Former Socceroos golden generation defender Luke Wilkshire has jumped into consideration for the vacant Newcastle Jets job, with the club declaring their next coach will be homegrown.
Wilkshire has piled up the plaudits in his first two seasons as a mentor, leading former NSL giants Wollongong Wolves to the NSW Premier League crown in year one, and only missing out on goal difference to Rockdale City in his follow-up campaign.
And all that despite operating on one of the competition’s tightest budgets.
Clubs across the A-League have opted for Australian-honed head coaches in recent months with Carl Veart (Adelaide United), Richard Garcia (Perth Glory), Patrick Kisnorbo (Melbourne City), Warren Moon (Brisbane Roar) and Grant Brebner (Melbourne Victory) all handed the baton.
The departure of Carl Robinson to the Western Sydney Wanderers prompted Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna to declare his successor will be locally sourced, though the club’s current ownership issues could delay any appointment.
Wilkshire, 39, doesn’t hide his A-League ambitions, telling The World Game: “I’m enjoying what I’m doing and where it takes me, we’ll see.
“I’m happy where I am and I wouldn’t go throwing my hat around but if someone came and knocked on my door then of course you’d have a conversation.
“It’s any coach’s ambition at my level to test yourself in the A-League, and it would be a great ambition to achieve that with Wollongong (the club he first joined as a junior).
“Football is a crazy game though and you never know what’s around the corner.”
Wilkshire spent the final year of an enduring playing career at Sydney FC before heading back to where it all started in Illawarra, bringing with him the accumulated knowledge of 17 seasons in Europe at the likes of Middlesbrough, Bristol City, FC Twente, Dynamo Moscow and Feyenoord.
He acquired 80 caps along the way and played in the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups after being ushered into international football by the great Guus Hiddink.
Asked about the spate of rookie coaches landing leading roles across the A-League, he replied: “These are people who have know-how in terms of the game and they understand what works in football, and that’s important.
“They know what’s required to bring younger players through.
“We’ve always had coaching talent in this country but just like with players it’s just a matter of how you treat them and nurture them.
“Then they can reach whatever heights they’re able to.”
Wilkshire was denied an A-League chance when the FFA knocked back Wollongong’s bid for a licence in the last round of A-League expansion.
But his transition from player to up-and-coming coach has not gone unnoticed.
“We’ve been rebuilding and restructuring things here and have had a couple of successful seasons - I’m looking to keep on developing and growing,” he added.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had the backing to do things my way and create a good environment.
“It’s about getting the right people around you and the right mentality, and it shows what you can do with a young squad.”
Wilkshire hasn’t given up on the ‘Gong landing an expansion spot at some point, adding: “I think the region deserves it and we still hope for it going forward.
“There are certain boxes that need to be ticked and we didn’t quite reach the criteria last time round.
“The desire is still there, 100 per cent, and I’m sure everybody in Australian football would like to see Wollongong back in the top division.”