They say that life is about learning from your mistakes and one looks at Perth Glory and hopes that this will be the case. Some cynics will no doubt ask which mistake?
The mistake in question is that of the senior coach. Let us go back to the A-League season of 2007-08. The previous season, the second of the A-League has seen the club finish as the last Australian team 7th in the 8 team competition, with only the Wellington Phoenix below them. Ron Smith was the coach, a man regarded by most in Australia as the best development coach in the country, having brought through many of the players dubbed ‘the golden generation.’ His task was to rebuild Perth Glory and bring through players who would be the foundation of the club in future years.
Players left over from the previous season included: Leo Bertos, Simon Colosimo, Jamie Coyne, Jamie Harnwell, Jason Petkovic, Naum Sekulovski, David Tarka, David Micevski, Alex Vrteski, Billy Celeski and marquee signing Stan Lazaridis. The last three players had all been signed the season before by Smith, although Lazaridis’s signature had been secured prior to his appointment.
The club had new owners who had bought the licence off of the Football Federation of Australia. Three men were to run the club, something that raised a few eyebrows as it appeared no one man was in charge, John Spence, Brett McKeon and Tony Sage.
New signings brought in were: Anthony Danze who was coaxed back to top flight football having been signed previously by Crystal Palace and who had shone in Australian youth teams. Dino Djulbic a virtual unknown from South Melbourne who had starred at Perth SC. Another unknown talent, Jimmy Downey from the AIS. The experienced Hayden Foxe returning from ten years overseas with clubs such as Ajax, West Ham United, Porstmouth and Leeds United, Nick Rizzo who also had spent time playing in Italy and England. James Robinson who had just won the A-League with Melbourne Victory. The young and raw Nikita Rukyavstya from the AIS and Perth SC. Defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley, an ex AIS player who had been signed by Sydney FC. Mitchell Prentice who was also ex AIS and had played in Scotland and Malaysia. Mate Dragicevic from Croatia, and goalkeeper Tando Velaphi from the AIS, and who had made one appearance for Queensland Roar.
Unfortunately for the club, its fans and coach, Stan Lazaridis was serving a 12 month suspension after testing positive to a drug test for anti-androgen Finasteride, a prescription alopecia medication, which was banned at the time. The marquee player was not allowed to train with the squad until the ban had been served, and ended up only playing two games at the end of the campaign.
Long standing number one goalkeeper Jason Petkovic was recovering from a broken leg that threatened to end his career and in fact would make only three appearances late in the season; which was a credit to him after such an horrific injury.
David Tarka who looked to be back to the form that saw him head overseas to Nottingham Forest looked to have put his injury woes behind him when in the opening game he tore his hamstring off the bone and took no further part in the season.
Hayden Foxe picked up a knee injury at the start of the season and was ruled out for several months. He too only played the last six games of the season.
So the coach had plenty of absentees amongst his senior players. Things however looked very positive for the club when in the pre-season tournament, despite playing only one game at home they progressed to the final beating, Newcastle Jets, Adelaide United, Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory. They led at half time in the final thanks to a rare Leo Bertos goal, but ended up losing 2-1 to Adelaide United at Hindmarsh stadium. The signs were positive.
Mate Dragicevic, started the season up front but struggled and was soon released. Goal scoring was an issue. Yet defensively the team looked solid. The first three games ended in 0-0 draws.
The next two games were lost 2-1 and 1-0 before a 4-1 thumping in Wellington. Two more draws followed against Adelaide United and Sydney before a 2-1 loss to Melbourne Victory and another 3-3 draw this time with Queensland Roar. When the team lost 1-0 to Wellington Phoenix, Ron Smith and the club parted ways.
Smith had not won a game in the opening 11 games, yet he had not lost six of those games. Four of the five that he had lost were by a solitary goal. In the remaining games the club managed to win 4, lose 4 and draw 2.
There is no doubt that Football is a results based game, and if teams are not winning some fans opt to stay at home, but this was supposed to be a work in progress. Sure Smith signed a few players who did not perform as expected, sure he suffered with injuries, but if he was to lay the foundations of the club for the future surely he deserved more time? These were games being lost by just the odd goal. Arsenal fans will remember how under George Graham how they won the Championship on the back of many a 1-0 win. That is how finite the margins can be.
The question is were the players good enough?
Of the young players that Ron Smith signed Billy Celski went on to play for Australia and win the A-League Premiership and Championship. Danze retired a month after Smith left. The unknown-when-he-was-signed Dino Djulbic, also went on to represent Australia, as well as play in Germany, China and the UAE. Jimmy Downey was hampered by injuries, but moved on to play for two further A-League clubs as well as play in the Dutch Eerste Divisie with Sparta Rotterdam. Nikita Rukyavstya has also made the national team, and is one of the few AIS graduates to make it overseas, playing in the Netherlands and Germany. He is currently signed with Mainz, but on loan to FSV Frankfurt. Nikolai Topor-Stanley is on his fourth A-League club, Western Sydney Wanderers and will play in his second Grand Final this weekend, he too went on to represent Australia after leaving Perth Glory. Sadly for Tando Velaphi despite staying in the A-League his appearances have been limited at both Melbourne clubs since leaving Perth.
This shows that Smith knew how to spot talent. That talent may not have shone at Perth Glory, but it blossomed when it left. Who knows what could have happened had that talent been kept in Perth.
When Kenny Lowe was unveiled as the Perth Glory’s new coach club CEO Jason Brewer stated that “he is by far the best youth development coach in Australia, nobody knows the talent that we have in this state better than Kenny Lowe.” Hopefully if the club realises this, and it is not just rhetoric, he will be given adequate time to develop that talent. It is also hoped that the way games are lost will be looked at rather than simply the scoreline. Development takes time and as history has shown, Glory’s impatience, and the owners desire for instant success has cost them in the past. Hopefully the same mistake will not be made again. Certainly the talent the club spotted by Smith, and which the club then let slip through its fingers would show that patience may well be the key.