After three successive years of choking on wooden spoons, Central Coast Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth finds himself in largely unfamiliar territory, gazing down from the A-League summit two games into the new season.
But the Englishman, who remains actively engaged in trying to sell the club, isn’t giddy with excitement just yet, exclaiming simply: “It’s far too early to say too much but I do think this season will be more competitive across the board.
“People don’t believe this but last season we improved on the previous season and if this season we can do that again we’re going to finish higher up the table.
“Fans want to see an improvement and a couple of early wins builds a bit of confidence and belief.
“It’s going to be a topsy-turvy season, largely because of COVID and all the uncertainty surrounding that.”
If a credible investor had stepped forward and met a mooted asking price of around $4 million, Charlesworth would already have ended his turbulent and financially draining seven-year journey with the once over-performing club.
Whilst the search goes on to unearth a buyer, he’s guardedly optimistic a collaboration of aspirational graduates from the Mariners youth academy and seasoned imports will keep the early-season buoyancy generated by wins over Newcastle Jets and Macarthur FC bubbling along when they face Western Sydney Wanderers next Tuesday.
Charlesworth is enjoying watching saplings like Alou Kuol and Jordan Smylie begin to blossom, with both on the scoresheet in the opening two rounds.
Gianni Stensness and Joshua Nisbet have also made meaningful impacts whilst Lewis Miller and Max Ballard have been eye-catching off the bench as the youth brigade advances.
It’s a far cry from an era which catapulted the careers of Socceroos Mat Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Mile Jedinak, Danny Vukovic, Tom Rogic and Alex Wilkinson.
But progress comes in many forms.
With positivity tempered by a healthy dose of realism, Charlesworth is curious to see what impact the foreign contingent Marcos Urena and Stefan Jankovic might make.
“I think these guys will add a bit of quality,” he added. “I’m also encouraged by the young ones coming through.
“They’ve had a bit of time to bond and are actually A-League standard now.
“They have that little bit of experience from last season and are no longer kids. I think there’s a good nucleus there for the future.
“I see the investment we’ve made over the last couple of years (in an academy masterminded by former Sheffield United midfielder Nick Montgomery) beginning to bear some fruit.
“There’s a lot of positivity running through the club right now.”
Off the field, the ‘for sale’ sign continues to flutter as the UK-based telco entrepreneur dredges for credible capital investment.
There has been interest from various parties but much of it Walter Mitty-esque in its fanciful nature.
“For us, it’s business as normal. It has been that way for a while now,” he said.
“What the A-League needs is serious strategic investors and I think it will happen.
“The competition needs time to find its feet under the new (independently run) structure.
“We all know this season won’t be easy (for anybody) but it’s a matter of putting the structures in place and getting things right in the end.”