Ever since Alistair Edwards and Perth Glory parted company there has been a great deal written about the choices made by the Perth Glory hierarchy when it comes to the head coach. The position has been one of the lowest paying in the A-League in recent years but in the main the credentials of the coaches appointed stands up.
Original owner Nick Tana appointed Englishman Steve MacMahon to the position of head coach after announcing that he would have a foreign coach in charge for the opening season of the Hyundai A-League and after Scotsman Craig Brown had turned down the position. On paper the former Liverpool star looked not a bad choice. He had won the Second Division (3rd tier) title with Swindon Town and after resigning as coach he went on to win the 3rd Division Play offs with Blackpool, as well as the Football League Trophy – Now the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – on two consecutive occasions. He quit Blackpool under a cloud as he had Swindon, and it would prove to be an omen, when before Christmas in that very first season he resigned at Perth Glory after players complained of his management style.
He was replaced by his assistant coach the well credentialed Alan Vest. Vest hailed from the North of England but had emigrated to New Zealand where he played for the All Whites. In the early 1970’s Vest was the Director of Coaching in Western Australia, he moved on to coach in the National Soccer League and was only denied the national job thanks to the politics that plagued the running of the game at the time. He moved to Malaysia and coached Sarawak with great success, he won the Malaysia Super League in 1997 as well as the FA Cup Malaysia and the Charity Shield Malaysia. After moving back to Australia he became assistant coach to Mich D’avray at Perth Glory during the club’s most successful period when they won back to back NSL titles. At the end of season one of the A-League Nick Tana handed control of the club to the FFA and they sought out new owners. Many felt that Vest, who knew the club was the ideal man to continue in the coaching role. He would have offered a continuity the club desperately needed, but the FFA had other plans, and Vest was discarded.
The FFA wanted to rebuild the club, but they wanted to do so without using the full salary cap. That put the next coach in a very difficult position. Ron Smith who was working with the Socceroos in a technical capacity was approached during the 2006 World Cup to take over the reins. From 1982 to 1986 Smith had been the assistant coach at the Australian Institute of Sport, and then became Head Coach from 1986 to 1996. During this period he mentored a number of players who became known as the “Golden Generation” that played for the Socceroos. After leaving the AIS Smith became head coach of Sabah in Malaysia and the club won the ‘M’ League for the first time in the club’s history and also reached the Malaysia Cup Final, losing to Selangor in a penalty shoot-out. In 1997 Sabah came third in the ‘M’ League and Smith was voted Coach of the Year. Smith then coached Johor FC in 1998 and 1999 and laid the foundation for the team to be the first at the club to be promoted to the “M’ League in 2000. The FFA brief to Smith was to sign young Australian talent and re-build Perth Glory and he signed the likes of Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Mitchell Prentice, Jimmy Downey, Mimi Saric and local players Tando Velaphi, Nikita Rukavytsya and Josip Magdic. The trouble was when many of these players were called up for junior national duties the FFA would not postpone the Glory’s games and left them thin on the pitch. New owners came in during Smith’s second season and they were not as prepared to wait for success and Smith was shown the door.
He was replaced by his assistant former Australian international David Mitchell. Mitchell had enjoyed a very successful career overseas and was a trailblazer for Australian players being the first to play in the top division of four European Leagues. When he returned from playing in Europe he was a player/coach for NSL clubs Sydney Olympic and Sydney United. The latter he steered to the league title when no one gave the side a chance as well as a Grand Final appearance in 1998–99. That performance saw him named coach of the year. He like Alan Vest was in the frame for the Socceroos job, but again politics in the game deprived him of that opportunity. He was the inaugural coach of Parramatta Power setting up the club in under six months with Lawrie McKinna. Following their exit from the club Mitchell headed to Malaysia where he coached Sarawak before being appointed Smith’s assistant. While in charge of Glory he used his wide net of contacts to bring back to Australia Jacob Burns and Mile Sterjovski, both of whom are still playing in the A-League as well as the ever reliable Steve McGarry. He also signed the hugely successful Englishman Andy Todd and Brazilian Amaral who showed his talent before being ruled out by injury. Mitchell steered the club too its first A-League finals appearance, but moved into a role as Director of Football the following season and despite the head coach’s position being promised to another, Ian Ferguson one of Mitchell’s assistants took over.
Former Scotland and Rangers player Ferguson was the least experienced of the Perth Glory’s coaches. He had assisted Lawrie McKinna at Central Coast Mariners after helping in a similar role in the last season of the NSL with Northern Spirit. He then moved to take on the head coach’s position at North Queensland Fury in their second season in the A-League. His tenure was short-lived as the club closed its doors due to financial instability. Ferguson and Mitchell set up a structure at the club that soon reaped rewards. Ferguson assisted by the well respected Stuart Munro guided Perth Glory to their first A-League Grand Final in April 2012, where they lost to a controversial last minute goal to Brisbane Roar. A run of five straight losses and 6 hours of game time without a goal scored saw the club and Ferguson part ways.
He was replaced by returning player Alistair Edwards. Edwards made no secret that his brief was to restore local players to the team and that it was a three year plan to lift the club back to the Glory days when he was playing. Many have tried to claim that Edwards had no coaching experience, but Edwards after a spell as assistant coach at the FIFA U/19 Women’s World Championship then became head coach of the Australian team at the AFC U/19 Women’s Championships in Malaysia. This team become the first Australia team to qualify for a FIFA World Championship since Australia joined the AFC. He then moved into a role with the FFA in Development and High Performance. He did however return to coaching in 2008 where he took the Matildas to the 2008 ASEAN Women’s Championship in Vietnam which they won. Edwards then took on a dual role with the FFA which saw him be the assistant coach to the Young Socceroos working alongside Jan Verslijen, the head coach of the AIS, U/17 and U/20 national teams. The big question mark when he was appointed was could he coach adult men. When a great run of results saw him guide the club into the finals for a third time all looked rosy. Unfortunately for the club and the fans player unrest came to a head in a heated post match argument in Melbourne. The club tabled conditions to his coaching position that made his role untenable and the two parted company.
He has been replaced in the interim by former Glory assistant coach Kenny Lowe. Lowe is a seasoned English professional having played at Birmingham City and Stoke City. Before coming to Australia he had spells as a manager at Gateshead and Barrow, two clubs that play in the Conference competition in England; the level below the Football League. Lowe has been a key component in the development of young talent in Western Australia coaching the National Training Centre teams. He is a proven development coach, but dispute having coached senior sides in the UK for six years, many, unfairly it would appear, question his ability to coach men in the A-League.
Lowe may or may not get the role on a permanent basis at the end of the season; he may decide he does not want it as he has a very successful career away from football. We will all have to wait and see how this pans out. In the meantime he can only do the best he can until the end of the season and hope a run sees the Glory make the finals.
However having run through each coaching appointment it is unfair to say that these men were not qualified to do the job. All came with their own set of skills, ironically Ian Ferguson the man with the least experience took the club the furthest, and he was possibly the one the fans struggled to warm to the most. Each coach has brought something to the party, the problem is none have been allowed to see the job through to the end of their contracts. Instability and the lack of surety that they are safe in their job is always going to make coaching difficult, but Perth Glory need to find a coach that they stick with for the duration of his contract, who is not always going to have to be looking over his shoulder.
Hopefully this review of the coaching staff will confirm that the coaches at Perth Glory were not lacking in the credentials to do the job, but they were lacking job security, support and simply time. Hindsight as they say is perfect vision, at the end of season one of the A-League, Alan Vest who took over from Steve MacMahon managed to steer the club to fifth place. They missed out on a finals berth by two points, the home loss against eventual champions Sydney FC in their penultimate game may well have had a bigger impact than any other game in the clubs history. Had the team won that and made the finals would Vest have been given the head coach’s role? Would his appointment have given the club the continuity and stability that has been lost from the NSL? Sadly we will never know, but one has to wonder.