Mark Milligan has been part of championship-winning squads at Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory - yet the Macarthur FC skipper reckons the newcomers are a step ahead of both in terms of depth and talent.
Last week’s 1-0 debut win over Western Sydney Wanderers was brimming with promise of more to come, with Milligan, 35, believing that coach Ante Milicic and a recruitment department headed up by Sam Krslovic have assembled a squad rich with ability on the field and winning personalities off it.
This afternoon’s visit of Central Coast Mariners - who also picked up three points from their season-opener against Newcastle - will provide further clues as to Macarthur’s trajectory.
Milligan has no doubt a team peppered with international experience and youthful vigour will continue to “grow and develop”.
“On paper this is one of the best (domestic) squads - if not the best - I’ve been involved with,” the former Socceroos utility said.
“It’s very balanced . We have depth across the park and it’s very competitive.
“In some of the successful teams I’ve previously been involved with it hasn’t always been the most competitive environment In terms of 23 players vying for starting positions.
“That’s not the case here where one of the strong points is that we have several gifted young players knocking on the door.
“These young boys aren’t just there to make up numbers.”
The depth Milligan refers to comes in the form of inventive Spanish duo Markel Susaeta and Benat Etxebarria, former Premier League forward Matt Derbyshire, defenders Ivan Franjic and James Meredith, and fringe Socceroos goalkeeper Adam Federici - a wall of defiance against Wanderers.
That experience is augmented by canny young pick ups like Lachlan Rose, Jake Holman, Moudi Najjar and Denis Genreau.
Don’t ask Milligan who he thinks will start today because he has no idea.
“I literally have no clue which way Ante is going to go because we have a big squad with a lot of options,” he added.
“The fact they've been able to bring such quality to the club is kudos to them, especially under such difficult circumstances (in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic).
“Ante has been smart in getting a type of player he wants and also the right type of person.”
Despite the upbeat aura surrounding the club, Milligan - who has an eye on transitioning into the coaching realm - said there were still plenty of rough edges to be smoothed off as the season unfolds.
“We’re definitely not getting ahead of ourselves,” he added.
“We want to fine-tune things and make sure we keep improving.
“There were a lot of areas (against Wanderers) where we felt we fell a bit short and we’ll be addressing those.”
Milligan makes special mention of former Championship keeper Federici, whom he believes will provide a security blanket at the back.
“It gives you confidence to play when you have a goalkeeper like Federici behind you,” he explained.
“He’s unbelievable and Australian football should consider itself very lucky to have him in the A-League.”