Alen Stajcic believes he may have found the antidote to the “victim mentality” and “losing mindset” which has dogged Central Coast Mariners for the past five years.
After the stigma of successive wooden spoons, the vital signs have jolted back to life since the arrival of the former Matildas mentor and only holders Adelaide United stand in their way of an FFA Cup final appearance when the pair meet in Gosford next Wednesday night.
The resurrection of Stajcic’s own career after his controversial Matildas exit eight months ago is paralleling the rebirth of the Mariners.
But with an A-League ball yet to be kicked in anger, Stajcic isn’t letting an FFA Cup run mask the magnitude of the task he’s taken on.
“We’re looking to progress week by week and aren’t getting ahead of ourselves and thinking we’ve achieved anything approaching greatness just yet,” he said.
“It’s about building belief and confidence.
"When a club has been losing for the better part of five years it’s a matter of changing that whole mindset, from the front office to the players.
“In any sporting team that hasn’t been winning for a while there’s maybe a bit of the victim mentality, blaming other people and maybe also a lack of accountability and responsibility.
“It’s too easy to fall into that way of thinking but all those things seep in at some point.
“On top of that there’s probably been a lack of confidence from players in their own ability and that of the team.
“As coaching staff rebuilding that has been a starting point for us.”
Within the context of the finite resources available to him, Stajcic contends he’s received sufficient backing from owner Mike Charlesworth to fuel a Mariners revival.
“When I first took on the job there was a lot of openness and transparency about what we can and can’t do,” he explained.
“I took on the role under those conditions and everybody has been very supportive from the CEO to the board.
“We know other clubs have more resources but we have to make sure we are smart and efficient and make the best use of everything we’ve got.
“At the moment we’re putting in place things that don’t cost money like effort, time and a sense of accountability, belief and confidence.
“All the things important in building the foundations of a successful and sustainable team don’t necessarily cost much.”
Stajcic is working to bring the best out of players like Danny De Silva, Ruon Tongyik, Sammy Silvera and former Socceroo Tommy Oar, all of whom have yet to realize their full potential.
The club are also on the market for one more addition - most likely a striker - before they begin their season at Western Sydney Wanderers' gleaming new Bankwest Stadium home on October 12.
“We want the right player with the right characteristics to come into our team,” he said. “We have a really good culture at the moment.
"There’s a lot of hunger and determination to succeed. I think we’re starting to see a little bit of that chemistry out on the pitch.
“We’re not reading too much into pre-results or even our FFA Cup results.
“I feel the competition will be a lot tighter this year than last and the difference between the top and the bottom has narrowed.
“We have to get to a position where we believe we’re a genuine chance of winning every match, rather than players running onto the pitch with a false bravado.”
With his Matildas dismissal still the subject of debate over its seemingly unjust nature, Stajcic is reveling his return to clubland.
“In a lot of respects, it’s a lot more enjoyable going to work day-to-day trying to fix football problems, rather than waiting two or three months (with the national team),” he said.
“It’s been rewarding and enjoyable and I don’t really think about what others think about me. Enough has been written and said.
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity the Mariners have given me.”