This week Perth Glory are expected to announce their new coach. As usual with the Western Australian club there have been mixed messages coming from the club as to how the process has been conducted, and where it is at. The most embarrassing being when owner and Chairman Tony Sage stated that ex Socceroo Mark Bosnich was chairing a selection panel, something the CEO, Jason Brewer, had denied on Not the Footy Show three days earlier, and Bosnich himself denied within 24 hours of the owner’s statement. This once again raises the issue of how close an interest Mr Sage takes to the running of his club and whether he in fact listens to information given by his CEO.
It is hard to know what to believe, the public and fans have been told that a short list was drawn up of six candidates, four of which were foreigners and two were local Australian coaches.
Some facts are that former Sydney Olympic NSL winning coach Gary Phillips withdrew from the race. On Monday last week just prior to his sacking in Japan, Central Coast Mariners A-League winning coach Graham Arnold threw his hat in the ring. Obviously desperate to stay involved in football and gain another position in the A-League. It is understood though that his wage demands far exceeded the Glory’s budgeted remuneration. Whether that can be overcome time will tell.
Other local names in the mix, are rumoured to include Fox Sports analyst Mark Rudan, current caretaker coach Kenny Lowe and ex Gold Coast United and Queensland Roar coach Miron Bleiberg.
First of all let us look at the foreign coach situation, in which the most high profile name to be bouncing around is that of Gianfranco Zola. He too may well have priced himself out of the job, especially when he requested AUD$40k to play one game in Perth several years ago.
The two foreign coaches to win the A-League have not stayed very long in Australia, Pierre Littbarski and Viteslav Lavicka at Sydney FC. Josep Gombau at Adelaide United is now the flavour of the month as Adelaide scraped into the finals – they claimed sixth spot – this season, but is he the success everyone is hailing him to be? Has he really stuck with the style of football that he was trying to impose? Did he maybe find out that the players at his disposal were not of the calibre he was used to working with at Barcelona’s youth team? One would have thought that his time in Hong Kong with Kitchee may have prepared him for that. The truth is Adelaide’s style has changed dramatically since they lost to ten man Melbourne Victory. Gone is the high defensive line that Gombau was trying to play, and it would appear that a meeting of minds has taken place where the coach has compromised his ideals to keep the players happy and the style is more in line with what the players are used to. Interestingly in the last 24 hours Gombau has stated that it will take him until 2017 to complete the possession-based, cultural revolution he started and put on hold at Adelaide United.
“I think the minimum is two seasons for a coach but with this project it should be four years. We will see where we are after that,” Gombau is quoted as saying. This is a key factor when it comes to Perth Glory, the club needs a quick turnaround in form on the pitch and the owner has demanded of every coach a Finals appearance in the first two years or they are out the door. It will take a foreign coach at least a season in most cases to learn the intricacies of the A-League. This is a unique football league with the salary cap and no transfers and limits on squad numbers, foreign players and the inclusion of a set number of players under 21. That will take time to come to terms with. Littbarski was lucky he was there in season one so knew what he had to do and Sydney, as we now know broke the salary cap to entice the best players to what was then, the blue riband club.
If we look at Graham Arnold briefly, he has learned the hard way that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Ange Postecoglou had a brief spell coaching in Greece after great success in the NSL. He struggled and returned to Australia. Arnold thought having played in Japan he would be able to show he was ready to coach overseas, it has not worked out that way. At the Central Coast Mariners Arnold inherited a squad with great deal of depth. He was lucky that Jess Van Stratten succumbed to injury as the promotion of Matt Ryan in goal was a revelation for the team. With Trent Sainsbury and the experienced Patrick Zwaanswijk in central defence they became a very hard team to break down. He will have Danny Vukovic in goal but a central defensive pairing at Perth Glory will need to be found. Funnily enough the man who helped him win the league, Daniel McBreen, he loaned to Perth Glory as he did not want him at the club, only McBreen’s goals leading Perth Glory to a first finals appearance convinced him to keep him. Arnold had a squad that had been consistently in finals under Lawrie McKinna, and what he did was use the experience of working with Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek to take them to the Championship. Building a new team is a different challenge.
Mark Rudan won NSL Premierships with Sydney United and played in Grand Finals he also won the A-League in its inaugural season with Sydney FC. He has played overseas in Japan, China, Malaysia, Germany and Switzerland, so would have gained key experience during that time. Having played in the A-League and captained sides he will be familiar with the unique challenges. He has had success in the NPL in New South Wales with his former club Sydney United, but it could be seen as a risk giving the role to an untried coach in terms of the A-League. However unless someone takes a risk how else will the likes of Rudan ever gain such an opportunity?
Miron Bleiberg has a great deal going in his favour. One man who managed to get those not interested in football follow Perth Glory was NSL coach German Bernd Stange. Bleiberg is renowned for Mourinho-esque quotes that are sure to keep the sporting scribes interested. Unlike Stange, Bleiberg is not just about sound bytes. He has experience and can deliver where it matters on the pitch. When he was the inaugural coach of Queensland Roar – who later became Brisbane Roar – he plucked Massimo Murdocca from the state league in Victoria, Sasha Ognenovski from the state League in Queensland, gave Dario Vidosic and Robbie Kruse a break, the last four who all went on to play for the Socceroos. He knows how to spot talent and mould it into a team playing attractive football.
Bleiberg had the Roar playing attractive football but in 2005/06 season he resigned with the club in fourth position on the ladder. He resurfaced at the Clive Palmer owned Gold Coast United, and this would again put him in good stead to work with Perth Glory owner Tony Sage; Two owners with large egos that need a strong man to stand up to them. Again Gold Coast played some good football and Bleiberg showed an eye for spotting talent, he signed Eritrean Golgol Mebrahtu after spotting him training by himself and recognised him from a previous scouting mission; Mebrahtu is now with Melbourne Heart. Bleiberg is a successful businessman in his own right, has coached in the NSL and is one of those rare breed of A-League coaches prepared to go back to the state league and coach, because he loves the game that much. He is currently coach of Oakleigh Cannons who sit top of the Victorian NPL not yet having lost in 2014. He has experience, can spot talent, has the personality to engage the public, the media and the fans, and he knows the A-League. Could he be what Perth Glory require at this point in time.
The last man is Kenny Lowe the current caretaker coach.Thrust into a dressing room full of discontent he faced a difficult task of turning the club around on the pitch. His job was made all the more harder with injuries to key senior players such as Travis Dodd, Shane Smletz, and William Gallas, and then the departure of player of the season Danny Vukovic made it even harder. Lowe tried to be honest with the fans while keeping the dream of making the finals alive, but the truth was the team wasn’t good enough and the squad lacked the required depth. Unfortunately some of his attempts at humour also fell flat, and he failed to engage the fans. Lowe is one of the best development coaches of that there can be no doubt, but his lack of success with the senior team has, possibly unfairly, raised issues over whether he knows how to coach a team to win; after years of saying results didn’t matter he struggled to deliver when they did. His record of three wins, four draws and ten losses in seventeen games, and with only rare moments of football to savour, have led many to feel he is not the man to take the team forward. Yet as they say possession is nine tenths of the law, he is the man in the role and the club have to find someone they know will bring more to the table than the current coach, and on a similar salary.That may prove harder than they thought.
With the club still making a loss and crowds dwindling at the end of the season, despite the club reporting an increase in average crowds; free tickets sadly are not declared as that figure may be a lot different if they were. Membership we have been told is at a record level by the Chairman, but is in fact believed to be just under 4300, still well below the levels of previous years. Merchandise sales are up, so it is not all bad news. The truth is the club once again needs a coach who engages the fans, does not spout cliches and has a passion that matches theirs.
It will be interesting to see who is unveiled in the coming fortnight to take the club forward. The club is never going to please everyone, but one thing that is definite is they have to get it right this time.
Who would you like to see fill the role?