Sydney FC insist they have a coaching Plan B despite being spurned by sought-after Graham Arnold, who will remain with their A-League rivals Central Coast Mariners.
Sydney FC’s deal to lure Arnold away from the Mariners, whom he has taken to a grand final, league title and the cusp of Asian Champions League second stage qualification in his two years at the helm, fell apart on Monday.
In a major slap in the face for Sydney, he will stay with Mariners on an extended deal for the next two A-League seasons, and it is understood on substantially improved financial terms.
The Sky Blues now face being left last men standing on the A-League’s unprecedented coaching-go-round.
Melbourne Heart will announce their new coach on Tuesday – either youth coach John Aloisi or current assistant Ante Milicic.
Milicic has also been heavily linked with the position at the new western Sydney franchise.
Sydney FC football director Gary Cole said the Sky Blues were disappointed with Arnold’s decision, but stressed they had other alternatives for the coaching job.
It is understood the former Socceroos coach wanted to guide the Mariners through the ACL group stage before making a final decision.
But Sydney FC set Arnold a deadline on Monday to sign a contract, which he decided not to do.
“Sydney FC presented a very attractive offer to Graham based on the understanding that he was free to join the club,” Cole said.
“We had asked Graham for a final answer by today but we were presented with some last minute requests, which we were not prepared to meet.
“We have been working on a small number of alternative options for the head coach role and those discussions will continue.”
Arnold had been offered a reported $400,000 a year by Sydney to quit the Mariners, and his decision to stay comes just days after former coach Lawrie McKinna agreed to return to Central Coast as technical director.
Arnold’s decision is a huge show of faith in the Mariners’ future after rumours of their possible demise and a year of cash-flow problems.
A deal to sell the club to Russian backers has been long and drawn-out, with still no conclusion in sight.
Arnold put negotiations with Sydney FC on hold after the Mariners’ 5-1 ACL win over China’s Tianjin Teda last week, and said respect for his players and the incentive of more Asian football were key factors in deciding to stay in Gosford.
The Mariners can book a spot in the ACL last 16 with a win over Japan’s Nagoya Grampus next week.
“I have decided to see that three-year term out (in Arnold’s current contract) because of the loyalty and respect I have for the players, the chairman, the staff and all the supporters,” Arnold said in a statement.
“We had a fantastic season and it is a big incentive to compete in the Champions League again next year.
“Already my main focus is on recruitment for next season but also next week against Nagoya in Japan.
“It’s been a tough decision and I am hugely flattered by the interest I received from Sydney FC.”