of chairman Scott Barlow. Now the real work begins.
The best asset Corica has is one of his best mates, Terry McFlynn. As much as the Ulsterman was lauded during his playing days, McFlynn is having as much of an impact – if not much more – in his present role (general manager of football operations).
His job description would cover only 50 per cent of the work he does; his ability to work with players off the field makes them better players on it. That’s a huge bonus for any manager, doubly so when you already have a strong professional and personal bond like they do.
The boots of Graham Arnold are among the biggest to fill in Australian football, as the Central Coast Mariners found out the hard way. He’ll leave a massive hole. But Corica has played his part in every one of the Sky Blues’ championships, each in a different role (squad player, captain and assistant coach) so he’ll have absorbed plenty about what makes the club successful.
And at the age of 45, he’s not exactly green, either. He’s older than Kevin Muscat, whose career has run virtually in parallel. Both are one-club men and transitioned from playing to coaching at the same time. Circumstances conspired to get Muscat into the top job at Victory first but Corica now joins him at the peak.
And Muscat’s success will give Corica a lot of confidence. Muscat also had to replace a huge name – Ange Postecoglou – and find a way to step up. With three grand finals and two championships to his name, it’s fair to say that he’s managed it very well.
They are different characters, however. Muscat was always going to be a manager, such was his domineering leadership style as a player. He’s had to curb the sharper edges of his personality and strike a balance. That’s a manager’s first test.
Corica is a quieter, more reserved figure, and will have to embrace the public side of the role. He’ll have to reassure fans, sponsors and the board that he can lead with authority and authenticity. Unless you’re Wayne Bennett, a degree of showmanship is needed for the role (even Bennett has it these days).
Besides, we’re talking about one of the biggest clubs in Australia’s biggest city, who not only demand success domestically but will expect to perform better in the AFC Champions League too.
In an ideal world, Corica’s first major senior job would be in a second tier, allowing himself to build slowly to a position like this. But his eight-year apprenticeship is probably the next best thing.